United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge
Ferguson-El, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff names
three staff of the River North Correctional Center as
defendants: J. Horton and Burnette, who are Institutional
Investigators, and T. Dowell, an Institutional Program
Manager. Plaintiff argues that Defendants violated the First
Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Religious
Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l(a), et seg..
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, to which
Plaintiff responded, making the matter ripe for disposition.
After reviewing the record, the court grants Defendants'
motion for summary judgment.
February 25, 2015, Plaintiff printed a "commercial writ
of habeas corpus" from his prison law library account to
challenge a state court criminal conviction. Staff discovered
the document and associated it with the prison security
threat group "Sovereign Citizens, " whose adherents
believe that they do not have to recognize federal, state, or
local laws, policies, or regulations because governments in
the United States operate beyond their legal jurisdiction.
Staff confiscated and forwarded the document to an
institutional investigator, who determined that it was
related to Sovereign Citizens. Defendant Dowell avers that
she did not personally confiscate the commercial writ of
29, 2015, defendant Horton was informed that Plaintiff was
telling inmates during a meeting for Moorish Science Temple
of America ("MSTA") adherents to "buck the
system" and that "the government, police, and other
authorities had no jurisdictional authority or control over
them." Staff asked Horton to speak with Plaintiff about
the statements because they were similar to Sovereign Citizen
alleges he told the attending MSTA adherents that the
MTSA's Koran says, "[T]hy equals have agreed to
raise to sovereign power and set as a ruler over
themselves." Plaintiff also allegedly said MSTA
adherents should respect the American flag as a flag of a
sovereign nation and "that we Moors have an independent
sovereign nation with our own flag, which is the Red flag
with a five pointed green star in the center in which two
distinct jurisdiction[s] exist within this country."
informed Plaintiff during the religious meeting that staff
considered Plaintiff to be a Sovereign Citizen and that he
would be charged with inciting a demonstration and placed
into segregation if he did not cease from teaching Sovereign
Citizen ideology to MSTA attendees. Plaintiff denied to
defendants that he made such statements. Plaintiff was
allowed to return to the service, he continued his religious
teaching, and he did not mention Sovereign Citizen ideology
again. However, Plaintiff now fears being charged and placed
in segregation whenever he preaches about MSTA sovereignty.
avers he did not instruct Plaintiff to not teach MSTA or
other religious beliefs. Rather, Horton instructed Plaintiff
to not teach Sovereign Citizen ideology by instructing
offenders to "buck the system" or disregard prison
rules or staff. Horton notes that the VDOC classifies
Plaintiff as a Sovereign Citizen because of the number of
times he has been caught with material related to Sovereign
claims that Horton and Burnette suppressed his right to
practice his religion in violation of the First Amendment and
RLUIPA. Plaintiff also claims that Do well denied him access
to the courts and censored his legal materials in violation
of the First Amendment.
filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are
entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity permits
"government officials performing discretionary functions
... [to be] shielded from liability for civil damages insofar
as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald.
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Once a defendant raises the
qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears the burden to
show that a defendant's conduct violated the plaintiffs
right. Bryant v. Muth. 994 F.2d 1082, 1086 (4th Cir.
is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, disclosed
materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements
of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute
of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all
reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most
favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder
could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The
moving party has the burden of showing - "that is,
pointing out to the district court - that there is an absence
of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case."
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must
set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a
genuine dispute of fact for trial. Id. at 322-24. A
party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in
favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin, 952
F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991). "Mere unsupported
speculation ... is not enough to defeat a summary judgment
motion." Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. &
Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995). A
plaintiff cannot use a response to a motion for summary
judgment to amend or correct a complaint challenged by the
motion for summary judgment. Cloaninger v. McDevitt,
555 F.3d 324, 336 (4th Cir. 2009).
have a constitutional right to reasonable access to courts to
challenge their convictions or vindicate their constitutional
rights. See Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 838
(1977). The right of reasonable access to courts "is
ancillary to the underlying claim, without which a plaintiff
cannot have suffered injury by being shut out of court."
Christopher v. Harbury,536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002).
Accordingly, in order to plead a backward looking denial of
reasonable access to courts claim, a plaintiff must
specifically identify a non-frivolous legal claim that a
defendant's actions prevented him from litigating.
Id. at 415-16; Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S.
343, 353 n.3 (1996). This requirement means the "inmate
must come forward with something more than vague and
conclusory allegations of inconvenience or delay in his
instigation or prosecution of legal actions.... The fact that
an inmate may not be able to litigate in exactly the manner
he desires is not sufficient to demonstrate the actual ...