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Tehuti v. Robinson

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

January 22, 2018

HU TEHUTI, Plaintiff,
v.
A. DAVID ROBINSON, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge

          Hu Tehuti, 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. §§ 2OOOcc to 2000cc-5. He alleges that the defendants have violated his free exercise and due process rights related to his religious diet and other religious practices. After review of the record, the court concludes that the motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         Tehuti is serving a total sentence of 91 years in the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and since June 9, 2015, he has been incarcerated at River North Correctional Center ("River North"), where his current claims arose. Tehuti describes himself as "a Black African American. . . . [who believes] that all Black people are descendants of Noah's Black son Ham in the Holy Bible, Genesis 6:10." Compl. 12, ECF No. 1. Tehuti believes that "the 'African American Church' ["AAC"] is a covenated [sic] community established by the God of Ham for Ham's descendants." Id. According to Tehuti, "[o]bservant AAC members fast between dawn and sunset during the 31 days of Hebsed" (March 1 through 31) and "celebrate the first finit harvest during December 26 through January 1." Id. Tehuti also states that

[i]t is ordained for the AAC to gather all of the congregation together on Saturday and other religious days for AAC religious services, prayers, study groups, meetings and religious activities in accordance[ ] with Leviticus 8:3 and Psalms 26:12." Also it is the practice of the AAC and Tehuti to eat a vegetarian no-meat-flesh-fish-eggs diet in accordance with their dietary requirements in Genesis 1:9.

Id., at 17. More specifically, Tehuti believes he should eat "only fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, plants, nuts, and foods whose growth yields seed for food" and may not eat "any flesh, fish, bird, animal or any living creature that breathed the breath of life and bleed[s] blood." Id. at 20.

         When Tehuti arrived at River North, he requested and was assigned to receive a "no-meat food tray." Id. at 12. Tehuti discovered that the no-meat menu included fish twice a week and beans twice a day, every day, which he believed would cause him abdominal discomfort. Id. at 17. When Tehuti asked for substitute food items. Food Service officials agreed to provide a substitution for fish, but not for eggs or beans. Id. at 18-19.

         Tehuti was approved to receive specialty Common Fare meals beginning in late December 2015. As part of the approval process, he signed an agreement stating that the diet met his religious dietary needs. The agreement form stated that "possessing unauthorized food items from the main line" was a violation of the Common Fare program that would lead to removal from that diet for at least six months. Id. Ex. 7, ECF No. 1-1.

         Tehuti now contends that neither Common Fare nor the no-meat menu of the main food line complies with his religious dietary needs. He claims that the Common Fare menu includes eggs, tuna fish, and "several other non-vegetarian foods." Id. at 20. Tehuti claims that he has been "burdened to choose between not eating full course meals to avoid eating forbidden food;.. . eating full course meals" including forbidden food items, or trading "those forbidden food items to other inmates for vegetarian foods from the main line." Id. at 21. On September 6, 2016, an official reported observing Tehuti receiving food from a regular meal tray, a violation of his Common Fare Agreement. The Institutional Classification Authority ("ICA") conducted a hearing on this issue and recommended that Tehuti be suspended from Common Fare participation for six months. When Tehuti appealed this finding, he was awarded a rehearing, at which the ICA again recommended suspension; the recommendation was approved and upheld on appeal.

         On November 11, 2015, Tehuti submitted a "request for AAC Recognition of Religious Group." Id. at 13. After waiting six months to have AAC religious programming made available at River North, Tehuti filed a Regular Grievance. He received the following "Level I" response, dated July 26, 2017:

In your grievance you state that on November 27, 2015 you submitted a "Request for Recognition of Religious Group" to Chaplain Anderson; and both Chaplain Anderson and Ms. Higgins led you to believe it was approved and would start in June 2016. You declare [River North] staff intentionally failed to process your African American Church Request for Recognition of Religious Group. You attest on 6/30/2016 Miss Higgins provided a listing of religions approved to operate in DOC facilities, which showed your request was never processed.
As a result of this grievance you would like for this matter to be investigated . . . and for it to be determined who failed to process your request to have this religion recognized....
An investigation into your complaint indicates: Evidence . . . show[s] where you submitted a Request for Service form on March 16, 2016; requesting to be placed on the list to attend the [AAC] Religious program when it's available at [River North]. You were informed at that time . . . that the [AAC] was not an approved religion to operate within the VADOC and that you would need to submit a Request for Recognition of Religious Group form to possibly receive approval. You have been informed of the proper steps to take ... but have not done so....

Id. Exh. 1 A, at 3, ECF No. 1-1. The grievance was ruled unfounded, and that finding was ...


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