Luther v. White et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell on 10/4/2019. Granting 120 Fourth MOTION for Summary Judgment . A separate judgment shall enter.cc:counsel, plaintiff pro se (KJA)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
CRIMINAL ACTION NO. 5:17-cv-00138-TBR-1
DION L. LUTHER,
WHITE, et. al.,
* * * * *
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court upon a Fourth Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
Defendants Gage Rodriguez and Jesse Coombs. [DN 120.] Plaintiff Dion L. Luther, proceeding
pro se, has not responded and the time has passed. As such, this matter is ripe for adjudication
and, for the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment is GRANTED.
Inmate and pro se Plaintiff Dion Luther is a Bobo Ashanti Rastafari. [DN 1.] He is also a
Kentucky State Penitentiary (“KSP”) inmate. Luther alleges various constitutional and statutory
violations while incarcerated, all concerning his Bobo Shanti Rastafarian faith. Luther arrived at
KSP on January 12, 2017 with his hair in dreadlocks. [Id.] Upon arrival, Luther was to be placed
directly in KSP’s Restrictive Housing Unit. [Id.] During processing, Luther was approached by
Defendant Jessie Coombs and was allegedly told that he must comb his dreadlocks out. [Id.]
Luther refused, asserting that he was required to wear his hair in dreadlocks pursuant to his Bobo
Ashanti Rastafarian faith. [Id.] Upon refusal, Coombs placed Luther in a security cage. [Id.]
Once in the cage, Defendant Terry Peede again told Luther to comb his dreadlocks out. [Id.]
Again, Luther refused on religious grounds. [Id.]
At this point, Peede produced a memorandum from Warden White and showed it to Luther.
[Id.] The memorandum allowed restricted housing inmates to have long hair but stated that
inmates’ hair must “remain free flowing” and prohibited “weaves, corn rows, braids, dreadlocks,
twists, or any other hair style that would hinder or affect the security or operations of the unit.”
[DN 1 Pl.’s Compl. Ex. 1, Warden White Mem.] Along with the memo, Peede allegedly handed
Luther a comb and told him he had thirty minutes to comb his hair out. [DN 1, Pl.’s Compl.]
Luther refused to comply. [Id.]
After his thirty minutes lapsed, Luther was restrained, and his dreadlocks were cut off by
Defendant Gage Rodriguez. [Id.] According to Luther, Rodriguez had to yank at his dreadlocks
while cutting them off, and the clippers used were unsanitary. [Id.] Consequently, Luther
allegedly suffered lacerations to the back of his head and developed a rash. [Id.]
Luther alleges that the forcible removal of his dreadlocks violated his right to religious
exercise under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(“RLUIPA”). [Id.] Luther further claims that in violently cutting his hair, Gage exhibited
deliberate indifference towards his safety and subsequent medical need. [Id.] Luther’s Eighth and
First Amendment claims have been dismissed by the Court. [DN 94.] Luther’s Fourteenth
Amendment Due Process claims remain against Coombs and Rodriguez. Luther’s injunctive relief
claims under RLUIPA and the First Amendment for injunctive relief also remain.
Defendants now seek Summary Judgment on these claims.
II. Legal Standard
Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all
ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matshushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
“[N]ot every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact.”
Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). The test is whether the party
bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel
v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of
evidence in support of his position; the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact
could reasonable find for the plaintiff. See id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 252 (1986)). The plaintiff may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in
the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence…of a genuine
dispute…” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Mere speculation will not suffice to defeat a motion for
summary judgment, “the mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly
supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of
material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate.” Monette v. Electronic Data
Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996).
A. Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment Claims
Defendants assert Luther’s Fourteenth Amendment claims should be analyzed under the
First Amendment and dismissed due to the Court’s previous dismissal of Luther’s First
Amendment claim. The Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor established the Graham rule.
Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386, 394-395 (1989). In Graham, Graham alleged police officers
used excessive force in making an investigatory stop in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment
rights. Id. at 390. The Court declined to analyze the claim under the Fourteenth Amendment;
instead, Graham’s claim was analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 395. Where there is
an Amendment that “provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection…that
Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must be the guide for
analyzing these claims.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).
The Sixth Circuit adopted this rule in Ciminillo. Ciminillo v. Streicher, 434 F.3d 461, 465
(6th Cir. 2006). The Court noted that the Graham rule only applies when a specific amendment
covers the constitutional claim. Id. (citing United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 272 n. 7 (1997)).
Here, Luther asserts the act of having his “sacred Dreadlocks forcefully shaven off” was a
violation of his Constitutional rights. [DN 1-1.] Luther further asserts that dreadlocks are an
essential part of the Bobo Ashanti faith and the removal of them interferes with his religious
practice. [DN 28 PageID 254.] These claims amount to a claim of a First Amendment violation.
Luther has not asserted any claims or facts, even when construed liberally, that are not covered by
a specific amendment. The Court agrees with Defendants that Luther’s arguments are better
analyzed under the explicit protection of the First Amendment.
The Court previously dismissed Luther’s First Amendment claims against Defendants due
to qualified immunity. [DN 94.] Therefore, Luther’s claim against Defendants must be dismissed.
B. Plaintiff’s Injunctive Relief Claim
Defendants assert Luther’s First Amendment and RLUIPA claims for injunctive relief are
moot. Plaintiff notified the Court on July 5, 2019 that he was transferred from the Kentucky State
Penitentiary to the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex. [DN 119.] Defendants argue that
Luther’s transfer invalidates his claim. The Court agrees.
Case law is settled in this area. In Kensu, the Sixth Circuit stated, “To the extent Kensu
seeks declaratory and injunctive relief his claims are now moot as he is no longer confined to the
institution that searched his mail.” Kensu v. Haigh, 87 F.3d 172, 175 (6th Cir. 1996). The Sixth
Circuit has repeatedly affirmed that position stated in Kensu. See Newell v. Ford, No. 16-6449,
2016 WL 9737926, at *1 (6th Cir. Oct. 31, 2016); Colvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d 282, 289 (6th Cir.
2010). Since Luther is no longer located in the Kentucky State Penitentiary, his claim for
injunctive relief is moot.
For the reasons stated herein, Defendants’ Fourth Motion for Summary Judgment, [DN
120], is GRANTED. There being no just reason for delay in its entry, this is a Final Order. The
Court further certifies that an appeal of this action would not be taken in good faith. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(3). IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1.) Plaintiff’s claims against Defendants Coombs and Rodriguez are hereby DISMISSED
2.) Plaintiff’s claim for injunctive relief is DISMISSED AS MOOT.
3.) Plaintiff’s action is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as there are no remaining
A judgment will follow.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
October 4, 2019
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