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Gwyn v. Booker

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

May 8, 2018

ROBERT W. GWYN, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
B. W. BOOKER, et al Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         Robert 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.[1] After reviewing the record, the court grants Defendants' motion.

         I.

         A.

         VDOC 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.

         Inmate 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.

         Protestants 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 Pentecostal faith.

         Two 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.

         B.

         Plaintiff asserts four enumerated claims "in light of the Defendants' blatant violations of.. . OP 841.3 ...."[2] 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 claims.

         On 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.

         On 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.

         On May 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.

         On 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 ...


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