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Plaster v. Tatum

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

July 1, 2019

CAPTAIN TATUM, ET AL., Defendants.

          Walter Andrew Plaster, Pro Se Plaintiff.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Walter Andrew Plaster, a state inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the “Religous [sic] Land Use of Institutionalized Persons Act, ” alleging that jail officials have refused to provide him with the diet required by his religious beliefs. After review of his submissions, I conclude that this action must be summarily dismissed.

         Plaster filed his Complaint in mid-May 2019. He states that he has been confined at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority (“SWVRJA”) facility located in Abingdon, Virginia, since approximately February 5, 2019. The remainder of his “Facts” are brief:

I am a part of the Asatru Religious Group there is a religious diet that we are required to eat which includes no processed meats, so I need the Common fair diet.[1]
Defendants Captain Tatum, Major Kilgore, SWVJA Abingdon, Jane Doe kitchen worker, and Oasis Commissary Company are all responsible together for placing a substantial burden on my rights and denying me the Common fair diet.
All of the named defendants . . . are also responsible for making me become addicted to processed meats.
I am sincere to my religion to the best of my ability and because of this substantial burden my religious practices have been damaged.

Compl. 2-3, ECF No. 1 (paragraph numbers omitted).

         Plaster names the above-mentioned individuals and the SWVRJA jail facility as defendants, contending that “his religious rights have been substantially burdened due to a duty that the named defendants owed [him] by providing him with a religious diet.” Id. at 1. As relief, Plaster requests declaratory relief, monetary damages in the amount of $100 “per day starting July 1st 2019 for every day that [he] spends incarcerated at the SWVRJA, ” or a transfer to a state prison by July 1, 2019. Id. at 3.

         I must dismiss any action or claim filed by a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis if I find that the action or claim is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). Section 1983 permits an aggrieved party to file a civil action against a person for actions taken under color of state law that violated his constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153, 158 (4th Cir. 2013). To survive screening under § 1915A, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).[2] “[A] pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id.

         Plaster names the jail facility itself as a defendant. A jail building, however, cannot qualify as a person subject to being sued under § 1983. See, e.g., McCoy v. Chesapeake Corr. Ctr., 788 F.Supp. 890, 893-94 (E.D. Va. 1992). Therefore, the court must dismiss Plaster's claims against the facility.

         While the other defendants are persons, the Complaint does not describe any action that any defendant took, personally, or any policy for which any of them is responsible, that caused a violation of Plaster's religious rights. Thus, the Complaint does not state any § 1983 claim against any defendant he has named. See, e.g., Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977) (finding that under § 1983, “liability will only lie where it is affirmatively shown that the official charged acted personally in the deprivation of the plaintiff['s] rights”). Moreover, Plaster's submissions do not state sufficient facts for an actionable against anyone.

         I will assume, for purposes of this Opinion, that Plaster intends to bring his § 1983 claims under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). “Inmates clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion.” O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987). “This [right] encompasses policies that impose a substantial burden on a prisoner's right to practice his religion.” Wall v. Wade, 741 F.3d 492, 498 (4th Cir. 2014). For constitutional purposes, such a burden is one that “put[s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, ” Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp't Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981), or one that forces him to ...

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