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Depaola v. Virginia Department of Corrections

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

June 17, 2015

ERIC J. DePAOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., Defendants.

Eric J. DePaola, Pro Se Plaintiff.

J. Michael Parsons, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

This closed civil action is before me on plaintiff Eric J. DePaola's motion under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After review of the record, I conclude that DePaola's motion must be denied.

I.

DePaola, an inmate at Virginia's Red Onion State Prison ("Red Onion") proceeding pro se, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and a number of its employees. When the case was transferred to me in May 2014, the only remaining claim was DePaola's allegation that the VDOC Common Fare diet includes foods that are inconsistent with his particular religious dietary requirements, in violation of his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq., and the First Amendment.

In a previous opinion, the court had noted:

[I]t is impossible to discern from the current record whether there are differences between the dietary requirements of Nation of Islam and other Muslim sects and, if so, whether the common fare diet is nonetheless sufficient. The defendants also fail to indicate whether accommodating Nation of Islam dietary requirements would be feasible and nutritionally adequate, the cost of altering the common fare menu to accommodate DePaola's alleged religious needs, or the potential cost of accommodating numerous strands of religious dietary restrictions.

(Op. 6, May 2, 2014, ECF No. 35 (footnote omitted).) I directed the defendants to supplement their motion by May 21, 2014, and directed DePaola to file any response within 14 days thereafter. The defendants filed their supplemental motion, but the court did not receive any additional response from DePaola. Some weeks later, I considered the evidence in the record and entered judgment for the defendants. DePaola v. Va. Dep't of Corr., No. 7:12CV00592, 2014 WL 3956108 (W.D. Va. Aug. 12, 2014). No notice of appeal was filed.

Three months after the case closed, DePaola filed his present motion. The record now indicates that in June 2014, DePaola mailed a response to the defendants' May 2014 supplement; the defendants received his response, but the court did not, because DePaola addressed it to the court's prior post office box, which had been discontinued. When the copy of the response intended for the court was returned to DePaola as undeliverable, he remailed the response and a motion asking for it to be considered timely filed to the court, again addressed to the discontinued post office box. After DePaola received his copy of the Opinion and Order granting summary judgment for the defendants in August 2014, he took no action to appeal or challenge this ruling. When the post office again returned the response to DePaola as undeliverable, he threw the documents away.

In November 2014, after DePaola learned the court's correct street address, he filed his present Rule 60(b) motion. He asserted that because he was never notified of the court's address change, I should vacate my ruling for the defendants and reconsider their Motion for Summary Judgment in light of DePaola's supplemental response. I took DePaola's motion under advisement and directed the defendants to respond and to provide a copy of DePaola's June 2014 summary judgment response, which they did. DePaola then filed a reply brief, making the matter ripe for consideration.

II.

Rule 60(b) specifies the limited reasons that a district court may "relieve a party... from a final ...


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