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Rountree v. Clarke

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 26, 2015

PIPER A. ROUNTREE, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD, Chief District Judge.

After hearing oral arguments on the pending motions in this case on March 23, 2015, for reasons stated in open court and in this memorandum opinion, the court will deny plaintiff's motion to reconsider its previous rulings in this case, grant defendants' motion for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's one remaining claim for injunctive relief is now moot, and dismiss plaintiff's motion for permanent injunction as moot.

BACKGROUND

Piper A. Rountree, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In her second amended complaint, Rountree alleged that prison officials at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women ("FCCW") had violated her rights in numerous ways under the Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et and federal and state warranty laws under which she claimed to be a third-party beneficiary to defendants' employment contracts. By opinion and order entered September 30, 2014, the court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment in part and dismissed all but four of Rountree's claims, based on her failure to exhaust administrative remedies as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

The four categories of claims not dismissed under § 1997e(a) were: (1) Rountree's claim that her legal mail was signed for and rejected without her knowledge on January 23, 2011; (2) her claim that she was denied access to a legal book she ordered in January 2011; (3) her claim that Defendant Horn improperly confiscated religious books from her in early 2011; and (4) her claim under RLUIPA and the First Amendment that her Buddhist faith has been substantially burdened because defendants would not permit her to stand on and use her prayer rug during the count procedure. The court directed Rountree to submit a supplement stating the facts in support of those four claims, which she did.

Defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment on the merits of the four claims, to which Rountree responded. By opinion and order entered March 9, 2015, the court granted summary judgment as to all of Rountree's claims except one. The remaining claim sought injunctive relief against current FCCW warden, Tammy Brown, under § 1983, the First Amendment, and RLUIPA, related to prison officials' refusal to allow Rountree to stand on her prayer rug during count procedures. As to this claim, the court set the matter for an evidentiary hearing on March 23, 2015, to be followed by additional proceedings, if necessary.

Warden Tammy Brown then filed a supplement to her motion for summary judgment on March 16, 2015, along with her affidavit describing the following prison policy change:

Immediately upon signing this affidavit, Offender Piper Rountree will be allowed to stand on her prayer rug while praying during count. Rountree will be required to abide by all count procedures and rules, including but not limited to, physically standing in front of her bunk facing the cell door during count. Additionally, Rountree will be required to immediately comply with all prison staff orders, including but not limited to, stepping off of the rug or lifting the rug up to allow for security checks. Once the check is complete, Rountree may continue to stand on her rug for prayer for the remainder of count.... If the prayer rug is not in use, however, Rountree is required to store the prayer rug in the storage space provided.... (Brown Affid. ¶¶ 3 & 4, March 16, 2015, ECF No. 114-1.) Based on Brown's evidence, defendant argued that Rountree's prayer rug claim should be dismissed as moot. In light of the policy change, the court cancelled the evidentiary hearing, but offered to conduct a hearing if Rountree believed one to be necessary.

Rountree requested a hearing. She also moved for reconsideration of the court's prior rulings dismissing her other claims and renewed her motion for permanent injunctive relief regarding the use of her prayer rug. Rountree stated her fear that at any time, the policy could be reversed, leaving her without accommodation of her religious beliefs in this regard.

Before hearing oral arguments on March 23, 2015, the court met with Rountree and defense counsel in chambers. After a brief discussion, the parties entered into a consent order, which states:

The defendant shall permit the plaintiff to use her prayer rug in the manner provided in the Warden's Affidavit of March 16, 2015, a copy of which is attached hereto. Thus, it is understood that this right will be afforded to Ms. Rountree as long as she is in the custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections, unless the Department of Corrections seeks and receives authority to change the policy with leave of court, with the further understanding that the Department of Corrections may act unilaterally, as security concerns may warrant. It is further determined that upon entry of this order, the plaintiff's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims will be moot.

(Consent Order, ECF No. 125.)

DISCUSSION

A. Injunctive ...


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