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Reese v. L.T. Jacobs

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

August 8, 2019

MICHAEL JOHN REESE, Plaintiff,
v.
LT. JACOBS, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN A. GIBNEY JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Michael John Reese, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] The action proceeds on Reese's Particularized Complaint ("Complaint," ECF No. 13).[2] In his Complaint, Reese contends that, during his incarceration at the Meherrin River Regional Jail ("MRRJ"), Defendants[3] violated his right to practice his "Pagan/Wiccan" religion. (Id. at 7.) This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants. (ECF No. 29.) Reese filed a Response (ECF No. 38), and Defendants filed a Reply (ECF No. 39).[4] For the reasons stated below, the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 29) will be DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. REESE'S CLAIMS

         The Court construes Reese to raise the following claims for relief:

Claim One: Defendants violated Reese's First Amendment[5] right to free exercise of religion when they refused to accommodate his request "to set[] up a weekly off housing unit Pagan/Wiccan faith/study group." (Compl. at 7, 12.)
Claim Two: Defendants' actions violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because they "accommodated Christians [and] refused to do so for any other religious groups[, ] [and] [t]hat is a clear endorsement of [and] encouragement to practice their brand of Christianity." (Id. at 12-13.)
Claim Three: Defendants violated Reese's Fourteenth Amendment[6] right to equal protection when they upheld Chaplain McCoy's "refusal to accommodate Wiccan/Pagan religion in the same way he did [for] followers of [Christianity]." (Id. at 13.)
Claim Four: Defendants placed a substantial burden on Reese's exercise of his religion in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA")[7] when they informed Reese that he "must provide [his] own volunteers to supervise, lead [and] set up off housing unit religious services for 'safety [and] security reasons.'" (Id. at 14.)

         Reese seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief. (Id. at 16-19.)

         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)). A mere "scintilla of evidence," however, 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 their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants submitted the affidavit of Deputy Superintendent Wright ("Wright Aff.," ECF No. 30-1). Reese filed a Response. (ECF No. 38.) Reese also submitted copies of his inmate request forms (ECF Nos. 38-2, 38-3, 38-9), and affidavits from several inmates (ECF Nos. 38-1, 38-4, 38-5, 38-6, 38-7, 38-8, 38-10). None of the affidavits are truly sworn to under penalty of perjury, and although one of the affidavits is notarized (ECF No. 38-1), the notary did not administer an oath.[8] Furthermore, Reese did not sign his Complaint under the penalty of perjury. (See Compl. 19.) As such, Reese has put forth no evidence in support of his claims.

         In light of the foregoing submissions and principles, the following facts are established for purposes of the Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court ...


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