United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Senior United States District Judge
prisoner civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2OOOcc to
2000cc-5, is now before the court on cross motions for
summary judgment. The plaintiff, Hu Tehuti, proceeding pro
se, has made numerous requests to have the African American
Church ("AAC") recognized by the Virginia
Department of Corrections (VDOC) as a religious faith system.
His claim before the court is for declaratory and injunctive
relief to achieve this goal and have prison officials
accommodate AAC religious practices, particularly to conduct
AAC congregational services every Saturday and during AAC
holy days in March and December. After review of the record,
the court concludes that the motions for summary judgment
must be denied.
Tehuti filed this lawsuit in March 2017, he was incarcerated
at River North Correctional Center ("River North")
and had been since June 9, 2015. Tehuti describes himself as
a Black African American who follows "The Maat
(Religion)," believes in "The Creator Ra
(Amen-Ra)," and "confesses a belief that all Black
People(s) are descendants of Noah's Black son Ham in the
Holy Bible, Genesis 6:10." Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3,
ECF 29-1. He believes that the AAC "is a covenant
community established by God Amen-Ra, Who is the God of Ham
and for Ham's Black descendants." Ick He believes
that AAC members must "gather together on Saturday and
other religious days for AAC worship services, prayers, study
groups, and religious activities," namely, during
"the First Fruit Harvest," also known as Kwanza,
from December 26 through January 1, and during
"Hebsed," from March 1 through March
Id., at 4-5. Tehuti explains that "Hebsed (or
Sed) is the month that revelation of the Book, Holy Maat was
revealed to Hu Tehuti." Id. at 5.
River North, Tehuti and other inmates asked to be permitted
to hold AAC group services every week, as other religious
groups did. Officials refused this request, because the VDOC
had not recognized the AAC as a religion for which prison
officials must provide accommodations.
past, Tehuti has filed requests for AAC recognition through
the VDOC's Faith Review Committee ("FRC") in
the past that were denied on July 22, 2011, March 27, 2013,
and July 13, 2016. He complains that the FRC delayed
processing the requests, did not allow him to ask and answer
questions to aid in their decision, and did not provide
detailed reasons for denying his requests so he could pursue
a meaningful appeal. Tehuti complained that before denying
his request for approval of his religion, the VDOC should
provide him with a hearing before the Institutional
Classification Authority ("ICA"), as procedure
requires for approval or denial of an inmate's request
for the Common Fare religious diet.
careful consideration of Tehuti's submissions, the court
concludes that his remaining § 1983 claims are that (1)
the defendants have denied him free exercise of his AAC
belief that he must participate in congregational religious
services with other AAC adherents every week and during Hebda
and Kwanza, in violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA;
and (2) the VDOC procedure for requesting approval of a
religion for accommodation of such practices provides
inadequate procedural protections, in violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment. The defendants are A. David Robinson,
VDOC Chief of Operations; Elam, a VDOC Regional
Administrator; the FRC; the VDOC; and Barry Kanode, J.
Morrison, Thersea Dowell, John Walrath, and Andy Kilbourne,
who were employees at River North. Importantly, Tehuti seeks
only declaratory and injunctive relief in this case-to have
the AAC approved for religious accommodation, such as the
group worship services he requested at River North.
initial matter, Tehuti's claims against the River North
defendants must be dismissed as moot, because he is no longer
confined at that facility.
The exercise of judicial power under Art. Ill. of the
Constitution depends on the existence of a case or
controversy. . . . [A] federal court has neither the power to
render advisory opinions nor to decide questions that cannot
affect the rights of litigants in the case before them. . . .
The rule in federal cases is that an actual controversy must
be extant at all stages of review, not merely at the time the
complaint is filed.
Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 401
(1975). [A] prisoner's transfer or release
from a particular prison moots his claims for injunctive ...
relief with respect to his incarceration there."
Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 186 (4th
Cir. 2009). Similarly, a prisoner's transfer moots his
claims for declaratory relief about conditions at that
facility. Preiser, 422 U.S. at 402-403.
was transferred away from River North on December 13, 2017,
and is now confined at Green Rock Correctional Center. The
River North defendants-Kanode, Morrison, Dowell, Walrath, and
Kilbourne-can no longer be directed to provide him the
religious accommodations that he seeks, even if the court
were to decide that he is entitled to them. ...