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Crawley v. Parsons

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

March 14, 2017

DAVID CRAWLEY, Crawley,
v.
J. MICHAEL PARSONS, et. al., Defendants. DAVID CRAWLEY, Crawley,
v.
A. DAVID ROBINSON, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski United States District Judge

         David Crawley, a Virginia inmate and an adherent of the House of Yahweh faith, filed two separate pro se civil actions under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 complaining that he was not provided Passover meals while housed in administrative segregation at the Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP") in April 2015 in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

         Defendants, various staff members at WRSP or the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), filed motions for summary judgment, and Crawley responded, making these matters ripe for disposition. Defendants claim qualified immunity, contending that Crawley's failure to receive Passover meals was not an intentional violation of his constitutional rights. Rather, defendants contend, Crawley did not properly ask to receive Passover meals.

         After reviewing the record, the court will dismiss all claims in case No. 7:15cv00648, and all claims in case No. 7:15cv00647 except the claim asserted against Chaplain Mitchell. The claims against the other defendants in case No. 7:15cv00647 and all of the defendants in case No. 7:15cv00648 rely solely on conclusory allegations and allege only supervisory liability on behalf of prison officials. As such, these claims cannot proceed.

         Chaplain Mitchell is the only named defendant in either action who is alleged to have had any personal involvement in failing to grant Crawley's request for Passover meals. Chaplain Mitchell filed an affidavit in support of his motion for summary judgment stating that "I keep copies of all offender requests regarding participation in holiday observances. I did not receive any request forms concerning Crawley participating in Passover 2015." Chaplain Mitchell Aff, No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 31-1 at 2. Crawley counters that he submitted Offender Request forms to Counselor Rose asking that he be included on the Passover meals list. According to documents produced by Crawley in his opposition to summary judgment, Counselor Rose responded that he sent emails to Chaplain Mitchell. Offender Request Forms, No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 48-1, at 1-2. As Chaplain Mitchell did not file a reply brief, the record is incomplete concerning Chaplain Mitchell's receipt or response to the emails from Counselor Rose. Thus, on this record, the court cannot determine whether Crawley's omission from the Passover list was inadvertent or intentional on Chaplain Mitchell's part.[1] Given the standard governing summary judgment motions, requiring the court to consider the facts in the light most favorable to Crawley, the disputed facts concerning Chaplain Mitchell's conduct are not appropriate for resolution at this stage.

         Accordingly, summary judgment is GRANTED in case No. 7.T5cv00648 and that case will be dismissed with prejudice in its entirety. Summary judgment is GRANTED against defendants Fleming and Ponton in case No. 7:15cv00647, and Crawley's allegations against them in that case will be dismissed with prejudice. Summary judgment is DENIED in case No. 7:15cv00647 as to the sole remaining defendant Chaplain Mitchell as further factual development is necessary to resolve Crawley's claim against him.

         I. Background

         A. Case No. 7:15cv00647.

         In his complaint in case No. 7:15cv00647, Crawley names four defendants: J. Michael Parsons, an Assistant Attorney General of Virginia; Henry Ponton, a Regional Administrator for the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"); Leslie Fleming, the Warden of the Wallens Ridge State Prison; and J. Mitchell, the Chaplain for WRSP inmates. The court dismissed all claims against defendant Parsons on November 21, 2016. As to the remaining defendants, Crawley claims that Chaplain Mitchell refused to honor requests that Crawley be included on the 2015 Passover meals list. Crawley complains that Warden Fleming was "informed beforehand" that Chaplain Mitchell was refusing to put him on the Passover meals list and did nothing to intervene. Crawley complains that VDOC Regional Administrator Ponton did not require WRSP to allow Crawley to order Passover items from an outside vendor, making him a participant in the First Amendment violation. Crawley seeks monetary damages in the amount of $1000.00 per claim and an injunction transferring him out of the region.[2] Complaint, No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 1.

         Defendants respond that "Crawley seems to be suing Fleming and Ponton due to their supervisory positions at Wallen Ridge and VDOC, " Summary Judgment Brief, No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 31, at 5, and that his allegations run afoul of the well-established rule against vicarious liability in § 1983 suits. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) ("[B]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution."). Defendants' motion included an affidavit from B. Ravizee, the Institutional Ombudsman at WRSP, containing Crawley's grievances concerning Passover in 2015. Importantly, none of these grievances suggest any personal involvement by Warden Fleming or VDOC Regional Administrator Henry Ponton in Crawley's Passover meal request until after Passover had concluded.[3] Rather, Crawley's consistent complaint in the grievances is that Chaplain Mitchell ignored his request for inclusion on the Passover meal list.[4]

         Chaplain Mitchell seeks summary judgment on Crawley's constitutional claim by asserting that he could have received Passover meals had he requested them, but that "[i]t appears that Crawley did not follow this requirement because Mitchell has no record of receiving a written request from Crawley to participate in Passover 2015." No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 31, at 7. Defendants also claim entitlement to qualified immunity because they "did not violate any of Crawley's clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. While Crawley has an established First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion to the extent permitted in a prison environment, a reasonable person could not have known that Defendants' conduct, as established by Defendants' evidence, violated that right." Id. at 8. Defendants' response included an affidavit from Chaplain Mitchell stating that he "did not receive any request forms concerning Crawley participating in Passover 2015, " No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 31-1 at 2, and VDOC and WRSP Memoranda concerning procedures for the 2015 Passover.

         In his opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Crawley attaches two documents, each entitled "Offender Request, " in which he asks his prison counselor to be put on the Passover list. The forms contain responses from Crawley's counselor indicating that Chaplain Mitchell had been emailed the requests. No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 48-1, at 1-2. The December 29, 2014 response also stated that "[y]ou need to write the Chaplain as well." Id. at 1. As regards defendants Ponton and Fleming, Crawley asserts in his response in opposition to summary judgment that "both defendants Ponton and Fleming during rounds received constructual and actual knowledge from the plaintiff as to his religious desires, 841.3 policy, and the chaplain failure to respond to plaintiff counselor Rose e-mails." No. 7:15cv00647, ECF No. 48, at 3.

         B. Case No. 7:15cv00648.

         In his complaint in case No. 7:15cv00648, Crawley again names Warden Fleming and adds claims against Marcia Hensley, WRSP Institutional Programs Manager ("IPM"), and A. David Robinson, VDOC Chief of Corrections Operations ("CCO") for failing to provide Crawley with Passover meals in 2015. Crawley claims in this case that Warden Fleming violated the Constitution for his "failure to ensure plaintiff receive the Passover meal while in (SHU), after learning from plaintiff during rounds Mar. 9th, 2015 at his seg. cell- A-310 approx. 2:45 pm that plaintiff was Yahwists." Complaint, No. 7:15cv00648, ECF No. 1, at 2. Similarly, Crawley claims that IPM Hensley discriminated against him on the basis of his faith by failing to ensure Crawley received Passover meals. Crawley complains that VDOC CCO Robinson failed to send out a memorandum making it clear that persons of the Yahweh faith could obtain Passover treats from ...


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