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Fields v. Robinson

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 19, 2017

PHILLIP W. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID ROBINSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT)

          HENRY E. HUDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Phillips W. Fields, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Fields alleges, inter alia, that the Defendants[1] have unlawfully burdened his religious exercise by prohibiting him from participating in the Common Fare diet unless he picks up a requisite number of trays and refrains from giving his Common Fare meals to other inmates. Specifically, Fields makes the following claims for relief:

Claim 1 By removing Fields from the Common Fare diet, Defendants denied Fields a diet consistent with his religious precepts in violation of his rights under (a) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act[2] ("RLUIPA") and (b) the First Amendment.[3]
Claim 2 In order to receive the Common Fare diet, which accommodates Fields's religious dietary needs, Defendants require that Fields pick up seventy-five percent of his meal trays. This requirement frustrates Fields's ability to fast and violates his rights under (a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.
Claim 3 In order to receive the Common Fare diet, Defendants require that Fields not give his meals to other inmates. This requirement frustrates Fields's religious desire to be charitable and violates his rights under (a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.
Claim 4 In order to receive the Common Fare diet, Defendants require that Fields not give his meals to other inmates. This requirement frustrates Fields's religious desire to not be wasteful and violates his rights under (a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         L STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Summary judgment must be rendered "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). It is the responsibility of the party seeking summary judgment to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the motion is properly supported, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by citing affidavits or "'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) and 56(e) (1986)). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court "must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." United States v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, a mere "'scintilla of evidence'" will not preclude summary judgment. Anderson, Ml U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall) 442, 448 (1872)).

         In support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants rely upon the affidavit of Tracy Chumura, the Housing and Program Manager at SBCC (Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 ("Chumura Aff, " ECF No. 22-1), and a copy of Fields's Common Fare Diet Agreement (id. Encl. A). In opposition, Fields submitted his own declaration ("Fields Decl., " ECF No. 24). In light of the foregoing submissions, the following facts are established for the Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court draws all permissible inferences in favor of Fields.

         II. UNDISPUTED FACTS

         Fields is an Orthodox Sunni Muslim inmate confined in SBCC. (Fields Decl. ¶ 4; Compl. 2.)[4] In 2013, Fields submitted a request to participate in the Common Fare diet "because it served food consistent with [his religious] beliefs." (Fields Decl. ¶ 5.) The "Common Fare is a diet designed to meet the religious needs of offenders. Offenders sign an agreement when they are approved for participation in the Common Fare diet which requires that they only retrieve Common Fare trays and that they attend religious services. If an offender is found to have broken the Common Fare agreement, they are recommended for Common Fare suspension." (Chumura Decl. ¶ 4.) Additionally, Fields's Common Fare Agreement required that he pick up "a minimum of seventy-five percent of [the] meals served per month." (Common Fare Agreement 1.) The Common Fare Agreement further prohibited Fields from "giving away or trading a Common Fare food item, " and "eating, trading or possessing unauthorized food items from the main [food] line." (Id. at 1.)

         On October 13, 2014, Fields was observed giving another offender food items from his Common Fare tray. (Chumura Decl. ¶ 5.) Fields was referred to the Internal Classification Authority ("ICA") for possible suspension from the Common Fare diet. (Id.) At the conclusion of the ICA hearing, the ICA recommended removing Fields from the Common Fare diet for six months. (Id. ¶ 8.) Chumura approved that recommendation. (Id.)

         After the completion of his six-month suspension, Field could have requested to be reinstated to the Common Fare diet. (Id. ¶ 9.) Fields has not requested to be reinstated to the Common Fare diet. (Id.)

         Fields represents that he did not request to be reinstated to the Common Fare diet because the Common Fare Agreement "restricted so many different acts of worship as opposed to the one benefit of the religious diet...." (Fields Decl. ¶ 11.) Specifically, Fields contends that the Common Fare Agreement impairs his religious exercises of engaging in "voluntary fasts, " being charitable, and avoiding "wastefulness." (Id.)

         III. RLUIPA AND ...


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