United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Id. Exh. 1 A, at 3, ECF No. 1-1. The grievance was
ruled unfounded, and that finding was ...