United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
CHAD E. GOINS, Plaintiff,
L. FLEMING, ET AL., Defendants.
E. Goins, Pro Se Plaintiff;
H. Cahill, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond,
Virginia, for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge
plaintiff, Chad E. Goins, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro
se, filed this 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. Goins asserts that the defendant prison officials
are not adequately accommodating his religious practices in
several respects. After review of the record, I conclude that
the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment must be
granted in part and denied in part.
is serving a Virginia prison sentence and has been confined
at Wallens Ridge State Prison (“Wallens Ridge”)
since November 2013, in the custody of the Virginia
Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). Goins states
that he is Sunni Muslim and must eat a diet and worship in a
manner, individually and in group worship services,
consistent with the Sunni beliefs.
Complaint, Goins sues Henry Ponton, VDOC Regional
Administrator; L. Fleming and Combs, Warden and Assistant Warden
of Wallens Ridge; and the following individuals who also work
at Wallens Ridge: Cope, a captain; Stallard, a unit manager;
Coleman, a lieutenant; M. Hensley, who handles grievances; B.
Ravizee, the ombudsman; M. Brogles, a kitchen supervisor; and
Mitchell, a chaplain. Liberally construed, Goins'ss
Complaint claims that the defendants' policies and
practices burden his religious practices in the following
respects: (1) The Common Fare Program prevents Goins from
consuming certain foods allowed by his religious beliefs,
thereby forcing him to comply with others' religious
dietary beliefs; (2) Goins cannot pray or wear his kufi
(religious head covering) during pod recreation; (3) The
defendants do not provide an in room officer at all times
during Sunni group religious services; (4) Dividing the Sunni
Muslim services has left Goins'ss group with no qualified
religious teacher; (5) Goins cannot access a bathroom during
his religious services, while inmates of other religions meet
for group services in the gym where they have access to a
bathroom. Goins contends that the defendants' actions
have violated his rights under RLUIPA and the First, Eighth,
and/or Fourteenth Amendments. He also asserts supplemental
state law claims of negligence and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. For these alleged violations, Goins seeks
monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief.
defendants move for summary judgment on the ground of
qualified immunity and on the merits of Goins's claims.
They offer affidavits from Fleming and Combs and copies of
prison policies regarding the challenged religious
accommodations. Goins has responded to the defendants'
motion, making it ripe for disposition. Because Goins's
claims arise from three different sets of facts, I will
address the claims in three groups.
Goins's claims for monetary damages fail at the outset.
The defendants are protected by immunity against damage
claims for actions taken in their official capacities.
See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491
U.S. 58 (1989). Moreover, monetary damages are not available
under RLUIPA for any of the defendants' alleged actions.
See, e.g., Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 285- 86
(2011) (finding damages not recoverable against defendants in
their official capacities under RLUIPA); Rendelman v.
Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 188-89 (4th Cir. 2009) (finding no
RLUIPA claim for damages available against defendants in
their individual capacities). Therefore, I will grant summary
judgment for the defendants on all claims for monetary
damages against the defendants in their official capacities
and all claims for monetary damages under RLUIPA.
Ridge, like many other VDOC facilities, offers the Common
Fare diet to inmates whose religious dietary beliefs cannot
be met by the VDOC's master menu. The Common Fare menus
feature protein items that are considered Kosher and do not
contain any pork or pork derivatives prohibited by Islamic
halal dietary rules. These menus also provide participants
with fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables in keeping with
an inmate with the specialized Common Fare meals subjects the
institution to additional financial costs and administrative
burdens that it would not incur when providing that inmate
with a regular diet. Consequently, VDOC policy requires
inmates to demonstrate their religious sincerity to be
approved to receive Common Fare meals and to sign a Common
Fare Agreement by which they commit to comply with the terms
of participation as a condition to receiving such meals. An
inmate who violates a term of the agreement may be
temporarily suspended from the diet, and repeated violations
can lead to removal from the Common Fare program. Actions
that violate the Common Fare Agreement are stated in the
document itself and include: eating, trading, or possessing
unauthorized food items from the regular meal line; giving
away or trading a Common Fare food item; and purchasing or
eating food items from the commissary that are inconsistent
with the dietary requirements of the Common Fare program.
Commissary items that violate Common Fare are clearly
identified as such.
signed a Common Fare Agreement on March 13, 2015, that
stated, among other things, “This program provides me
with an appropriate religious diet that meets or exceeds
minimum daily nutritional requirements.” Fleming Aff.
Enclosure B, ECF No. 31-1. The Agreement also advised Goins
that eating food items inconsistent with Common Fare dietary
requirements or from the regular menu would violate the
agreement and result in suspension of his religious meals.
Claim (1) of the Complaint, Goins admits that the Common Fare
menu is the only menu option available to him at Wallens
Ridge that excludes the pork and pork byproducts that his
Sunni beliefs forbid him to eat. Goins complains, however,
that he is forbidden by Allah from making foods unlawful that
are not forbidden to Muslims. As specific examples, Goins
states that his Sunni beliefs do not prohibit him from eating
dairy and meat together or from eating the cheese and pasta
products he can buy from the commissary. If he eats these
food items, however, he violates the Common Fare Agreement
and can be suspended from this menu option. Goins contends
that by prohibiting him from eating foods that are
not unlawful for Sunnis to eat, the VDOC policy
forces him to comply with another religion's dietary
restrictions and prevents him from freely exercising his own
RLUIPA and the First Amendment.
survive the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on
any of his claims, Goins must present material disputed
fact(s) that would persuade a jury to rule in his
favor. I find no such disputed fact material to
his dietary claims under RLUIPA or the First Amendment.
First Amendment prohibits the government from imposing
“a substantial burden” on an inmate's ability
to exercise his religion unless the government can
demonstrate an appropriate reason for the burden.
Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 198-99, n.8 (4th Cir.
2006). Under RLUIPA, “when a prison substantially
burdens an inmate's exercise of religion, the prison must
demonstrate that imposing the burden serves a compelling
government interest and does so by the least restrictive
means.” Id. at 182. For either a First
Amendment or a RLUIPA claim, then, the inmate “bears
the initial burden to demonstrate that the prison's
policy exacts a substantial burden on religious
exercise.” Incumaa v. Stirling, 791 F.3d 517,
525 (4th Cir. 2016). “[A] substantial burden on
religious exercise occurs when a state or local government,
through act or omission, ‘put[s] substantial pressure
on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his
beliefs.'” Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 187
(RLUIPA context) (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind.
Emp't Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981)) (First
simply, the established facts in this case do not show that
the challenged policy places any substantial burden on
Goins's beliefs. The undisputed evidence establishes that
Goins can consume his Common Fare meals without violating his
Sunni dietary requirements to avoid pork and that these meals
meet or exceed his nutritional needs. Goins presents no
evidence that his inability to consume food items that
violate the terms of his Common Fare Agreement puts
substantial pressure on him to violate any dietary
mandate of his Sunni beliefs. At the most, this restriction
is an inconvenience or difficulty, not sufficient to
constitute a triable fact showing a substantial burden on his
religious exercise. See Marron v. Miller, No.
7:13CV00338, 2014 WL 2879745, at *2 (W.D. Va. June 24, 2014)
(“No substantial burden occurs if the government action
merely makes the ‘religious exercise more expensive or
difficult' or inconvenient, but does not pressure the
adherent to violate his or her religious beliefs or abandon
one of the precepts of his or her religion.”) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
Other constitutional claims.
conclude that Goins has not stated any actionable claim under
the Eighth Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause regarding
his religious diet. He does not state facts showing that the
Common Fare program deprives him of the nutrition he needs to
live or that it has caused him any significant harm.
Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (holding
that Eighth Amendment claim requires showing of deprivation
of minimal necessities of life): Shakka v. Smith, 71
F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (requiring showing that
challenged condition caused, or is likely to cause,
“significant physical or emotional harm, or a grave
risk of such harm”). Goins also states no facts showing
that this diet program treats him differently from other
similarly situationed inmates because of intentional
discrimination based on his religious views. Veney v.
Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730 (4th Cir. 2002) (stating
standard for equal protection claim in prison context).
stated reasons, I conclude that all of the defendants are
entitled to summary judgment on Goins's constitutional
and RLUIPA challenges in Claim (1) concerning the Common Fare
program. Consequently, I decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over any related claim Goins may be attempting
to raise ...