United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge.
Lawrance Jones, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and as a
pauper under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, filed an amended verified
complaint (ECF No. 37-1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
1983 and 2000cc-1, et seq., and Virginia law.
Plaintiff names several administrative and correctional staff
of the Wallens Ridge State Prison ("WRSP") as
defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are liable for
violating the First and Eighth Amendments of the United
States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), and state
tort law by using excessive force, not allowing him to
practice his religion, and retaliating against him.
Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and Plaintiff
filed a 257 page response, making this matter ripe for
disposition. After reviewing the record, I grant in part and
deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment and
direct them to file another motion for summary judgment.
states he is a sincere adherent to the religion Nation of
Islam ("NOI"). Part of his religious beliefs
include consuming a special diet, wearing a head cover called
a Kufi, and praying five times a day with other NOI
adherents. Islamic prayer, called "Salat, "
requires Plaintiff to stand, bend, kneel, and be prostrate.
Plaintiff complains he is unable to pray inside his cell due
"to the restrictive cell size, " "nearby
depiction of images in the form of family pictures,
calendars, television programs, " and
"disrespectful non-religious cell mates who interfere
with such prayer spitefully and apathetically."
Plaintiff also complains that during in-pod recreation time,
he is forced to choose between praying and "recreation
programs and privileges as phone calls, showers, schooling,
[or] work assignments...."
complains that he is not permitted to wear a Kufi in the
Plaintiff also complains that he is not allowed to congregate
with other Muslims in his pod to pray five times a day or for
"Taleem" to learn their religion. Instead,
Plaintiff is allowed to congregate to pray with other NOI
adherents once a week for "Jummah" prayer in the
gym. Nevertheless, Plaintiff complains that Sgt. Smith
prohibited Plaintiff from attending the Jummah service on
September 26, 2014, and the "Savior's Day"
service on February 26, 2016.
complains that WRSP Food Service staff modified the Common
Fare Diet ("Common Fare"). Common Fare had served
Kosher and Halal foods that conformed to Plaintiffs religious
dietary requirements. However, Plaintiff asserts that WRSP
staff no longer serves foods on Common Fare that comport with
his religious beliefs. For example, Plaintiff complains that,
despite his religious objections, staff serves him
pork-tainted peanut butter, tuna cake, and soy patties in
barbeque sauce. Plaintiff specifically identifies seven
"burdens" imposed by Common Fare: "pork
byproducts"; "filler in fish (not Kosher)"; no
whole fruits; "[e]xcessive eggs or (boiled eggs)";
"storing Common Fare foods with unkosher foods";
"[h]ard, uncooked beans (navy bean)"; and
"unreal meats (genetically modified organism)."
also complains that he was "forced" during Ramadan
in 2016 to eat Common Fare trays specifically designed for
NOI inmates instead of generic Common Fare trays. Plaintiff
clarifies that his:
[R]eason for requesting Common Fare Diet on my contract
during the month of Ramadan is to avoid hardship. Also, such
meals are fixed and consistent as it is standard Kosher. On
the made up NOI Common Fare, kitchen staff ha[s] exercised
hate. Rice and beans are not properly cooked. Alteration to
meals, excessive boiled eggs, missing items or portions of
food, like bag third meal. Plaintiff was subjected to this
for and during the 2016 [thirty] day month of Ramadan.
concludes that that "kitchen staff... modified] our food
almost on a daily basis, adding to it, taken away from it.
This put a substantial burden on Plaintiffs sincere ability
to fast and complete a [thirty] day religious obligation.
Constant alteration of meals and denial of requested meal
raises a legitimate issue of deprivation." Consequently,
"Plaintiff could not fast on a number of days d[ue] to
his inability." Plaintiff argues that WRSP
"benefitted greatly" by receiving federal funds to
provide Common Fare and charging him approximately $2.70 as
an unpaid loan against his inmate trust account for the costs
of two meals.
support of his retaliation claims against defendants Smith
and Combs, Plaintiff describes his dissatisfaction with
prison life, starting in 2010. Around "2010-2012, "
a correctional officer ("C/O") and defendant Combs,
who was then a Major but is now the Assistant Warden, acted
"overly aggressive for no reason" toward Plaintiff
and his cellmate during a routine institutional shakedown.
Combs told the correctional officer to "get rid of all
(Islamic material) stuff." When Plaintiff objected to
the officers discarding his religious newspapers, Combs
loudly said, "[I]f Plaintiff Jones attempts to teach
Islam, he would bury Plaintiff Jones in segregation, "
and the correctional officer said "he'll bust
Plaintifff's] face." Consequently, Plaintiff decided
not to attend NOIservices between 2010 and 2013. Plaintiff
believes that decision is why he did not receive
institutional charges between 2010 and 2013.
mid-2013, Plaintiff became the NOI program coordinator and
minister, and Combs began "tactful schemes" to
discontinue the NOI service. For example, on January 3, 2014,
Plaintiff was segregated for an institutional charge and
Combs had Plaintiff released into a "well known violent
gang pod." Plaintiff was allegedly targeted for an
attack by several gang members on orders from a sergeant, but
other members of the gang informed Plaintiff. Undeterred, the
sergeant, purportedly on Combs' orders, filed a
"false" disciplinary charge and had Plaintiff moved
around March 2014, Combs asked Plaintiff, "How did you
like C-building?" which made "Plaintiff realize
his life was in danger." Plaintiff wrote a letter to the
then-warden of WRSP and the chief of the VDOC's Special
Investigation Unit to inform them of his fear. Around that
same time, Combs, then the Assistant Warden, purportedly used
rival gang members to disrupt the NOI service. Although
usually separated, these competing gang members would fight
when allowed to congregate during the NOI service. Plaintiff
believes Combs orchestrated the fights as a pretext to
suspend NOI services for six months.
September 2014, Plaintiff told a lieutenant that Sgt. Smith
was repeatedly planting contraband in inmates' cells and
then charging them for possessing contraband. As a result of
Plaintiffs tip, Sgt. Smith was reassigned from C-building to
in September 2014, Sgt. Smith plotted a "verbal
assault" and prevented Plaintiff from attending Jummah
service. Sgt. Smith "trash[ed] and confiscate[ed]
religious material, Final Call newspapers, and one book[, ]
Message to the Black Man." Sgt. Smith told
Plaintiff it "won't be long before Plaintiff would
be paid back for what he did." Plaintiff tried to pursue
administrative remedies about these issues, but the grievance
was "high jack[ed]...[, ] which hindered Plaintiff from
litigating, " all allegedly on Combs' orders.
October 8, 2015, defendants Sgt. Ferguson and C/O Bailey
chose to search Plaintiffs cell. During the search, C/O
Bailey tossed a prayer rug and Holy Quran on the cell floor
and seized rechargeable batteries and a Kufi. Plaintiff
objected, accusing Combs of ordering the search because of
Plaintiff s religious beliefs and to "fabricate a
situation." C/O Bailey allegedly shouted, "Fuck
Islam." Plaintiffs Kufi was confiscated as contraband.
Sgt. Ferguson and C/O Bailey escorted Plaintiff, who was
handcuffed behind his back, "forcefully" toward the
staircase while Sgt. Ferguson ordered C/O Bailey to falsely
charge Plaintiff with "threatening." Once they
reached the breezeway, the officers pushed Plaintiffs head
against the wall and pummeled him, including hits to his
lower back. Even after he lost consciousness and fell to his
knees, the officers continued to "knock Plaintiff
around." At some point, these officers resumed the
escort and Plaintiff resumed consciousness, at which point he
requested medical treatment for his "injury[, ] pain[, ]
and suffering." Plaintiff alleges generally that
"medical attention was denied." Plaintiff denies
ever posing a threat to either officer or breaking any
institutional rule. Plaintiff wants Combs found liable as a
"bystander" for ordering the alleged attack.
was ultimately taken to the D-building segregation unit. C/O
Bailey explained to defendant Sgt. Smith that Plaintiff was
there for "running his mouth." Sgt. Smith replied,
"I was going to get him, " and repeatedly called
Plaintiff "a bitch." Plaintiff claims that Sgt.
Smith's statements were retaliation because of "past
encounters" and on Combs' orders because of
Plaintiff s religion.
October 8, 2015, Officer Smith charged Plaintiff with a false
"threatening" charge. Again, Plaintiff believes it
was retaliation for the events from September 2014, to keep
Plaintiff from acting as a minister for NOI services, and to
lengthen Plaintiffs time in segregation.
February 26, 2016, Sgt. Smith denied Plaintiff entry into the
NOI service to celebrate Savior's Day. Sgt. Smith ordered
another officer to aim a gun at Plaintiff and yelled at
Plaintiff, "Didn't I tell you, you weren't going
to program!" On June 6, 2016, Plaintiff signed a
contract to receive Common Fare during the approximately
thirty-day long Islamic holiday of Ramadan. However, he was
served the NOI Common Fare meals, not the regular Common Fare
meals, which allegedly violated Plaintiffs religious rights
because it "limited the variety or selections to eat[, ]
subjecting Plaintiff... who w[as] striving to complete such
a[n] already strenuous eating habit the privilege to enjoy
rights funded by the federal government and by
(RLUIPA)." Plaintiff was ultimately charged the costs of
the Common Fare meals he ate during Ramadan's fasting
accuses Warden Fleming of having been informed, by both him
and the former warden, of Combs' retaliatory "acts
of religious deprivation, false institutional cell searches,
personal searches, institutional charges, and constan[t]
segregation." Plaintiff faults Warden Fleming for not
authorizing an investigation as Plaintiff had requested.
Plaintiff also faults Warden Fleming for "never
correcting staff, never disciplining staff, never
investigating inmate complaints on staff, " thereby
"creat[ing] the custom of action by WRSP
VDOC created Common Fare to satisfy inmates' various
religious dietary needs and restrictions, and thus, no pork
products are to be used. In accordance with the VDOC Food
Service Manual, WRSP offers Common Fare to inmates whose
religious dietary needs cannot be met by the regular menu.
Common Fare meals at WRSP are prepared in an area separate
from the regular menu preparation area, with separate
utensils, and with designated Common Fare equipment. The hot
meals are prepared in designated cooking vessels in a
designated area of the kitchen.
September 29, 2015, WRSP began offering a new CF menu, as
directed by the VDOC Food Services Director. The new menu
includes hot food items at most meals with only a few cold
meals each week. Prior to this change, Common Fare meals were
served cold except for three hot meals each month.
are approved for possession by male inmates and must be worn
in the same manner, time, location, and circumstances as
non-religious head covers. All head covers are regulated for
security reasons. For example, inmates are allowed to wear
head covers during outside recreation because they are
thoroughly searched before and after outside recreation.
However, inmates may not wear head covers during recreation
in the pod because there is no pod-wide search required