United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
ROBERT W. GWYN, JR., Plaintiff,
B. W. BOOKER, et al Defendants.
Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge
W. Gwyn, Jr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, commenced
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff
names four defendants associated with the Virginia Department
of Corrections ("VDOC") and Green Rock Correctional
Center ("GRCC"): Former GRCC Warden B. W. Booker;
Current GRCC Warden Melvin Davis; GRCC Institutional Programs
Manager ("IPM") R. Bateman; and VDOC Western
Regional Administrator Marcus Elamlap. Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants violated equal protection and religious rights by
not approving a separate meeting at GRCC for inmates of the
Apostolic faith only. Defendants filed a motion for summary
judgment, to which Plaintiff responded, making the matter
ripe for disposition. After reviewing the record, the court
grants Defendants' motion.
Operating Procedure ("OP") 841.3, Religious
Services, governs inmates' access to religious group
activities such as communal worship services or study groups.
Included as Attachment 3 to OP 841.3 is a list of the
recognized religions that may operate without further
approval in VDOC facilities where inmate participation,
facility resources, and religious leadership are available.
However, the OP recognizes that "although each [inmate]
has the right to worship in their chosen manner, levels of
inmate participation and availability of facility resources
and religious leaders do not permit separate services for
every possible form of worship at every facility."
Consequently, the OP requires five inmates be "the
standard minimum number to establish, maintain[, ] and hold
group services, programs or meetings" for any religious
group. However, the OP does not prevent informal religious
discussions in leisure areas such as dayrooms or recreation
yards as long that are not disruptive.
requests for a new religious group activity for an
already-approved religious group are filed at the facility.
"If there appears to be sufficient. . . interest, the
Facility Unit Head, in consultation with the facility
Chaplain, should consider the request and provide time and
space for the group to meet within the restrictions of the
facility security level, mission, space, time, available
supervision, etc." The facility must balance
inmates' religious rights with inmate movement, room
capacity, staffing challenges and in-room supervision at
certain security levels. No recognized religious group with
the minimum number of adherents should be denied at least one
service and one study session per week.
are a recognized religious group authorized to operate in
VDOC facilities. The Protestant religious group encompasses
the various Protestant Christian denominations including,
inter alia. Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals.
The VDOC considers Plaintiffs Apostolic faith as a type of
separate multi-denominational Protestant worship services had
been held at GRCC in order to accommodate the large number of
Protestant inmates. Effective March 11, 2017, GRCC added a
third multi-denominational Protestant worship service,
"Discipleship Study, " which meets in the
visitation room on Saturday evenings. Protestant inmates at
GRCC may now choose to attend one of the three
multi-denominational Protestant worship services in addition
to Bible study.
asserts four enumerated claims "in light of the
Defendants' blatant violations of.. . OP 841.3
...." First, Defendants discriminated against
Plaintiffs Apostolic faith. Second, Defendants refused to
provide space, time, and staff for an Apostolic group
meeting. Third, Defendants negligently applied OP 841.3.
Fourth, Defendants' negligence was the actual or
proximate case of constitutional injury. Plaintiff relies
solely on his various administrative remedies to support the
March 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed an informal complaint because
Booker had previously refused Plaintiffs request for space
and time for him to practice his faith. Booker refused the
request two days later, citing the lack of space and time.
March 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed a regular grievance based on
the allegations in the informal complaint. Bateman met with
Plaintiff but did not satisfactorily resolve Plaintiffs
grievance, and on April 4, 2016, Davis deemed the grievance
unfounded. Davis noted that Bateman had informed Plaintiff
that Protestant services are multi-denominational and that
GRCC did not have space to divide out the various Protestant
services out individually. Elamlap upheld Davis' decision
on administrative review.
26, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a request form to the GRCC
Chaplain asking whether the visitation room was available on
Saturday or Sunday evenings. Plaintiff noted he wanted to
have space and time reserved for an Apostolic Christian Faith
Group to "peaceably assemble." The Chaplain
responded that same day, noting he believed no meetings take
place in the visitation room on Saturday or Sunday evenings.
August 1, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a request form pursuant
to OP 841.3 for an Apostolic group service and study session
per week. Booker denied the ...