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Allah v. Commonwealth of Virginia

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

July 15, 2016

INFINITE ALLAH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, ET AL., Defendants.

          OPINION

          James P. Jones, United States District Judge

         Infinite Allah, Pro Se Plaintiff.

         Infinite Allah, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that prison employees have wrongfully confiscated legal files and religious materials related to his prior civil action. Upon review of Allah’s complaint, I conclude that the action must be summarily dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         I.

         Allah is an inmate at Augusta Correctional Center (“Augusta”). He is an adherent of the Nation of Gods and Earths (“NGE”), a belief system that Allah claims as a religion. The Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”), however, has classified NGE inmates as a Security Threat Group (“STG”). VDOC policies restrict NGE inmates from meeting communally, prohibit them from wearing NGE-related clothing, and prohibit inmates from receiving or possessing copies of NGE publications and writings. Allah, through counsel, brought a § 1983 action in this court in 2012, seeking VDOC recognition of NGE as a religion, accommodation of his NGE religious practices, and permission to possess NGE publications and writings; after a bench trial, based on the record before me, I rejected Allah’s claims. See Allah v. Virginia, No. 2:12CV00033, 2014 WL 1669331 (W.D. Va. 2014), affirmed, 601 F. App’x 201 (4th Cir.) (unpublished), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 255 (2015).

         According to Allah’s current Complaint, while his Petition for a Writ of Certiorari was pending, Allah ran short of funds to continue to retain the attorney who had represented him in the earlier stages of the case. The attorney mailed the entire case file to Allah on December 30, 2014. Prison officials at Augusta opened the mailing outside Allah’s presence and seized items without giving notice to Allah until May 12, 2015. Prison officials also allegedly seized Allah’s incoming mail from this court on November 18, 2013, related to pending litigation. They allowed Allah to sign a legal mail log regarding receipt of this mail, but did not allow him to physically possess this material.

         According to Allah, the two medium-sized boxes of case-related materials that officials seized contained copies of court filings the attorney had prepared, “strategic assessment(s) of research into the legal and anthropological particulars (expert witness’ deposition and writings on the subject at hand) [and] plaintiff’s constitutional and spiritual standing in his civil action. . . .” (Compl. 4, ECF No. 1.) Allah’s partial list of these materials includes numerous NGE publications and Allah’s letters and written arguments to the court about his NGE beliefs. (Id. at 13-14.) Allah alleges that the seized materials have both monetary and sentimental value to him and claims several items as his own intellectual property for which he has been unable to seek copyright protection. (Id. at 14.)

         The defendants in this new § 1983 action are Lt. Peters, Sgt. Wilhelm (the Institutional Gang Investigator at Augusta), the prison itself, and the Commonwealth. Liberally construed, Allah’s Complaint alleges the following claims against these defendants: (1) By confiscating Allah’s legal materials, the defendants violated his constitutional rights (a) to substantive and procedural due process; (b) to engage in confidential communications with counsel; and (c) to access the court; (2) The defendants confiscated Allah’s materials in retaliation for his prior lawsuit; and (3) Allah is entitled to recover physical possession of, or reimbursement for, his personal property through this action in detinue under Virginia law. As relief on Claims 1 and 2, Allah seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         II.

         The court is required to dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner against a governmental entity or officer if the court determines the action or claim is “frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). A court should not summarily dismiss an action for failure to state a claim, however,

“unless after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff’s favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.”

De’Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002)). Thus, before serving Allah’s case on any of the defendants, I must determine if his allegations state any claim for relief.

         Allah brings his federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, a statute that 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). For reasons stated herein, I conclude that Allah has no actionable § 1983 claim related to his confiscated materials and that all his federal claims must be summarily dismissed under § 1915A(b)(1) with prejudice accordingly. As such, I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Allah’s state law action in detinue and will dismiss this claim without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).

         It is well established that “inmates retain at least some constitutional rights despite incarceration, ” but that those rights must be balanced against state interests in maintaining prison safety and security. Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 223 (1990) (citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84-5 (1987); O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987). “[T]he proper standard for determining the validity of a prison regulation claimed to infringe on an inmate’s constitutional rights is to ask ...


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