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Burke v. Clarke

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

March 27, 2018

RANDY BURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD CLARKE, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge

         Randy Burke, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and as a pauper under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, filed a verified complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1983 and 2000cc~l. Plaintiff names numerous staff of the Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") and Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP") as defendants. Plaintiff argues that Defendants violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), and Virginia law by not providing Rastafarian group religious services; Rastafarian religious items and holiday meals; legal resources; and educational and vocational programming. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, the defense of qualified immunity.[1] Plaintiff responded, making this matter ripe for disposition.[2] After reviewing the record, I grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment and direct Defendants to file another motion for summary judgment.

         I.

         A.

         Plaintiff presents five broad claims about the conditions of confinement he experienced at Red Onion State Prison ("ROSP") and WRSP. First, various defendants violated religious rights protected by the First Amendment and RLUIPA because he was denied access to Rastafarian religious group services, service items, and holiday meals. Second, various defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by treating Plaintiff differently than other inmates. Plaintiff describes the disparate treatment as access to vocational and educational programs and the religious practices described in the first claim. Third, various defendants violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by not giving Plaintiff access to vocational and educational programs. Fourth, various defendants violated a First Amendment right to access courts by not supplying legal resources for the United States Virgin Islands ("US VI") laws. Lastly, various supervisory defendants witnessed or learned of these violations but did not intervene. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, a transfer to the custody of the U.S. VI, and nominal, compensatory, and punitive damages.

         B.

         Plaintiff is from the U.S. VI and is an observant Rastafarian who believes he must grow his hair uncut and styled in dreadlocks. Plaintiff was transferred from the USVI and into the custody of the VDOC at ROSP on April 14, 2013, pursuant to the Correctional Services Contract ("Contract") between the VDOC and the USVI Bureau of Corrections ("BOC").

         On May 7, 2013, Plaintiff received an institutional conviction and was confined in segregation for refusing to obey the order to cut his dreadlocks. VDOC Operating Procedure ("OP") 864.1, titled, "Offender Grooming and Hygiene, " and effective on April 1, 2013, establishes uniform personal grooming standards for inmates in VDOC facilities. Prison officials explain that these standards facilitate the identification of inmates and promote safety, security, and sanitation. Dreadlocks and other hair styles are prohibited for general population inmates because those styles could conceal contraband, promote identification with gangs, create a health, hygiene, or sanitation hazard, or could significantly compromise the ability to identify an inmate.

         Plaintiff was at ROSP while he was still challenging his criminal judgment entered by a court of the U.S. VI. On December 6, 2013, the U.S. VI Supreme Court denied Plaintiffs appeal. Plaintiff alleges that he lost the appeal because he had been unable to obtain USVI legal materials since arriving at ROSP.

         Plaintiff was transferred to WRSP on May 30, 2014, and placed in segregation for nearly four weeks. Upon arrival, he tried to obtain USVI legal resources to develop a habeas petition, but none were available.

         Plaintiff was released from segregation and assigned to WRSP's Grooming Standards Violators Housing Unit ("VHU") on June 26, 2014. The VDOC established the VHU for inmates who have a religious objection to cutting their dreadlocks. The objective of the VHU pod is to manage male inmates who are in violation of the grooming standards under OP 864.1. To be eligible for assignment to VHU at WRSP, an inmate must have been convicted of offense code 133, "Refusing to Comply with the Department's Grooming Standards."

         Before being housed in the VHU, an Institutional Classification Authority hearing was held on an unspecified date to inform Plaintiff of the rules, rights, and privileges afforded inside the VHU. Plaintiff was told that he could practice his religious faith inside of his cell because, at that time, group religious services were not available to Rastafarians in the VHU. Plaintiff was also told of the educational and vocational programs offered in the VHU. Plaintiff was further told that he could not be housed with or be near inmates in the general population except for the school tutor. Nonetheless, all inmates in the VHU may enroll in the distance learning programs, which include viewing instructional video lessons via closed-circuit TV and sending and receiving assignments to teachers via institutional mail.

         In January 2015, the VDOC allowed group Rastafarian religious services for the VHU inmates who signed up. Plaintiff attended the service on January 15, 2015, but the prison had not provided a "Levi and high priest" or Rastafarian service items like a red, yellow, and green prayer rug; a red, yellow, and green knit hat; drums; a "Holy Piby Bible"; incense; a red, yellow, and green Lion of Judah flag; or pictures, portraits, or documents of King Haile Selassie I.

         On February 18, 2016, Plaintiff was moved into Phase I of the VHU, which purportedly had been created two days earlier. Plaintiff requested educational or vocational programming for job training but was denied a job outside the VHU because his hair was deemed a security threat.

         On April 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed an informal complaint about not receiving from the prison law library legal materials about USVI laWs. Defendant Jones, who was the WRSP Law Library Supervisor, replied approximately two weeks after the informal complaint that the USVI had not yet transmitted an updated, working electronic collection of USVI laws.

         Pursuant to the Contract, the USVI BOC is responsible for establishing procedures to make all necessary legal research materials about USVI laws available to the USVI inmates in the VDOC's custody. The USVI BOC typically sends a compact disc ("CD") of USVI laws to WRSP.[3] The CD arrived at WRSP on February 2, 2015, and stopped working in March 2016, ostensibly because the software license expired. WRSP staff requested an updated CD in March 2016, but WRSP staff did not receive the updated CD until June 22, 2016.[4]

         In response to another informal complaint sent on April 28, 2016, defendant Collins, who was the Unit Manager, explained on May 6, 2016, that Plaintiff could participate in Rastafarian services by writing the Chaplain during open enrollment and could enroll in longdistance education programs. In the subsequent regular grievance, Plaintiff alleged that he had already been on the participation list from the prior year- but still had not been allowed to participate.

         Defendants explain that a one-hour Rastafarian service occurs in the VHU each Friday morning. They further assert that Plaintiff does not attend because he has not submitted a request to participate despite being told to do so, not because he is personally prohibited from attending.

         On May 5, 2016, Plaintiff filed an informal complaint to the Chaplain, wanting Rastafarian service items and Rastafarian holiday meals on July 23 and November 2. The Chaplain replied on May 12, 2016, noting that he does not have any of the requested items and that all religious items must be donated. Plaintiff later learned that prison officials do not serve holiday meals to ...


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