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Williams v. Dejesus

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

March 9, 2015

Samuel T. Williams, Plaintiff,
Cpl. DeJesus, et al, . Defendants.


LIAM O'GRADY, District Judge.

Samuel T. Williams, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants violated his First Amendment right to freely practice his religion. On March 13, 2014, defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 13. Plaintiff was provided with the notice required under Local Civil Rule 7(K) and by Roseboro v. Garrison , 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), and he opted not to file a response. For the reasons that follow, defendant's Motion will be granted, and judgment will be entered in favor of Corporal DeJesus.

I. Background

Plaintiff, an inmate at the Virginia Beach Correctional Center ("VBCC"), received a book entitled the Satanic Bible in the mail on June 7, 2013. See Compl. [Dkt. 1], at 5; Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant DeJesus' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def.'s Mem.") [Dkt. 14], Ex. 1 (DeJesus Aff.) ¶ 4. The Satanic Bible ""advocates [murder], exaction of vengeance through violence, mutilation and murder of anyone a Satanist believes to be his enemy... [and] challenges its readers to rebel against the law of man and engage in symbolic acts of violence against one's enemies." Def.'s Mem., at 5 (Quoting Burton v. Frank. No. 03-C-0374-C, 2004 WL 1176171, at * 4 (W.D. Wis. May 20, 2004)). Plaintiff had ordered this book from Books-A-Million, a vendor approved to mail books to VBCC inmates. Compl., at 5. Pursuant to VBCC policy, defendant, who is the mailroom supervisor at VBCC, reviewed the book "to ensure compliance with... policies regarding permissible mail and publications." Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 ¶¶ 1, 5. Under this policy, any incoming mail that could be detrimental to safety or security is considered to be contraband. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 (Stolle Aff.) ¶ 3; see also Def.'s Mem., Ex. ¶ VI.F.1-6. In addition, all incoming religious material must be provided to the inmate by a religious organization, and must be reviewed by the chaplain. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 6 ¶ 6; Ex. 4 ¶ VI.F. 13.

On June 7, 2013, the defendant reviewed the Satanic Bible and found that it contained material that would be detrimental to the safety and security of the institution. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 1 7. Accordingly, he gave plaintiff a "Mail Restriction Form, " consistent with VBCC mailroom policies. See id. 8. When inmate mail is subject to restriction, the inmate receives this form, which explains the reason for the restriction and the inmate appeal process. Id . ¶ 6. After receiving this form, plaintiff submitted an inmate request form to defendant, "challenging the seizure of [his] bible" on First Amendment grounds. See Compl, at 5; Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3. Defendant responded to this request, stating that, as all religious material must be screened by the chaplain, plaintiff needed to appeal the seizure to the chaplain. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 3; Ex. 6 ¶ 6. Defendant informed plaintiff that the chaplain would examine the book and determine whether plaintiff could possess it. Compl., at 5; Plaintiffs Exhaustion Affidavit [Dkt. 5], at unnumbered page 6.

On June 28, 2013, defendant issued a second mail restriction form to plaintiff, after the chaplain upheld the defendant's initial restriction. See Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2; Ex. 1 ¶ 1. The chaplain found that the Satanic Bible promoted hatred, violence, and anarchy, and was thus not appropriate for possession in the institution. Def.'s Mem., Ex. 2. Plaintiff challenges this decision, saying that the "Holy Bible talks about the same topics." Compl., at 5. He alleges that the defendants are discriminating against him and violating his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion. Id

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment as a matter of law is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To meet that burden, the moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact are present for resolution. Id. at 322. Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to point out the specific facts that create disputed factual issues. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, a district court should consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of that party. United States v. Diebold, Inc. , 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

Those facts which the moving party bears the burden of proving are facts which are material. "[T]he substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine when, "the evidence... create[s] [a] fair doubt; wholly speculative assertions will not suffice, " Ross v. Commc'ns Satellite Corp. , 759 F.2d 355, 364 (4th Cir. 1985). abrogated on other grounds by Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins , 490 U.S. 228 (1989). Thus, summary judgment is appropriate only where no material facts are genuinely disputed and the evidence as a whole could not lead a rational fact finder to rule for the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

III. Analysis

Summary judgment is appropriate in favor of defendant DeJesus because the evidence shows that he, through the enforcement of VBCC's mailroom regulations, did not violate plaintiffs First Amendment rights. The regulation enforced by the defendant is a reasonable restriction on plaintiffs First Amendment rights.[1]

A. Defendant DeJesus' Personal Involvement

As an initial matter, it is unclear whether the defendant played a sufficient personal role in the complained-of actions to be liable under § 1983. To hold a defendant liable under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts indicating that he was deprived of rights guaranteed by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that this deprivation resulted from conduct committed by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Thus, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to show that a defendant personally committed acts that deprived him of his constitutional rights. See, e.g., Vinnedge v. Gibbs , 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977) (internal quotations omitted). Here, the defendant made the decision to deny plaintiff access to the Satanic Bible in accordance with VBCC's policies and procedures. The defendant made this decision solely because he believed that the book posed a risk to institution safety and security. There is no indication that this decision was motivated by plaintiffs religion or the religious nature of the book. In addition, the defendant's decision was subject to approval by the chaplain. Thus, it is the chaplain's decision, rather than the defendant's, that ultimately led to plaintiff not receiving the book. This participation by the defendant is likely not ...

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