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Prosha v. Robinson

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

November 2, 2018

ERIC L. PROSHA, Plaintiff,
DAVID ROBINSON, et ah, Defendants.


          Roderick C. Young, United States Magistrate Judge

         Eric L. Prosha, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The action proceeds on Prosha's Particularized Complaint ("Complaint," ECF No. 21).[1] The Court previously dismissed a number of Prosha's claims.[2]

         Only the following claims against Defendant Robinson remain before the Court:

Claim One: Defendant Robinson violated Prosha's First Amendment right of Free Exercisef[3] when Prosha was provided religiously inadequate meals during Passover 2015. (Compl. ¶ 26.)
Claim Two: Defendant Robinson violated Prosha's Eighth Amendment[4] right against cruel and unusual punishment when Prosha was provided religiously inadequate meals during Passover 2015. (Id.)
Claim Four: Defendant Robinson placed a substantial burden on Prosha's exercise of his religion in violation of RLUIPA[5] when Prosha was served religiously inadequate meals during Passover 2015. (Id.)

Prosha v. Robinson, No. 3:16CV163, 2018 WL 564855, at *7 (E.D. Va. Jan. 25, 2018). The Court also dismissed Prosha's demand for monetary damages in conjunction with Claim Four. Id.

         Defendant Robinson has moved for summary judgment and provided Prosha with Roseboro[6] Notice. (ECF Nos. 57, 59.) Prosha has responded. (ECF No. 64.) For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Court WILL GRANT the Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Claims One and Two and WILL DENY the Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Claim Four.

         I. Standard for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment must be rendered "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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion and identifying the parts of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). When the motion is properly supported, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and, by citing affidavits or "'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."' Id. (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), (e) (1986)). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the Court "must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." United States v. Carolina Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). However, a mere "scintilla of evidence" will not preclude summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)). "[T]here is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party . . . upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Id. (quoting Munson, 81 U.S. at 448).

         In support of his Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendant Robinson has submitted: the affidavit of A. Anderson, the Senior Director of Food Service Operations at GCC (ECF No. 58-1, at 1-3); the affidavit of S. Davis-Bryan, the manager of the VDOC correspondence unit (ECF No. 58-2); his own affidavit (ECF No. 58-3); the affidavit of Tameca Woodley, the Chief of Housing and Programs at GCC (ECF No. 58-4); and a variety of institutional records (see, e.g., ECF No. 58-1, at 4-11).[7] Prosha's Complaint is sworn to under penalty of perjury. (Compl. 8.) Additionally, the record contains a number of grievances and complaints submitted by other inmates who initially sought to bring the action jointly with Prosha.

         In light of the foregoing submissions and principles, the following facts are established for purposes of the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. Summary of Undisputed Facts

According to Prosha, he

is now, and at all times relevant to the events described herein, an adherent of the House of Yahweh. The House of Yahweh is a religious organization whose adherents believe it [is] necessary to abide by the Torah. Adherents must... keep annual festivals of the Old Testament, including the assembling of members, once a year on the evening before Passover, to hold a solemn observance of Yashua's Memorial.

(Compl. ¶ 12.) During April of 2015, Prosha was housed in GCC. (See Id. ¶¶ 4, 13.) "[T]he House of Yahweh group had previously arranged with Chaplain Wiggins to receive the proper meals for the Passover of the Unleavened Bread," which was to begin at lunch on April 3, 2015 and continue through the evening meal on April 11, 2015. (Id. ¶ 13; ECF No. 58- ¶ 7.)

         On January 26, 2015, Defendant Robinson issued a memorandum to the VDOC Wardens and Superintendents regarding the procedures for the observance of the 2015 Passover. (ECF No. 58-4 ¶ 7.) "The memorandum defined a Passover Meal as a meal from the Common Fare menu which is free of leavened food items, legumes, and grains." (Id. ¶ 8.) The memorandum instructed that for Passover meals, matzah would be substituted for bread for the duration of Passover. (Id. ¶ 7.) The Passover Meals meet basic nutritional needs. (Id. ¶ 8.)[8]

         Because Prosha was approved to attend services associated with the observance of Passover, he was approved to receive a Passover tray. (ECF 58-1 ¶ 4.) "In addition to the Passover tray, a regular Common Fare tray is also served during Passover. The regular Common Fare tray contains leavened (food with yeast) food items such as bread,

French toast, and noodles, while the Passover tray does not contain these items." (Id.) In order for Prosha to receive a Passover tray, Prosha would come to the dining hall as usual and get in the Common Fare line. Common Fare offenders are served first. The feeding line is called a "blind line." When the offender approaches the window to receive his tray, he cannot be seen by food service staff. In order to receive a Passover tray, Prosha would need to present his offender identification and request a Passover tray. With his request, staff would then check the master pass list for his name and he would be given a Passover tray. The offender would consume the matzah issued to him as a bread substitute. If the offender does not specifically request a Passover tray, he is provided a regular Common Fare tray. Food Service staff worked with the Chaplain to ensure that offenders are informed that in order to receive a Passover tray, the offenders must request the tray at the food service window.

(Id. ¶ 5.)

         On April 2, 2015, Prosha received his matzah bread distribution for Passover from Chaplain Wall.[9] (ECF No. 58-4, at 23.) According to Prosha, on April 3, 2015, when he went to obtain his meal, the tray contained egg noodles, which he could not eat because they contained yeast. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Prosha complained to the kitchen supervisor, who informed Prosha that this was the only food they had to give him. (Id.) Prosha contends that he was unable to eat the meal because of the requirements of his religion. (Id.)[10]

         "At every meal through April 11, 2015, [Prosha] was served items that did not meet the requirements of the House of Yahweh." (Id. ¶ 15.) In each instance, Prosha informed the correctional officer on duty and "was told that [this] was all they had to give him." (Id.) According to Prosha,

[A]dherents of the House of Yahweh are not allowed to consume commercial dairy products such as milk, butter, ice cream, yogurt or cheese blends because they contain trace amounts of blood from unhealthy cows. Yet, Plaintiff was served milk each day and butter regularly at ...

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