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Depaola v. Clarke

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

July 13, 2017

ERIC DEPAOLA, Plaintiff,
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          Eric DePaola, Pro Se Plaintiff.



         The plaintiff, Eric DePaola, an inmate proceeding pro se, filed this prisoner civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5. DePaola alleges that more than two dozen prison officials have violated his rights related to outdoor recreation, religious dietary beliefs, or disciplinary proceedings. After review of DePaola's submissions, I conclude that this action must be summarily dismissed.


         DePaola is incarcerated at Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”) in Pound, Virginia, where the alleged violations occurred. Liberally construed, his Complaint alleges four unrelated and improperly joined claims.

         Outside Recreation.

         DePaola first complains generally about outside recreation procedures and conditions for segregation inmates like himself. He alleges that Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) and Red Onion policies call for officers each morning “to make a verbal announcement that the rec/shower list is being taken & make rounds at each prisoner's cell to take up this list marking accept and/or refuse.” Compl. ¶ 34, ECF No. 1. He contends that policy requires approval from a supervisor to change this list.

         Routine recreation procedures require the inmate to remove his clothes, place them in the tray box to be searched, perform a visual body cavity search, retrieve his clothes, and redress. Officers then handcuff and shackle the inmate and escort him to a recreation cage. These cages do not include bathrooms, drinking water, or recreation equipment. DePaola alleges that the cages are often contaminated with feces, urine and other substances from previous inmates, birds or insects. Poor drainage and maintenance of the cages often allegedly result in standing water, snow or ice, and inmates allegedly do not always receive weather-appropriate outdoor clothing.

         DePaola alleges that defendants Large, Messer, Hall, Dickenson and Sheperd (“the Sergeants”) “rarely follow protocol in re to taking the rec list & often engage in tactics to trick, extort &/or den[y] a prisoner's rec (including pl.).” Id. at ¶ 46. He asserts that he “has been extorted &/or denied (unjustifiably) via other means his rec” by the Sergeants “at one point in time or another.” Id. at ¶ 47.

         DePaola also complains that defendants Steavens, Stanley, Fleming, Lovell, Hill, Vaughn, Dodson, and Gentry (“the Guards”) “also engage in tactics to trick, extort or otherwise unjustifiably den[y] a prisoner his rec. (incl. pl.).” Id. at ¶ 48. He asserts that these Guards “engage in harassment [sic] (sexual &/or other) while conducting the pre rec. strip search &/or during escorting said prisoner to the rec. area (including pl.).” Id. at ¶ 49.

         Religious Diet.

         DePaola states that his Muslim religious beliefs prohibit him from ingesting animal or human waste and from ingesting any animal products that are not prepared in a “halal” manner. Id. at ¶ 51. He complains that when the defendants named above fail to clean the recreation cage before placing him in it, he sometimes “ingests” the following items in violation of his religious beliefs: “feces (human & bird), urine, snot, spit, dead & alive insects, spider webs [sic], fungus, mold, etc.” Id. at ¶¶ 54, 53.

         Disciplinary Proceedings.

         VDOC policy allows inmates to be fined up to $15 when found guilty of certain disciplinary infractions. Once such a penalty is imposed on an inmate, officials immediately remove that amount from his trust account and place it in the “General Commisary Trust Account (GCTA) which is used to purchase recreation equipment (inter alia).” Id. at ¶ 58. DePaola's current classification status does not allow him to utilize recreation equipment.

         On January 15, 2016, defendant Hall charged DePaola for possession of a weapon (a sharpened piece of metal) found by another officer in a cell DePaola had vacated three days earlier. On January 29, the hearing officer, defendant Mullins, denied DePaola's written requests for witness statements and documentation from the investigation when the metal object was discovered. During the hearing, Mullins refused to answer DePaola's questions regarding his impartiality and fitness to hear the charge. Mullins also refused DePaola's request to be cuffed in a manner that allowed him to take notes during the hearing and denied his request for a staff advisor to take notes for use during an appeal. Mullins found DePaola guilty based on Hall's testimony about how the metal object was found and imposed a $15 fine. The fine amount was immediately removed from DePaola's trust account that contained only money received from his friends and family. His disciplinary appeals to defendants Duncan and Barksdale were unsuccessful.

         On January 13, 2016, an official charged DePaola for disobeying a direct order. Mullins granted DePaola's requests for written witness statements, and the reporting officer answered many of DePaola's 43 questions in writing. Mullins gave DePaola these forms on February 27, and waited only “approx. 10-15 minutes” before sending defendant Steavens to bring DePaola to the hearing. Id. at ΒΆ 85. DePaola asked Steavens to allow him more time to review the documents, speak to his staff advisor, and finish eating lunch. Steavens agreed, left DePaola's cell, and started talking to Mullins at the pod table. DePaola's staff advisor was also present. Mullins and the advisor went into an office for a short while and then left the pod. When Steavens later came by DePaola's cell during his rounds, he said he had told Mullins that DePaola had refused to go to the hearing. DePaola later learned that Mullins ...

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