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Olds v. Clarke

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

September 27, 2017

MARQUIS OLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Marquis Olds, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants, Harold Clarke, A. David Robinson, Henry Ponton, John F. Walrath, B. Kanode, A. Mullins, Mark Engleke, J. Morrison, Virginia Department of Corrections, and River North Correctional Center, violated his religious rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, Olds responded, and this matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, the court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Olds' Complaint

         Olds alleges in an unverified complaint that he is a Rastafarian inmate housed within the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC). At the time he filed this action, Olds was housed at River North Correctional Center (River North). Since filing the action, Olds has been transferred to Sussex I State Prison. Olds argues that his religious practice is “substantially burden[ed]” by the diet and hair policies at River North.

         Olds states that it is a “central tene[]t” of his faith “to eat clean foods such as fruits and vegetables [that are] free [from] exposure to foods forbidden to [be eaten] by the Rastafarian faith[, ] such as pork and unclean meats.” Olds alleges that the River North kitchen “prepares and serves pork and unclean meats to the general population almost daily, while a ‘religious diet' titled ‘[C]ommon [F]are' is offered.” Olds claims that the regular and Common Fare “diets, trays, etc.” are “exposed to each other and cross[-]contaminated[, ] resulting in even the ‘religious [C]ommon [F]are' diet [] being unacceptable” to his religious dietary needs. He does not explain how he knows that the “diets, trays, etc.” are cross-contaminated. Olds argues that being given “no choice but to eat said foods” places his “soul in peril.”

         Olds also states that it is a “central tene[]t of the Rastafarian faith to grow . . . facial hair and . . . dreadlocks.” Olds alleges that the VDOC and River North require him to “cut his hair and keep his facial hair trimmed very close” at one-quarter of an inch. Olds acknowledges that the VDOC will allow Rastafarian inmates to grow their hair and beards, but states that in order to do so, he must be housed in a special housing unit at a higher security level facility, where he “would be denied rights and privileges he is entitled to [for] being a good inmate.” Olds does not explain which rights and privileges he would allegedly be denied.

         B. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants submit affidavits by defendants Jessica Morrison, the Food Service Director at River North, and John Walrath, the Warden at River North. Defendants argue that Olds' exercise of religion has not been substantially burdened by the VDOC's Common Fare diet or the grooming policy. In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants assert the following.

         1. Diet

         The Common Fare diet is intended to accommodate offenders whose religious dietary needs cannot be met by the Master Menu. (Morrison Aff. ¶ 4, Dkt. No. 15, Attach. 1.) All food purchased for Common Fare, except fresh fruits and vegetables, are certified by a recognized Orthodox Standard, such as “U”, “K”, or “CRC.” (Id. at ¶ 5.) No pork or pork derivatives are used. (Id.) Fresh fruits and raw fresh vegetables are delivered weekly to River North. (Id.)

         All food cooked for the Common Fare diet is cooked in designated Common Fare equipment. (Id.) Common Fare meals are prepared in a separate area and are not-cross contaminated with the regular food trays. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Common Fare foods are served on separate trays, with separate utensils and separate cups from regular menu food items. (Id.) The machine used to clean the Common Fare serving items is broken down, cleaned, and thoroughly sanitized before the Common Fare items are placed inside of it to be cleaned. (Id.) There is no cross-contamination in any way of Common Fare food items and regular food items. (Id.)

         During offender lockdowns, when offenders are served their meals inside of their housing units, the Common Fare meals are placed on Common Fare carts, completely separate from regular food tray carts. (Id. at ¶ 7.) In order to eliminate the possibility of cross contamination, Common Fare carts do not hold any regular menu food trays. (Id.)

         2. ...


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