Zackary Blankenship v. Lieutenant Setzer


UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Originating case number: 1:15-cv-00126-FDW Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. [1000043246].. [16-6766]

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Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 1 of 9 UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 16-6766 ZACKARY ALLEN BLANKENSHIP, Plaintiff – Appellant, v. LIEUTENANT SETZER, Supervisor at the Jail; SERGEANT LAWS, Supervisor at Jail; SERGEANT SMITH, Supervisor at Jail; STAFF SERGEANT CARSWELL, Supervisor at the Jail, Defendants – Appellees, and MAJOR BILLY BOWMAN, Administrator at the Jail, Defendant. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Asheville. Frank D. Whitney, Chief District Judge. (1:15-cv-00126-FDW) Submitted: March 6, 2017 Before GREGORY, Judges. Chief Judge, Decided: and TRAXLER and March 16, 2017 WYNN, Circuit Vacated and remanded by unpublished per curiam opinion. David M. Shapiro, NORTHWESTERN PRITZKER SCHOOL OF LAW, Chicago, Illinois; Ameri R. Klafeta, EIMER STAHL LLP, Chicago, Illinois, Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 2 of 9 for Appellant. Sean F. Perrin, WOMBLE CARLYLE SANDRIDGE & RICE, LLP, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellees. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. 2 Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 3 of 9 PER CURIAM: Zackary Allen Blankenship appeals the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants in his civil action. Sergeant Josh Confinement Blankenship Smith, Facility sued officers at Sergeant the Burke (“Burke-Catawba”), Ginger Laws Catawba alleging and District that their refusal to permit him to carry his Bible on the transport van to Catawba County Jail (“County Jail”) interfered with the practice of his religion. 1 Defendants moved for summary judgment prior to discovery, arguing that their actions were reasonably related to a legitimate governmental interest. With regard to Blankenship’s First Amendment claim, the district court granted Defendants’ motion, concluding that Defendants’ actions survived rational basis review. The court also determined that Blankenship had not alleged a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5 (2012), and that, even if he had, Defendants’ actions did not impose a substantial burden on Blankenship’s religious exercise. 2 On appeal, Blankenship argues that the 1 Blankenship’s complaint contained other causes of action against other staff members, but he does not pursue those claims on appeal. 2 The complaint was filed on a prison-issued form for actions filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2012). The form states that the complainant “MAY, BUT NEED NOT, GIVE LEGAL ARGUMENTS OR (Continued) 3 Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 4 of 9 district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants claims. with respect to his First Amendment and RLUIPA We vacate the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings. “We review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court . . . [and] construing the evidence in the light most favorable to . . . the non-movant[s].” Walker v. Mod-U-Kraf Homes, LLC, 775 F.3d 202, 207 (4th Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate if “there is no genuine dispute as to material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). We conclude that Blankenship adequately alleged a RLUIPA claim. Blankenship’s pro se complaint must be afforded liberal interpretation. curiam). Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per In his complaint, Blankenship averred that Defendants refused to allow him to take his Bible on the transport van on several trips to the County Jail, violated his exercise of religion. and that those actions These facts, along with the CITE ANY CASES OR STATUTES.” (J.A. 7). Blankenship’s failure to cite RLUIPA in that complaint cannot defeat his claim; this is especially so because the facts supporting a RLUIPA claim are in the complaint, and Blankenship cited RLUIPA in his response to the Defendants’ answer. 4 Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 5 of 9 grievances he attached to the complaint, gave Defendants fair notice that Blankenship was alleging a RLUIPA claim. See Weidman v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 776 F.3d 214, 222 (4th Cir. 2015) (discussing fair notice). Turning to Blankenship’s substantive RLUIPA claim, see 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), it is undisputed that Blankenship’s activities qualify as religious exercise and that he sincerely holds his beliefs. (2015) See Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853, 862 (describing plaintiff’s initial burden). Thus, the burden shifts to Defendants to show that that the challenged policy “[is] interest[] and in . furtherance . . [is] of a the compelling least governmental restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” Id. at 863; see Cir. Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d (discussing substantial burden). appeal is whether Blankenship’s Defendants’ exercise of 174, 187 (4th 2006) Therefore, the only issue on actions religion substantially and, if so, burdened whether Defendants met their burden of proof. Defendants did not permit Blankenship to bring his Bible with him during transport to County Jail. Although the drive from hour Burke-Catawba to County Jail is one in duration, Blankenship spent 3 to 4 days at County Jail during each of his three visits. Thus, he was deprived of his personal Bible for 5 Appeal: 16-6766 10 Doc: 27 days religion in Filed: 03/16/2017 total. 3 requires Pg: 6 of 9 Because him to Blankenship read and asserted study the that Bible his daily, deprivation of a Bible for longer than a period of 24 hours forced him to modify his behavior and violate his beliefs in order to attend his mandatory court dates. religious See id. Viewing the record in the light most favorable to Blankenship, Defendants placed a substantial burden on the exercise of his religion. Id. Although Defendants’ asserted security interest in banning nonlegal items on the transport van constitutes a compelling governmental interest, Jehovah v. Clarke, 798 F.3d 169, 178 (4th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 1829 (2016), we cannot conclude on the present record that the policy is the least restrictive means available to achieve that interest. Blankenship health and proposed safety of alternative individuals means during of protecting transport, the including having guards search his Bible or placing nonlegal materials in the front of the van away from prisoners. Given that Burke-Catawba allows legal papers on the transport van but does not allow any nonlegal papers, it is reasonable to infer that 3 We recognize that Blankenship’s own statements do not clearly establish whether he had access to a Bible while held at County Jail. However, interpreting the facts in the light most favor to Blankenship, he did not have access to a Bible during his time at County Jail. 6 Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Burke-Catawba materials Filed: 03/16/2017 conducts at least a prisoners that Defendants’ Pg: 7 of 9 bring onto evidence searching a Bible resources expended Defendants offered does would not transport the add search evidence of how explain the search the significantly during no cursory to any van. burden the time of or Moreover, Blankenship’s that process. remaining proposal was not viable, and Defendants did not “even assert that the [p]olicy was the least restrictive means of furthering the identified compelling interests.” 197, 204 (4th Cir. 2012). offer sufficient proof Couch v. Jabe, 679 F.3d Defendants have therefore failed to that the policy banning nonlegal materials on the transport van was the least restrictive means available to ensure safety. Turning next prisoners maintain religion. O’Lone (1987). to Blankenship’s their v. Id. First constitutional Estate of Amendment right Shabazz, 482 to claims, freedom U.S. 342, of 348 Thus, “reasonable opportunities must be afforded to all prisoners to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Cruz v. and Fourteenth Beto, 405 U.S. Amendments 319, 322 without n.2 fear (1972). of penalty.” Consequently, states may not adopt “policies that impose a substantial burden on a prisoner’s right to practice his religion.” 741 F.3d 492, 498 (4th Cir. 2014). 7 Wall v. Wade, “However, free exercise Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 restrictions Filed: 03/16/2017 that are Pg: 8 of 9 reasonably adapted to legitimate penological objective are permissible.” achieving a Id. at 499. In determining whether such a policy passes constitutional muster, we apply the test developed in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-92 (1987) (setting forth four consider in analyzing First Amendment claim). F.3d at 499. factors courts See Wall, 741 Although we conclude that—on the present record— all but the first Turner factor weigh in favor of Blankenship, we recognize that further discovery may well demonstrate that there are no practical alternatives to the challenged policy and that Blankenship’s proposed alternatives are not feasible. However, Defendants have not yet presented any such evidence. Furthermore, we do not violation was de minimis. intended to weed out only believe that the constitutional The “de minimis . . . threshold is inconsequential actions,” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 472-73 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). Christianity placed on and him Given the Blankenship’s by importance religious Defendants’ actions of the practice, Bible the significantly to burden impeded Blankenship’s ability to practice his religion for several days at a time. 2003). See Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 257 (3d Cir. Therefore, Defendants’ inconsequential. 8 actions cannot be deemed Appeal: 16-6766 Doc: 27 Filed: 03/16/2017 Pg: 9 of 9 Accordingly, we vacate the district court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. dispense with contentions are oral argument adequately because presented in the the facts We and legal materials before this court and argument would not aid the decisional process. VACATED AND REMANDED 9

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