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Washington v. McAuliffe

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

January 12, 2018

TERRY MCAULIFFE, et al, Defendants.


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

         Torrey Lavell Washington, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and as a pauper under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, filed an amended verified complaint (ECF No. 25-1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 2000cc-1, et seq., and Virginia law.[1] Plaintiff names as defendants: the Governor of Virginia, the Secretary of Public Safety of Virginia, the Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC"), various staff of the VDOC, and three employees of Keefe Commissary Network, LLC. The defendants associated with Keefe Commissary Network, LLC ("Keefe defendants") filed a motion to dismiss, and the defendants associated with Virginia ("state defendants") filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, the defense of qualified immunity.[2] Plaintiff responded to each motion, and this matter is ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court grants the Keefe defendants' motion to dismiss, grants in part and denies in part the state defendants' motion for summary judgment, and directs the state defendants to file a motion for summary judgment.


         Plaintiff is an observant Rastafarian. One important tenet of his faith is to grow his hair uncut and styled in dreadlocks. Another important tenet is to not consume foods containing an animal product, including egg. Plaintiff has received the VDOC's Common Fare Menu ("Common Fare") since 2014. Common Fare is a religious diet for inmates whose religious dietary needs cannot be met by foods served on the Master Menu.

         The VDOC has confined Plaintiff in several prisons. Plaintiff was at Nottoway Correctional Center ("Nottoway") from June to August 2014, was at River North Correctional Center ("River North") from August 2014 to April 5, 2016, and has been at Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP") since April 5, 2016. Plaintiffs claims concern his experiences at these three prisons until he commenced this action no earlier than September 28, 2016.


         Plaintiff presents five broad issues about the treatment of his religious beliefs and living conditions in the VDOC since 2014. Plaintiff seeks damages and declaratory and equitable relief.

         First, an unidentified correctional officer forcibly cut Plaintiffs dreadlocks at Nottoway on June 3, 2014. Plaintiff had objected at the time, explaining that he had grown his hair uncut for five years in accordance with his religious beliefs. Plaintiff argues that the haircut violated federal and state rights.

         Second, VDOC Operating Procedure ("OP") 864.1 unlawfully forces him to live in unduly restrictive conditions of confinement.[3] Plaintiff complains that inmates who grow their hair for religious purposes must be placed in segregation for failing to comply with OP 864.l's grooming standards. Plaintiff alleges he was held in segregation for nearly eight months at River North and then moved to WRSP's Violator Housing Unit ("Hair Pod"), which is a special housing unit for inmates who refuse to cut their hair. Inmates in Phase I of the Hair Pod have more restrictive conditions of confinement than inmates in Phase II or in General Population. Plaintiff "started experiencing Schizophrenia, [b]ipolar disorder, PTSD, [and] IIED" from these more restrictive conditions.

         Plaintiff further complains that OP 864.1 allows female inmates to have their hair longer and styled in ponytails but does not allow the same for male inmates.[4] Plaintiff believes that the prohibited hair styles, including dreadlocks, target people of African descent in violation of "Freedom of Expression, " the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), the Free Exercise Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Section 16 in Article I of the Virginia Constitution.

         Third, WRSP kitchen staff serves or has served inadequate portions, old food, and egg to coerce and punish Hair Pod inmates. Plaintiff complains that WRSP kitchen staff and defendant Gregg, who is the VDOC Dietician, do not allow a substitute for egg in Rastafarians' foods although they allow substitutes for pork in Muslims' foods. Plaintiff explains that the VDOC used to serve a "Rastafarian Menu" but it has the alleged distinction of being the only menu ever discontinued by the VDOC. Plaintiff further complains that defendants King, Collins, Cooke, and Collins are liable because "correctional officers are not doing their describe[d] jobs" to report inadequate food portions or incorrect menu items to kitchen staff. Plaintiff believes these issues about food violate RLUIPA, the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and Section 16 in Article I of the Virginia Constitution.

         Fourth, Keefe Commissary does not inform VDOC inmates which items available for purchase contain egg although it informs inmates which products are Kosher and Halal. Plaintiff believes that defendants O'Quinn, Witt, and Randolph, who are or were Managers of the Keefe Commissary at WRSP, River North, and Nottoway, respectively, are responsible for marking products as Kosher and Halal. Consequently, Plaintiff believes O'Quinn's, Witt's, and Randolph's failures to mark products as containing egg violate religious rights, the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause.

         Lastly, WRSP staff Ravizee, Combs, and Fleming and VDOC staff Elam and Bivens allow these civil rights violations to occur by "not letting the grievance process go all the way through." For example, Plaintiff complains that Ravizee, as the WRSP Grievance Coordinator, rejected grievances as repetitive despite them allegedly being about different issues. Consequently, Plaintiff believes that Ravizee, Combs, Fleming, Elam, and Bivens are liable for "covering up" the other alleged civil rights violations.



         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient "facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The complaint's "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.

         A court must construe factual allegations in the nonmoving party's favor and treat them as true, but it is "not so bound with respect to [a complaint's] legal conclusions." Dist. 28, United Mine Workers of Am., Inc. v. Wellmore Coal Corp., 609 F.2d 1083, 1085 (4th Cir. 1979). A court will accept neither "legal conclusions drawn from the facts" nor "unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Only after a claim is stated adequately may it then "be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.


         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the pleadings, the disclosed materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those necessary to establish the elements of a party's cause of action. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. Id. The moving party has the burden of showing - "that is, pointing out to the district court- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant satisfies this burden, then the non-movant must set forth specific facts that demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of fact for trial. Id. at 322-24. A party is entitled to summary judgment if the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find in favor of the non-movant. Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991). "Mere unsupported speculation ... is not enough to defeat a summary judgment motion." Ennis v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bus. & Educ. Radio, Inc., 53 F.3d 55, 62 (4th Cir. 1995). A plaintiff cannot use a response to a motion for summary judgment to amend or correct a complaint challenged by the motion for summary judgment. Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 336 (4th Cir. 2009).


         A government official sued under § 1983 may invoke qualified immunity as a defense in an individual capacity. Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). "The doctrine of qualified immunity 'balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably."' Smith v. Ray, 781 F.3d 95, 100 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009)). The "qualified immunity analysis typically involves two inquiries: (1) whether the plaintiff has established the violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation." Raub v. Campbell, 785 F.3d 876, 881 (4th Cir. 2015); see In re Allen, 106 F.3d 582, 593 (4th Cir. 1997) ("[A]n official may claim qualified immunity as long as his actions are not clearly established to be beyond the boundaries of his discretionary authority."). A "court may address these two questions in the order ... that will best facilitate the fair and efficient disposition of each case." Estate of Armstrong v. Vill. of Pinehurst, 810 F.3d 892, 898 (4th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). A plaintiffs claim "survives summary judgment, however, only if [the court] answer[s] both questions in the affirmative." Id.


         1. RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause

         An inmate's right to religious exercise must be balanced with a prison's institutional needs of security, discipline, and general administration. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 722 (2005); O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348-49 (1987). RLUIPA affords heightened protection to a prisoner's religious exercise, whereas the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause is more deferential to prison official's decisions impacting religious exercise.

         RLUIPA prohibits government officials from imposing a substantial burden on the religious exercise of an inmate unless the government demonstrates that the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l(a). "The least-restrictive-means standard ... requires the government to show that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of religion by the objecting party." Jehovah v. Clarke, 798 F.3d 169, 177 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 864 (2015)).

         In contrast, a correctional regulation or management decision that substantially burdens an inmate's First Amendment right is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 199 ...

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