United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Michael F. Urbanski, Chief United States District Judge.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
VDOC Operating Procedure ("OP") 864.1 unlawfully
forces him to live in unduly restrictive conditions of
confinement. 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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause
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.
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)).
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 ...