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Moore v. Baker

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

December 15, 2017

MICHAEL MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
GERALDINE BAKER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge.

         Michael Moore, a Jewish inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and §§ 2OOOcc, et seq., against officials at Red Onion State Prison ("ROSP") and the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"). Plaintiff alleges in the amended complaint (ECF Nos. 18, 33) that Defendants violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") when they delayed approving him for a diet in conformity with his religious beliefs for approximately 57 days.[1]Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff responded, making this matter ripe for adjudication. After reviewing the record, the court dismisses the RLUIPA claims as' moot and grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the remaining claims.

         I.

         Soon after arriving at ROSP in September 2015, Plaintiff believed his Jewish faith compelled him to consume a Kosher diet. In January 20, 2016, Plaintiff applied to receive the VDOC's Common Fare Diet ("Common Fare"). Common Fare is a food menu that is designed to meet inmates' religious dietary restrictions, including restrictions of the Jewish faith.

         Plaintiff noted on his Common Fare application that he began practicing Judaism in April 2013 but did not officially declare Judaism as his religion until January 9, 2015. He also noted that he had previously participated in the VDOC's Ramadan program, which is an Islamic holiday, and had been convicted of serious institutional charges during the last two years. In addition to the Common Fare application, Plaintiff signed up to participate in the Jewish holidays of the Fast of Esther scheduled for March 23, 2016, and Passover scheduled between April 23 and 30, 2016.

         Plaintiffs counselor prepared a report for the Common Fare application. The counselor noted that Plaintiff had reported being Jewish for three years and had possessed a lot of literature to support the application. However, the counselor noted Plaintiff had at least six institutional charges within the past year, had not participated in Jewish religious services/programs for six months or at the rate of twice per month, and had not contacted the Chaplain's Office for religious guidance, literature, or information. The counselor also noted that Plaintiff had participated in Protestant services at his prior prison.

         Both the Institutional Classification Authority ("ICA") and a unit manager reviewed the report and the application and recommended approval. Both recommendations were completed before the Fast of Esther or Passover.

         Defendant Baker, who is ROSP's Institutional Programs Manager, denied Plaintiffs Common Fare application on April 10, 2016, which was after the Fast of Esther and before Passover. Baker questioned Plaintiffs sincere need for Common Fare, noting, "[N]o evidence of participation in Jewish holy days. He has attended Protestants services for several years in the past. He has several-charges which are significant. ..."

         On May 12, the ICA reconsidered Plaintiffs application and issued an updated report that again recommended approval. The ICA noted for the first time that Plaintiff had possessed Jewish literature and had participated in the Fast of Esther and Passover. The ICA explained that, although Plaintiff had participated in these holidays, his name had been accidentally omitted from the inmate enrollment list.

         Baker approved Plaintiffs application for Common Fare on June 5 based on the ICA's updated report. Baker no longer questioned Plaintiff sincerity and specifically noted in her second report that Plaintiff had possessed Jewish literature and had participated in the Jewish holidays.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance on May 14 about Baker's initial decision denying the Common Fare application.[2] Defendant Artrip, who was Red Onion's Assistant Warden, responded on May 23 and deemed the grievance unfounded because Baker's decision did not violate prison procedures. Artrip reiterated that the record had not fully demonstrated a sincere need for Common Fare based on the lack of participation in Jewish holidays, but Artrip told Plaintiff he could reapply.[3]

         Plaintiff alleges that he was injured by not being approved for Common Fare for 57 days. He says he suffered headaches, lightheadedness, nausea, cramps, hunger pains, weight loss, and spiritual discomfort. Plaintiff specifically seeks damages and declaratory relief.

         II.

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity permits "government officials performing discretionary functions ... [to be] shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800. 818 (1982). Once a defendant raises the qualified immunity defense, a plaintiff bears ...


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