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Miller v. Clarke

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

May 9, 2016

EDWIN MILLER, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, ET AL., Defendants.



Edwin Miller, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint, Miller alleges that officials at Red Onion State Prison wrongfully suspended him from his religious diet in November 2015 and denied him participation in a Ramadan fast, in violation of his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l, et seq.. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and Miller has responded. Among other reasons for dismissal, defendants assert that Miller does not state facts concerning the personal involvement of the defendants and each of the elements of his claims. Defendants also contend that Miller's claims for monetary damages must be dismissed. After review of the record, the court concludes that defendants' motion to dismiss the initial complaint based on the noted factual deficiencies must be granted, but without prejudice to Miller's submission of an amended complaint.


Miller's factual allegations in the complaint are sparse. He alleges that he is a Shia Muslim who received the Common Fare diet because of his religious beliefs. On November 12, 2014, Defendant Walrath-then-Assistant Warden at Red Onion-allegedly removed Miller from the Common Fare diet without justification. Thereafter, Miller was served pork and beef on the same tray. It took several days for Miller's request for alternative meals to be processed, and even then, he was served meals as a non-Islamic inmate. Miller's grievance about the issue was ruled unfounded, and Defendant Ponton upheld that ruling on appeal. Miller does not state any facts about being denied Ramadan participation. As relief in the case, he seeks monetary damages for emotional injuries and injunctive relief "direct[ing] staff to comply with [his] Common Fare diet requirements." (Compl. 2, ECF No. 1.)


Some aspects of Miller's claims are simply not legally viable and must be dismissed on that ground, with prejudice. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). First, Miller cannot recover monetary damages against defendants in their official capacity under RLUIPA or § 1983. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 285-86 (2011) (finding no RLUIPA claim for damages against defendants in official capacity); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58 (1989) (finding no recovery of monetary damages under § 1983 against state officials in official capacity). Second, Miller cannot recover monetary damages for RLUIPA claims against defendants in their individual capacities. See Rendelman v. Rouse. 569 F.3d 182, 189 (4th Cir. 2009) (finding no RLUIPA claim for damages available against defendants in individual capacity). Accordingly, as to these claims for damages, the court will grant the motion to dismiss with prejudice.

These same legal barriers do not prevent Miller from pursuing his First Amendment claims for damages under § 1983 against the defendants in their individual capacities, or his claims for injunctive relief under § 1983 and RLUIPA against appropriate officials in their official capacities. Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 193-94. Therefore, the court will allow Miller to proceed with such claims in his amended complaint.[1]


Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to contain a short, plain statement of the claim that gives the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the facts upon which it rests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim for relief. Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin. 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). Although a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations, alteration, and quotations omitted). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must be granted, however, when the complaint "does not allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted and emphasis added).

Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated his constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). Thus, to hold any of the named defendants liable under § 1983, Miller must affirmatively show how each defendant was personally involved in the alleged violations of his constitutional or statutory rights. See Garraghty v. Va. Dep't of Corr., 52 F.3d 1274, 1280 (4th Cir. 1995); Wright v. Collins. 766 F.2d 841, 850 (4th Cir. 1985). Moreover, in a § 1983 action, government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009).

Under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, prison officials must reasonably accommodate an inmate's exercise of his sincerely held religious beliefs. O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 350 (1987). RLUIPA now provides federal statutory protection of state prisoners' religious exercise: "RLUIPA prohibits prisons from imposing a substantial burden on an inmate's religious exercise unless prison officials can demonstrate that the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means." Miles v. Moore, 450 F.App'x 318, 319 (4th Cir. 2011) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l(a)).

A RLUIPA analysis proceeds in two steps. First, the inmate "bears the initial burden to demonstrate that the prison's policy exacts a substantial burden on religious exercise." Incumaa v. Stirling. 791 F.3d 517, 525 (4th Cir. 2015). For purposes of a RLUIPA claim, "a substantial burden on religious exercise occurs when a state or local government, through act or omission, 'put[s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs.'" Lovelace v. Lee. 472 F.3d 174, 187 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp't Sec. Div.. 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981)).

If the inmate proves a substantial burden, "the burden shifts to the government to prove its policy furthers a compelling governmental interest by the least restrictive means." Incumaa. 791 F.3d at 525. This is an exacting standard, but it is not applied without some measure of deference to the difficulties of prison administration. Holt v. Hobbs, ___U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 853, 864 (2015). "Lawmakers supporting RLUIPA were mindful of the urgency of discipline, order, safety, and security in penal institutions." Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 723 (2005). Therefore, a court must conduct the RLUIPA inquiry with "due deference to the experience and expertise of prison and jail administrators in establishing necessary regulations and procedures to maintain good order, security and discipline, consistent with consideration of costs and limited resources." Id. (citations to legislative history documents omitted).

The "First Amendment affords less protection to inmates' free exercise rights than does RLUIPA." Lovelace. 472 F.3d at 199-200. Specifically, Miller's First Amendment right to practice his sincerely held religious beliefs, including dietary restrictions and celebratory fasting during Ramadan, "may be [lawfully] burdened upon a showing that the [challenged] restriction is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Hammer v. Keeling, No. 1:14CV8 JCC/MSN, 2015 WL 925880, at *4 (E.D. Va. Mar. 3, 2015) affd sub nom. Hammer v. Hobbs. 613 F.App'x 224 (4th Cir. 2015). See also Turner v. ...

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