United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Anthony Dieppa, currently incarcerated at Green Rock
Correctional Center (GROC) and proceeding pro se,
complains that defendants violated his constitutional rights
and rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq. (RLUIPA).
Defendants Harold Clarke and David Robinson, both employees
of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC), have filed
a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 15. Dieppa responded to the
motion to dismiss, making this matter ripe for disposition.
For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is
GRANTED in part and DENIED
following facts, which are taken from Dieppa's complaint,
his affidavit, the motion to dismiss, and the attached
exhibits, are accepted as true for purposes of the
defendants' motion. Dieppa is a follower of Celtic Druidry.
Defendant Harold Clarke is the director of VDOC and Defendant
A. David Robinson is the VDOC Chief of Operations. Celtic
Druidry "is a polytheistic, non-dualistic, non-sexist,
non-racist, scientific, holistic, and ecologically oriented
faith embracing peacefulness and 'the love of ALL
existences."' ECF No. 1 at 3. A core tenet of
Druidry is that "the divine is experienced through
direct connection and communion with nature."
Id. Druids exercise their religion in a "sacred
space developed by the collection and invocation of the
elements and the gods." Id. Religious practice
requires the presence of the elements of earth, air, water,
and fire. ECF No. 1-1 at 3-4. Without all four elements,
"a sacred space cannot properly be established" and
adherents are prevented from meaningful worship and religious
practice. ECF No. 1-1 at 4.
VDOC follows Operating Procedure (OP) 841.3 to provide
offenders the opportunity to practice their religions. ECF
No. 16-1 at 5. Offenders have access to group religious
services and VDOC designates space and either a paid or
volunteer chaplain who serves as an advocate for equitable
accommodation of all religious faiths. Id. at 16-1
at 5-19. Religious services are subject to monitoring and
other security measures in accordance with requirements for
the orderly operation and safety of the offender population.
Id. at 8, Communal religious property used in
religious services must comply with all department and
facility procedures relating to contraband. Communal faith
items are stored in a secure area of the facility and made
available to offenders during approved worship times.
Id. at 15.
addition to communal faith items, offenders may submit
requests for personal faith objects at the institutional
level and the facility head or designee reviews the requests
and makes a recommendation for approval or denial.
Id. at 9. Requests are then sent to the Faith Review
Committee (FRC), a panel of representative VDOC staff, for
review. Id. The FRC's recommendations are
"referred to the Chief of Corrections Operations . . .
for review and approval prior to notifying facilities of
changes." Id. at 14. If approved, the requested
item is added to the list of Approved Religious Items,
available for offenders throughout VDOC. Id. at 9.
If the FRC has reviewed a request for a particular item
within the past twelve months, no new review is required -
the prior decision can be applied to all repeated requests.
allows offenders to observe holy days where called for by
their religions. However, levels of offender participation
and the availability of facility resources and religious
leaders does not permit separate services for every possible
form of worship at every facility. Id. at 12. VDOC
has a "Master Religious Calendar" that it uses as a
guide for planning holy days and religious observations.
Id. and ECF No. 18-3 at 7-11.
to OP 841.3, Dieppa requested several "specific and
required religious items for personal use." ECF No. 1 at
4. Dieppa requested a wooden wand, a tea candle, an oil
diffuser, a small bell, an offering bowl, and an outdoor area
with a fire pit (Aff. of Bernard Morris, ¶ 11; ECF No,
16-1). The Facility Unit Head recommended disapproval of all
the requests and the FRC reviewed and denied all the requests
on September 14, 2017. ECF No. Iat5.
request for a wooden wand specified that it was an
"integral, necessary staple of [his] religion used for
"healing, harmony, peace, and cleansing." ECF No.
1-2 at 9. The Facility Unit Head recommended approval of the
wand for communal use only, noting that the facility already
allowed drum sticks. Id. Another group was permitted
to use these drumsticks, which are similar to a wand in shape
and material, in their religious practices. ECF No. 1 at 6.
Despite the recommendation for approval, the FRC disapproved
die request based on "safely and security; potential
weapon." Id. Dieppa's request for a tea
candle indicated that the candle fulfilled the requirement of
fire in his sacred space. ECF No. 1-2 at 10. The Facility
Unit Head recommended disapproval based on security and
safety concerns related to the open flame. Id. The
FRC's basis for denying the request was "safety and
security (fire hazard) & could mask odors (drugs,
etc.)." Dieppa requested an oil diffuser because his
"prayers and invocations are not properly carried to the
gods without it." ECF No. 1-2 at 11. The Facility Unit
Head recommended disapproval as staff is not permitted this
item. The FRC denied the request due to "safety and
security (fire hazard) & could mask odors (drugs,
requested a wooden or metal offering bowl for daily use. ECF
No. 1-2 at 12. He indicated that plastics and man-made
materials are unacceptable as they are '"offensive
to [him] and [his] deities." Id. For this
reason, the plastic bowls sold by VDOC are not acceptable for
religious use. ECF No. 1 at 7. The Facility Unit Head
recommended disapproval as the item is already approved for
communal use. ECF No. 1-2 at 12. The FRC found that a
blessing bowl was already approved as a communal item and
denied the request. Id.
requested a small bell, indicating it is "required in
[his] religious practices ... to clear [his] sacred space of
unwanted negative energies and spirits" and can be used
to "call deities to [his] sacred space." ECF No.
1-2 at 13. The Facility Unit Head recommended disapproval due
to the "burden of keeping track of another metal object
in the facility." Id. The FRC denied the
request due to "safety & security (potential
Dieppa requested an exterior worship area with a fire pit to
use as part of approved holiday celebrations. ECF No. 1-2 at
14. The Facility Unit Head recommended disapproval and the
FRC denied the request due to "security & safety
issue with fire inside the compound." Id.
addition to Dieppa's requests, two other offenders made
requests related to Druidry. Offender William Graham
requested plant-based essential oils and a chalice. The
Facility Unit Head recommended approval of oils, but it was
denied by the FRC because the "already approved oils are
deemed adequate. Cedarwood is already approved." ECF No.
1-2 at 7. Graham's request for a chalice was not
approved, with the Facility Unit Head saying it was not a
reasonable request for personal use and the FRC finding it
was a safely and security risk because it could be used as a
weapon. ECF No. 1-2 at 8. Offender Fields requested
recognition of six Druid holy days, but the request was
denied because two holy days, Samhain and Beltane, already
were recognized. ECF No. 1-1 at 7-8; Morris Aff. ¶ 12,
ECF No. 16-1 at 3.
appealed the denials of all the objects and the holy days
through the administrative process. ECF Nos. 1 at 6; 1-2 at
2-6. Defendant Robinson upheld the FRC's decisions
regarding the objects and holy days on December 4, 2017 and
notified Dieppa that he had exhausted all administrative
remedies. ECF No. 1-2 at 6.
Causes of Action
claims that (1) defendants violated his rights under the
First Amendment and RLUIPA by denying him possession of
certain holy items, including the essential oils, chalice,
wooden wand, candle, oil diffuser, small offering bowl, and
small bell; (2) defendants violated his rights under the
First Amendment and RLUIPA by denying him recognition of
certain holy days; and (3) defendants violated his fight to
equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment by denying
Druidry's holy days while approving the holy days of
other religions. Dieppa seeks injunctive relief mandating
approval of the requested religious items and holy days,
declaratory relief that his rights were violated, and $50,
000.00 in punitive damages from each defendant.
their motion to dismiss, defendants argue (1) Dieppa lacks
standing to bring claims for the items and holy days he did
not personally request; (2) Dieppa has failed to state a
claim for relief because he has not stated facts showing that
defendants have substantially burdened his faith under RLUIPA
and the First Amendment, and (3) Dieppa failed to allege the
personal involvement of either Defendant necessary to sustain
a claim under § 1983.
Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)
move to dismiss Dieppa's claims under Rule 12(b)(1) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that he lacks
standing to sue on some of his claims. See Payne v.
Chapel Hill North Properties. LLC. 947 F.Supp.2d 567,
572 (M.D. N.C. 2013) (noting that challenges to standing are
addressed under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter
are two strands of standing: constitutional and prudential.
Doe v. Virginia Dept. of State Police. 713 F.3d 745,
753 (4th Cir. 2013). Article III of the Constitution permits
federal courts to adjudicate only "actual cases and
controversies." Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737,
750 (1984). The constitutional standing doctrine gives effect
to this requirement by "ensur[ing] that a plaintiff has
a sufficient personal stake in a dispute to render judicial
resolution appropriate." Friends of the Earth. Inc.
v. Gaston Copper Recycling Corp.. 204 F.3d 149, 153 (4th
Cir. 2000) (en banc). To establish constitutional standing, a
plaintiff must have (1) suffered an injury-in-fact that is
(a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent;
(2) the injury must be fairly traceable to the challenged
action of the defendant; and (3) the injury must be likely to
be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defenders
of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992).
party invoking federal jurisdiction generally "bears the
burden of establishing these elements." Id. at
112. However, documents filed pro se are liberally
construed and this extends to standing. Erickson v.
Pardus. 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). See Gould v.
Schneider. 448 Fed.Appx. 615, 618 (7th Cir. 2011)
(explaining that a district court may liberally construe a
pro se litigant's factual allegations pertaining to
standing) and Lerman v. Bd. Of Elections in City of New
York. 232 F, 3d 430, 437 (7th Cir. 1998) ("[T]he
obligation to read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff
liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments
that they suggest . . . extends to the question of standing
no less than it does to any other issue." (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted)).
standing serves "judicially self-imposed limits on the
exercise of federal jurisdiction." Allen, 468
U.S. at 751. The doctrine encompasses "the general
prohibition on raising another person's legal rights, the
rule barring adjudication of generalized grievances more
appropriately addressed in the representative branches, and
the requirement that the plaintiffs complaint fall within the
zone of interests protected by the law invoked."
allege that Dieppa lacks both constitutional and prudential
standing to bring claims related to the plant-based essential
oils, the chalice, and the holy days because he did not
personally request those items and did not request the holy
days to which he now claims he and the other Druids are
entitled. As set out above, Offender Graham requested the
chalice and the plant-based oils, while Offender Fields
sought recognition of the six holy days. Dieppa responds that
because Robinson upheld the denial of these religious items
and holy days, Dieppa is prevented from practicing his
religion in violation of RLUIPA, die First Amendment, and the
court finds that Dieppa has constitutional standing because
he has a personal stake in the outcome of this litigation. He
alleges that he needs the requested items in order to
practice his religion and it is uncontested that VDOC has
declined to add the items requested by Dieppa and Graham to
the list of approved faith items. To the extent defendants
are asserting that Dieppa failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies, their assertion is foreclosed by
defendant Robinson's final response to Dieppa's
grievances, where he stated that he had reviewed Dieppa's
grievance of the FRC's decision to disapprove his request
for religious items and additional holy days. Robinson
determined that the grievance was unfounded and stated that
Dieppa had exhausted all administrative remedies. ECF No. 1-2
the FRC is not required to review repeat requests for
individual faith items for twelve months following its
initial decision. ECF No. 16-1 at 9. Thus, die denial of
Graham's request effectively foreclosed Dieppa's
ability to seek FRC approval for a year. The denial of items
Dieppa claims are required for his religious practice, even
though requested by Graham, constitutes a concrete and
particularized injury-in-fact. A favorable decision would
redress Dieppa's injury by enabling Dieppa to access
these items through the Approved Religious Items list.
Constitutional standing therefore is satisfied.
same analysis applies to Dieppa's claim that denial of
the holy days places a substantial burden on the practice of
his religion. That Fields rather than Dieppa requested the
holy days does not change the fact that the holy days are not
recogni2ed by VDOC. Accordingly, Dieppa has constitutional
standing to bring both of these claims.
.Dieppa also has prudential standing. Defendants claim that
Dieppa is attempting to bring claims on behalf of Graham and
Fields rather than himself. However, Dieppa's complaint
makes clear that he is seeking the items so that he can
"meaningfully practice his religion." ECF No. 1 at
8. While he does discuss the items in terms of himself and
others who practice the religion, nowhere in his pleadings
does he appear to be bringing claims on behalf of anyone but
himself. Also, if approved, the plant-based essential oils
and chalice would have been placed on the Approved Religious
Items list and made available to all VDOC offenders,
including Dieppa. While prudential standing generally
"prohibits raising another person's legal
rights," the ...