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Robinson v. Brown

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

May 9, 2019

LESTER ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. BROWN, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          John A.Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge

         Lester Robinson, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Robinson contends that his rights under the First Amendment were violated when he was prevented from engaging in group prayer at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail ("Jail"). The matter is before the Court on Robinson's failure to serve Defendants Doe and Smith and on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Brown. For the reasons set forth below, ail claims against Defendants Doe and Smith will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE and Brown's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.

         I. Service Issues

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(m), Robinson had ninety (90) days from the filing of the complaint to serve the defendants.[1] Here, that period commenced on November 27, 2018. More than ninety (90) days have elapsed and Robinson failed to serve Defendants Doe and Smith. Therefore, by Memorandum Order entered on April 4, 2019, the Court directed Robinson to show good cause for his failure to serve Defendants Doe and Smith in the time required by Rule 4(m). Robinson did not respond. Accordingly, all claims against Defendants Doe and Smith will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         II. Standard for a Motion 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 Brown has submitted: his own affidavit ("Brown Aff.," ECF No. 19-1); the affidavit of Sergeant Ebony Herelle, ("Herelle Aff.," ECF No. 19-2); copies of jail grievance records (ECF No. 19-2, at 3-4); and the affidavit of Lieutenant Stephen Phillips ("Phillips Aff," ECF No. 19-3). Robinson has not responded. Accordingly, the following facts are established for purposes of the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         III. Undisputed Facts

         At all times relevant to this action, Robinson was an inmate at the Jail. (ECF No. 1, at 5 (as paginated by CM/ECF).) Defendant Brown was employed as a Sergeant at the Jail. (Brown Aff. ¶ 1.) On May 14, 2018, Defendant Brown denied Robinson's request to be allowed to pray with other Muslim inmates in the gym at the Jail. (Id. ¶ 4.) Defendant Brown told Robinson that he and the other inmates could pray in their cells. (Id. ¶ 5.) "For security reasons, [Jail] policy does not permit group prayer if there is no outside religious authority available to supervise." (Id. ¶ 6.) "This policy seeks to prevent any surreptitious activity or conversation in an unsupervised group that may present a security risk." (Phillips Aff. ¶ 4.) At the time of Robinson's request on May 14, 2018, "no outside Muslim cleric or lay leader [was] present to supervise group prayer." (Brown Aff ¶ 7.)

         The Jail "strives at all time to locate volunteer Imams or Muslim lay leaders who ... are able to lead and supervise group prayer for Muslim inmates. When a Muslim leader is available, group prayer is permitted, such as at Friday Jumuah services. When a Muslim leader cannot be found, group prayer is not permitted." (Phillips Aff. ¶ 5.) Additionally, Muslim inmates are entitled to possess a Quran and pray in their cells. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Further, Muslim inmates may request special diets and are provided meals at the religiously appropriate times during Ramadan. (Id. ¶ 8.)

         IV. Analysis

         Generally, in order to survive summary judgment on a claim that a defendant violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a plaintiff must demonstrate "(1) that he holds a sincere belief that is religious in nature" and (2) that the defendant imposed a substantial burden on the practice of his religion. Whitehouse v. Johnson, No. 1:10CV1175 (CMH/JFA), 2011 WL 5843622, at *4 (E.D. Va. Nov. 18, 2011) (citing Hernandez v. Comm'r, 490 U.S. 680, 699 (1989)). Defendant Brown, however, does not dispute that Robinson has a sincere religious desire to engage in group prayer and that preventing group prayer substantially burdens Robinson's religion. Rather, Defendant Brown contends that his actions pass constitutional muster because they satisfy the four-factor "reasonable relationship" test for analyzing the constitutionality of regulations that burden prisoners' fundamental rights set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987).

         Turner reconciled the principles that inmates retain certain important constitutional protections with the deference owed to prison administrators "by holding that restrictive prison regulations are permissible if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, and are not an exaggerated response to such objectives." Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 528 (2006) (internal citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). In assessing whether a regulation is reasonable, courts must consider (1) whether a "valid, rational connection [exists] between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it," (2) whether "alternative means of exercising the right [exist] that remain open to prison inmates," (3) what "impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally," and (4) whether there was an "absence of ready alternatives" to the regulation in question. Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90 (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). In conducting this inquiry, "[t]he burden, moreover, is not on the State to prove the validity of prison regulations but on the prisoner to disprove it." Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003) (citing Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 232 (2001); O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 350 (1987); Jones v. N.C. Prisoners'Labor Union, Inc., 433 U.S. 119, 128(1977)).

         "There is a valid rational connection between prohibiting unsupervised inmate group religious activity [and] ... promoting institutional security." Lee v. Gurney, No. 3:08CV99, 2009 WL 3109850, at *4 (E.D. Va. Sept. 25, 2009) (citing Cooper v. Tard, 855 F.2d 125, 129-30 (3d Cir. 1988); Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 208 F.Supp.2d 520, 532 (E.D. Pa. 2002)). "[U]nsupervised meetings could be used to plan a riot or for gang ...


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