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DePaola v. Clarke

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

July 29, 2019

ERIC DePAOLA, Plaintiff,
v.
H. CLARKE, ET AL., Defendants.

          By: James P. Jones United States District Judge Jaime M. Crowe, James P. Gagen, Nicholas P. Putz, White & Case LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff;

          Jeremy B. O'Quinn, O'Quinn Law Office, PLLC, Wise, Virginia, for Defendant Fleming; and Ann-Marie C. White, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for remaining Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES P. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This prisoner civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is before me on the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C). In her Report, the magistrate judge made recommended findings of fact from the evidence presented to her during a bench trial, and concluded that I should enter judgment for the defendants. The plaintiff, through counsel, has filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and separate objections to the Report. After conducting a de novo review of the Report, the parties' submissions, and pertinent parts of the record, including transcripts of the bench trial, I will overrule the objections, adopt the Report, and enter judgment for the defendants.

         I.

         Many facts relevant to DePaola's claims are now undisputed. During the period at issue in the case, DePaola held a sincere Muslim religious belief that he should wear a beard and participate in the Jum'ah religious service on Fridays. DePaola was also participating in the Segregation Step-Down Procedure at Red Onion State Prison (“Red Onion”). Under this procedure, an inmate who avoids disciplinary charges, regularly demonstrates responsible behavior, and meets other developmental goals can progress through levels of increased privileges and less restrictive housing assignments, including eventual removal from segregated confinement. By early 2015, DePaola had moved up the Intensive Management (“IM”) pathway of the Step-Down Procedure to privilege level IM-1 and could have his television in his cell. By June of 2015, he had moved to privilege level IM-2 and had a job. While in IM-1 and IM-2, DePaola practiced his religious beliefs by having a barber trim his beard periodically to meet the prison's grooming policy requirement and by watching Jum'ah services on his personal television in his cell.

         On November 3, 2015, supervisory officers noticed that DePaola had a goatee that was several inches long, whereas the grooming policy at that time permitted beards to be no more than one quarter-inch long. Lieutenant Lyall told DePaola that his privilege level was being reduced from IM-2 to IM-0, because his beard was out of compliance with grooming requirements. DePaola also incurred a disciplinary charge for his noncompliance. DePaola then shaved off his beard, in violation of his Muslim beliefs. The disciplinary charge was dismissed, but DePaola remained in IM-0 status for approximately six months, the minimum time period the Step-Down Procedure requires in each status. As an IM-0 inmate, DePaola could not use his television and could not watch the broadcast of weekly Jum'ah services, which violated another of his Muslim beliefs. In late April of 2016, DePaola was promoted to IM-1 status, and he was then able to use his television to participate in Jum'ah services.

         DePaola claims that for several months before November 3, 2015, officials had failed to offer barber services to inmates in his housing area. DePaola asserts that because of the disciplinary charge and the reduction to IM-0 status, he felt pressured in November of 2015 to violate his beliefs by shaving his beard. DePaola claims that the defendants' actions that enforced the grooming policy and implemented the Step-Down Procedure violated his right to free exercise of his religious beliefs under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a).

         I granted summary judgment on DePaola's facial challenge to the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) policies at issue - the grooming policy and the Segregation Step-Down Procedure - because DePaola was able to practice his beliefs under those policies by having his beard trimmed. Op. 19, ECF No. 56. I also granted summary judgment as to DePaola's claims based merely on VDOC policy violations, his claims for monetary damages under RLUIPA and those against the defendants in their official capacities, and his claims against defendants Clarke and Robinson. Id. I denied summary judgment as to DePaola's First Amendment claim for damages and prospective relief and his RLUIPA claim for prospective relief. Id. I referred the matter to the magistrate judge, resulting in the present Report. In so doing, I noted material facts in dispute regarding the remaining issues in this case, as follows:

(1) Did in fact any of the defendants Barksdale, Gallihar, Swiney, Still, Duncan, Lyall, Fleming, and Stanley fail to provide barber services to plaintiff DePaola in 2015 and 2016, or did not prevent or correct such failure, and thereby prevented DePaola from adhering to sincerely held religious beliefs?
(2) Was in fact any punishment or loss of privileges imposed on DePaola for failure to comply with the applicable grooming policy so disproportionate to legitimate penal needs, so as to violate DePaola's sincerely held religious beliefs?
(3) If DePaola's religious rights were violated, what monetary damages or injunctive relief, if any, should be awarded?

Id. at 18-19.


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