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Wilson v. Virginia Department of Corrections

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

March 13, 2019

Marquis Wilson, Plaintiff,
Virginia Dept. of Corrections, et al., Defendants.


          Liam O' Grady United States District Judge.

         Marquis Wilson, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action, alleging violations of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Rehabilitation Act ("RA"), Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2OOOcc, and United States Constitution. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, along with a supporting brief, exhibits, and the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Rule 7K. Dkt. Nos. 18-20. Plaintiff filed an opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment as well as a Motion to Defer or Deny Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. Nos. 24-25. This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons that follow, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted, in part, and denied, in part, without prejudice to defendants filing a supplemental motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs Motion to Defer or Deny will be denied, without prejudice to plaintiff filing a new complaint.

         I. Background

         The record on summary judgment establishes the following. During the time period in question, plaintiff was incarcerated at Greensville Correctional Center ("GRCC"), a Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") facility. Compl. §I(A) ¶1. VDOC allows inmates to order certain items from the commissary vendor. Id. at Exs. Inmates who are hard of hearing can order items not available to the general population, such as DVD players, DVDs, and 15-inch televisions, as accommodations. Defs.' MS J, Robertson Affidavit. Until recently, hard of hearing inmates could order these items from an auxiliary accommodation catalog; however, it now appears as though inmates must order these items through the commissary vendor. Compl. § IV ¶¶12; Defs.' MSJ, Talbott Affidavit

         The current policy at GRCC limiting televisions to those that are 15-inches or smaller is due to security and space concerns. Defs.' MSJ, Robertson Affidavit. Defendants assert that inmates at GRCC who currently have 19-inch televisions purchased those televisions at different facilities and were allowed to keep them when they transferred to GRCC; however, plaintiff asserts at least three hard of hearing inmates living in plaintiffs housing pod have been allowed to purchase 19-inch televisions between 2015 and 2017 while housed at GRCC, and plaintiff is the only hard of hearing inmate in his housing pod who has not been allowed to purchase a 19-inch television. Id.; Pi's. Opp, Richardson, Barbour, and Odinsson Affidavits. In fact, plaintiff asserts, 31 of the inmates in plaintiffs housing pod have some loss of either hearing or vision, and each of them except for plaintiff has a 19-inch television. PI's. Opp. ¶ 10.

         On March 25,2016, plaintiff was diagnosed by outside ear, nose, and throat ("ENT") specialists with sensorineural hearing loss, and he later received hearing aids. Compl. § IV ¶ 18. Therefore, plaintiff is hard of hearing. Id. § IV ¶ 8; Defs.' MSJ, Robertson and Talbott Affidavits. On April 21,2016, plaintiff requested approval to order auxiliary accommodation equipment. Compl. § IV ¶ 22. Plaintiffs request was denied and he was told that he needed the recommendation of a medical professional to receive the equipment. Id. ¶ 23.

         Plaintiff then met with Barry Marano, the ADA coordinator for VDOC, and discussed (1) that other hard of hearing inmates had been allowed accommodations, including 19-inch televisions with large closed captioning and DVD players, and (2) that plaintiff needed accommodations so that he could "receive educational/religious instructional and inspirational programs and services via the large caption features of DVDs and [19-inch] televisions." Id. ¶¶ 24-25. More specifically, plaintiff stated he cannot attend large group worship services because hearing aids cause distorted sounds in large group gatherings and he is unable to interpret sign language; thus he is unable to hear or use the sign language interpretation services provided during the worship services. Pi's. Opp. ¶ 20. Plaintiff is also unable to view the daily worship services on the four Christian channels provided though the GRCC's television cable network because they do not feature closed captioning. Compl. § V ¶ 47. Thus, plaintiff is only able to participate in the same services by watching DVDs of the programming, which are available from the GRCC chaplain's library. Id; Pi's. Opp. ¶ 22. Plaintiff is able to view these DVDs using the DVD player in the chaplain's library. Defs.' MSJ, Robertson Affidavit. Plaintiff states that Mr. Marano arbitrarily denied plaintiffs request and informed plaintiff that hard of hearing prisoners would no longer be allowed to purchase DVD players. Compl. § IV ¶ 26.

         On June 10,2016, plaintiff filed another request to purchase auxiliary accommodations, which was rejected for the stated reason: "no medical accommodation." Pi's. Opp at Ex. D. On July 5,2016, the ENT specialists wrote a letter stating that "accommodations available for hearing impaired offenders should be available and offered" to plaintiff. Id. at Ex. B. On July 18,2016, plaintiff filed another request to purchase auxiliary accommodations, which was rejected because "more specific information from provider" was needed. Id. at Ex. D.

         On November 7,2016, plaintiff submitted an informal complaint stating that he needed a 19-inch television because it had larger closed captioning and other hard of hearing inmates had been allowed to purchase this item. Id. at Ex. F. In response, plaintiff was told that he could submit a special request for a 15-inch television with closed captioning that had "been approved by [VDOC]" along with a doctor's "recommendation[]" stating what plaintiff "need[s] in addition to hearing aids." Id. However, plaintiff asserts that 15-inch televisions were unavailable for purchase prior to his filing the instant complaint in December 2017. Id. ¶¶ 11, 37.

         On December 12,2016, plaintiff filed informal complaints stating that his requests to purchase a DVD player and 15-inch television were denied, but confusingly, the response was that plaintiff could "place [his orders] through" the commissary vendor. Id. at Ex. G. Plaintiff was also informed that there was no longer an auxiliary accommodations catalog. Id On January 25,2017, the ENT specialists recommended that plaintiff be allowed to purchase, among other items, a 15-inch television with large closed captioning and a DVD player, as accommodations for his hearing loss. Compl. at Exs.

         On October 18,2017, the ENT specialists stated that plaintiff should have, among other items, a 19-inch television with large closed captioning and a DVD player, to "help with his communication due to hearing impaired diagnosis [sic] as part of his treatment plan." Pi's. Opp. at Ex. C.

         On January 25,2018, plaintiffs requests to purchase noise isolation headphones and an amplifier were approved. Defs.' MSJ, Talbott Affidavit. On May 8, 2018, plaintiffs request to purchase noise cancellation headphones was denied because plaintiff already possessed headphones. Id. Defendant Robertson asserts, in her affidavit attached to the Motion for Summary Judgment, that plaintiff may submit a request to purchase a 15-inch television and a DVD player, however, plaintiff asserts that, on September 25,2018, Mr. Marano told plaintiff that he would not approve plaintiffs request for a DVD player. Id., Robertson Affidavit; PPs. Opp. ¶¶ 46-48.

         II. Standard of Review

          "The court shall 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the burden of proving that judgment on the pleadings is appropriate. See Celotex Corp. v. Citrate, 477 U.S. 317,323 (1986) (moving party bears the burden of persuasion on all relevant issues). To meet that burden, the moving party must demonstrate that no genuine issues of material fact are present for resolution. Id. at 322. Once a moving party has met its burden to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the burden ...

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