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James v. VA. Dep't of Corr.

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

March 28, 2018

HENRY JAMES, Plaintiff,
VA. DEP'T OF CORR., et al., Defendants.



         Henry James, a Virginia inmate, filed this civil rights action alleging several Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) employees: (1) failed to provide reasonable accommodations to his various health issues; (2) failed to allow the performance of certain Sabbath ceremonies; and (3) failed to offer a Kosher diet that adequately considered his other dietary restrictions. The Court will grant the defendants' motions for summary judgment because (1) VDOC reasonably accommodated James's health issues, (2) James failed to exhaust administrative remedies before filing his suit, and (3) the combination of meals, medication, and counseling offered by VDOC did not substantially burden James's religious practice.[1]


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should grant summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “As to materiality . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material fact must be “‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The Court recounts the following facts drawing all reasonable inferences in James's favor. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986).


         On May 1, 2015, James arrived at the Wallens Ridge State Prison (“WRSP”) wearing medical braces on his back and his right knee. During intake, the security supervisor advised James that such braces were not allowed at WRSP. In the following days, James was kept at the infirmary while medical staff evaluated his medication, his need for the braces, and waited for a bottom bunk to open up. James was waiting for a bottom bunk to open up because a previous facility had determined James required a lower bunk because of his knee and back issues, a conclusion WRSP agreed with. During this time he was denied regular access to the dining hall, out-of-cell activities, the recreation area, visits, and the commissary. On May 11, 2015, James received a bottom bunk assignment in the general population. Later, James was transferred to other prisons for various medical consultations. On his return, he had to wait in the infirmary for two other periods (of twelve and seven days respectively) while again waiting for a bottom bunk.

         In late 2015, James separately asked various VDOC employees for matzah and two four-ounce cups of grape juice to perform Sabbath ceremonies. However, he never filed the “Request for Approval of Faith Object” form identified in VDOC Operating Procedure 841.3. These forms are available to prisoners upon request. Because James never submitted this request, the Faith Review Committee was unaware of his desire for matzah bread and grape juice.

         Finally, James has a history of high cholesterol. At WRSP, James was given Kosher “Common Fare” food trays because he is Jewish. This tray frequently includes eggs or products that contain eggs. Worried about the impact of eggs on his cholesterol level, James sought a “cardiac” meal tray from various defendants. While WRSP made a cardiac tray available for regular and vegetarian fare meals, it did not have a cardiac-specific version of the Common Fare tray. WRSP believed the Common Fare tray was “heart healthy” in spite of the eggs. Dieticians and doctors also met with James to prescribe medicine for his high cholesterol and counsel him on what foods he should eat. James refused to take the prescribed medicine because he believed it was ineffective and continued to buy unhealthy food from the commissary. James claimed his egg-yolk consumption caused chest pain, light headedness, shortness of breath, cold sweats, and acute head pain. WRSP started excluding eggs from James's tray on October 28, 2016.


         The Court works through each of James's three claims, collectively addressing the various arguments put forward in defendants' motions for summary judgment.[2]

         A. Claim 1

         In Claim 1, James alleges the VDOC, Director Clarke, Warden Fleming, Officer Christy Church, and Dr. Dulaney violated the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Rehabilitation Act (“RA”) by placing him in the infirmary. As stated above, the periods of isolation occurred when James was being transferred back to WRSP, his medical issues were being evaluated, and the defendants were waiting for an available bottom bunk to become available. James has knee and back problems, requiring him to use a bottom bunk.

         1. Eighth Amendment

         In order to make out an Eighth Amendment violation based on prison conditions, “a plaintiff must show both (1) a serious deprivation of a basic human need; and (2) deliberate indifference to prison conditions on the part of prison officials.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 218 (4th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “The first prong is objective and requires that the deprivation be ‘sufficiently serious'; the second requires us to determine whether subjectively ‘the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind.'” Id.

         James states he was excluded from several activities and programs while in medical isolation and segregation, but he does not allege that he suffered any serious injury or substantial risk of injury. James's claim must fail because his evidence of temporary inconvenience cannot sustain an Eighth Amendment claim. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992) (“[E]xtreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim. Because routine discomfort is ‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society, ' only those deprivations denying ‘the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities' are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation.”); Jackson v. Ray, No. 7:06-CV-00167, 2006 WL 840317, at *2 (W.D. Va. Mar. 28, 2006) (“While being confined in segregation may be restrictive and inconvenient, the plaintiff does not allege that he has suffered a serious mental or physical injury as a result of his conditions of confinement in segregation, and there is no indication that the conditions pose an unreasonable risk of serious harm.”).

         Drawing all disputed facts and reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, the Court concludes James fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact here.

         2. ADA and RA

         James alleges the same conduct also gave rise to claims under the ADA and RA. In order to establish a violation of the ADA or the RA, James must prove: (1) he has a disability; (2) he is otherwise qualified for the benefit in question; and (3) he was excluded from the benefit due to discrimination on the basis of the disability.[3]Doe v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 50 F.3d 1261, 1264-65 (4th Cir. 1995); Pennsylvania Dep't of Corr. v. Yeskey, 524 U.S. 206, 213 (1998) (“[T]he plain text of Title II of the ADA unambiguously extends to state prison inmates[.]”). The statutory rights created by the ADA and the RA “must be considered in light of reasonable requirements of effective prison administration.” Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439, 1446 (9th Cir. 1994).[4] Importantly, however, the Department of Justice has issued regulations clarifying that “[u]nless it is appropriate to make an exception, ” the ADA is violated when a state prison denies an inmate access to services by discriminatorily placing him in an infirmary unit when he is not receiving ...

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