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Carter v. Fleming

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

March 15, 2017

AARON CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
L. J. FLEMING, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Aaron Carter, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Carter names as defendants: L. J. Fleming, the Warden of Wallens Ridge State Prison (“WARSP”); M. Broyles, the WARSP Food Service Manager; S. Stallard, the WARSP Food Services Director; and Ms. Gregg, the Dietician for the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). Carter alleges that defendants violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq., by not providing a diet that conforms to his religious beliefs. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Carter responded, making this matter is ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Carter alleges that he is an adherent of the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) and that the VDOC's Common Fare menu does not meet his religious dietary needs. The Common Fare menu is offered to inmates who have specialized and religious dietary needs, and it is designed to meet common religious dietary restrictions, like halal and Kosher. Carter believes that staff serves foods from the regular menu on the Common Fare menu, and he further complains that serving fried foods, cooked vegetables, beans, sweet potatoes, white bread, white rice, and cake and not serving whole fruits, whole vegetables, or whole tuna on Common Fare menus violates his religious beliefs.

         As a consequence of his belief that both the regular menu and Common Fare menu served the same foods, Carter consumed a Thanksgiving tray from the regular menu on November 26, 2015. Staff observed him eat foods from the regular menu and, per policy, suspended him from Common Fare for one year.

         Carter argues that these alleged violations of his religious beliefs constitute violations of the First Amendment and RLUIPA and, further, that these violations of federal law constitute a violation of substantive due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Carter also argues that the First Amendment guarantees him an “adequate, nutritious and healthy diet.” Carter seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages.

         Defendant Gregg, the VDOC Dietician, approves the Common Fare menus in advance of them being served at VDOC prisons. Except fruits and vegetables, all foods purchased and used for Common Fare are consistent with or are certified halal or certified Kosher. The Common Fare menu at WARSP includes foods different from the regular menu, but the regular menu may include foods served on the Common Fare menu like beans, vegetables, peanut butter, fruit juice, and beverages. Nonetheless, these Common Fare foods are still kept Kosher and are stored separately from non-Kosher items.

         Carter signed a Common Fare Agreement on September 2, 2014, by which he acknowledged that, inter alia, he would not eat unauthorized foods from the regular menu. The penalties for that violation are a six-month suspension from Common Fare for the first offense; a one-year suspension for the second offense; and a four-year suspension for third and subsequent violations. On December 9, 2015, Carter was served with notice of a hearing to adjudicate the violation for eating foods from the regular menu, and the hearing occurred on December 14, 2015. Based on a written report, the Institutional Classification Authority (“ICA”) recommended that Carter be suspended from Common Fare for a year. Staff reviewed the ICA recommendation, determined that the suspension was appropriate, and suspended Carter from Common Fare for a year.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should grant summary judgment “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.” In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material fact must be “‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001). Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated a federal right. See Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). If the evidence of a genuine issue of fact material to the plaintiff's § 1983 claim “is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994). The non-moving party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory allegations to defeat a motion for summary judgment, however. Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992). The evidence relied on must meet “the substantive evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at a trial on the merits.” Mitchell v. Data Gen. Corp., 12 F.3d 1310, 1315-16 (4th Cir. 1993) (“The summary judgment inquiry thus scrutinizes the plaintiff's case to determine whether the plaintiff has proffered sufficient proof, in the form of admissible evidence, that could carry the burden of proof of his claim at trial.”).

         B. Substantive Due Process

         One of Carter's claims is that the alleged violations of the First Amendment and RLUIPA constitute a violation of substantive due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. “Where a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must be the guide for analyzing these claims.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273 (1994) (plurality opinion); see also Willis v. Town of Marshall,426 F.3d 251, 266 (4th Cir. 2005). Thus, the substantive due-process claim cannot proceed as it is “merely duplicative of claims explicitly protected under other constitutional sources.” Roman v. ...


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