Covington v. Bledsoe County Corrections et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER granting 1 MOTION for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis filed by Bryan Perry Nelson Covington. Plaintiff is ASSESSED the filing fee of three hundred and fifty dollars ($350). Plaintiff is ORDERED to complete the service packets and return them to the Clerks Office within twenty (20) days of the date of this Order.Signed by District Judge Harry S Mattice, Jr on 4/16/2018. (AML, ) Copy of M/O mailed to Plaintiff, along with service packets. Copy of M/O mailed to Inmate Accounts and emailed to Court Financial Deputy.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
BRYAN PERRY NELSON COVINGTON, )
BLEDSOE COUNTY CORRECTIONS,
ARIEL VAZQUEZ, TENNESSEE
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,
DARREN SETTLES, and WILL
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
The Court is in receipt of a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 filed by Bryan Perry
Nelson Covington (“Plaintiff”) [Doc. 2]. In addition to the complaint, Plaintiff filed a motion for
leave to proceed in forma pauperis [Doc. 1]. This Court entered a Notice of Deficiency advising
Plaintiff “to pay the full filing fee or to submit the required documents” in order to proceed in
forma pauperis [Doc. 3 at 2]. In compliance with the Court order, Plaintiff filed a notarized
certificate of his inmate trust fund account showing that he has the sum of $ 0.19 on account to his
credit [Doc. 4 p. 2]. Based on the financial date provided, it appears that Plaintiff lacks the
sufficient financial resources to pay the filing fee. Accordingly, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915,
Plaintiff’s motion to leave to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. Nonetheless, because
Plaintiff is a prisoner, he is ASSESSED the filing fee of three hundred and fifty dollars ($350).
McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 607 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones
v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). The custodian of Plaintiff’s inmate trust account at the institution
where he now resides shall submit, as an initial partial payment, whichever is the greater of: (a)
twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly deposits to Plaintiff’s inmate trust account; or (b)
twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly balance in his inmate trust account for the six-month
period preceding the filing of the complaint. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(A) and (B). Thereafter, the
trust account custodian shall submit twenty percent (20%) of Plaintiff’s preceding monthly income
(or income credited to his trust account for the preceding month), but only when such monthly
income exceeds $10.00, until the full filing fee of $350 has been paid to the Clerk’s Office.
McGore, 114 F.3d at 607.
Payments should be sent to: Clerk, USDC; 220 W. Depot St., Suite 200; Greeneville, TN
37743. To ensure compliance with the fee-collection procedure, the Clerk is DIRECTED to mail
a copy of this memorandum and order to the custodian of inmate accounts at the institution where
Plaintiff is now confined. The Clerk is also DIRECTED to furnish a copy of this order to the
Court’s financial deputy. This order shall be placed in Plaintiff’s prison file and follow him if he
is transferred to another correctional institution.
Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), district courts must screen prisoner
complaints and sua sponte dismiss those that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim for
relief, or are against a defendant who is immune. See, e.g., Benson v. O’Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th
In screening this complaint, the Court bears in mind that pro se pleadings filed in civil
rights cases must be liberally construed and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Still, the pleading must be
sufficient “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007), which simply means that the factual content pled by a plaintiff must permit
a court “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged,”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
The “facial plausibility” standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, but it
demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 678
(citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The standard articulated in Twombly and Iqbal
“governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under [28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A] because
the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d
468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).
Plaintiff contends that, while incarcerated at Bledsoe County Corrections Complex
(“BCCX”), he was denied the right to practice his religion [Doc. 2 p. 4]. Plaintiff claims that he
is Muslim and in June 2017 participated in the month of Ramadan in accordance with his religious
beliefs [Id.]. Plaintiff explains that Ramadan “is a month where [M]uslims fast . . . from sun up
until sun down” and after fasting for thirty days “all the [M]uslims of the compound are entitled
to a feast where people (Muslims) come in from outside the prison and cook food . . . and pray”
[Id.]. Plaintiff asserts that Bledsoe County Corrections, Ariel Vazquez, Tennessee Department of
Correction (“TDOC”), Darren Settles, and Will Sarrell (Collectively “Defendants”) would not
allow Plaintiff or any other Muslim at BCCX to have a feast or allow outside Muslims in to the
jail to cook or pray [Id.]. Plaintiff argues that the Ramadan feast is a very important part of his
religion and that Defendants’ actions violated his right to practice his religion [Id.].
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must establish that she was deprived of
a federal right by a person acting under color of state law. Black v. Barberton Citizens Hospital,
134 F.3d 1265, 1267 (6th Cir. 1998); O’Brian v. City of grand Rapids, 23 F.3d 990, 995 (6th Cir.
1994); Russo v. City of Cincinnati, 953 F.2d 1036, 1042 (6th Cir. 1992); see also Braley v. City of
Pontiac, 906 F.2d 220, 223 (6th Cir. 1990) (“Section 1983 does not itself create any constitutional
rights; it creates a right of action for the vindication of constitutional guarantees found
elsewhere.”). In other words, the plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show: (1) the deprivation
of a right, privilege, or immunity secured to him by the United States Constitution or other federal
law; and (2) that the individual responsible for such deprivation was acting under color of state
law. Gregory v. Shelby Cty., 220 F.3d 433, 441 (6th Cir. 2000). Here, Plaintiff’s allegations
appear to argue a constitutional violation under the First Amendment and/or the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(a).
The First Amendment provides in pertinent part: “Congress shall make no law respecting
an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While incarcerated,
prisoners retain certain constitutional rights, including the right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972); Thompson v. Kentucky, 712 F.2d 1078, 1080 (6th Cir. 1983).
A prisoner has an absolute right to hold a religious belief, McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618, 643
(1978) (italics added), but this does not mean that his right to exercise religious beliefs is not
subject to reasonable restrictions and limitations by prison officials. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78,
88 93 (1987) (holding that prison regulations which invade an inmate’s constitutional rights are
valid so long as they are “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests”).
To state a claim under RLUIPA, a prisoner must show that the relevant religious practice
“is grounded in a sincerely held religious belief” and that the challenged policy “substantially
burdened that exercise of religion.” Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015). Thus, RLUIPA
protects a prisoner from the imposition of a substantial burden on his religious exercise, such as
when a policy places “substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his
beliefs,” but it does not prohibit a policy, which merely “makes the practice of one’s religion more
difficult or expensive.” Episcopal Student Foundation v. City of Ann Arbor, 341 F.Supp. 2d 691,
702 (E.D. Mich. 2004).
At this point in these proceedings, the Court does not find the allegation concerning
Defendants’ refusal to allow Plaintiff to participate in the Ramadan feast is frivolous or malicious
and cannot say that they do not state a claim which would entitle Plaintiff to relief under § 1983.
Thus, this claim may advance.
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s contention that Defendants refused
him the right to practice his religion may proceed in this action. Accordingly, the Clerk is
DIRECTED to send Plaintiff service packets (a blank summons and USM 285 form) for each
Defendant. Plaintiff is ORDERED to complete the service packets and return them to the Clerk’s
Office within twenty (20) days of the date of this Order. At that time, the summonses will be
signed and sealed by the Clerk and forwarded to the U.S. Marshal for service. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4.
Plaintiff is forewarned that failure to return the completed service packets within the time required
could jeopardize his prosecution of this action.
Defendants SHALL answer or otherwise respond to the complaint within twenty (20) days
from the date of service.
Finally, Plaintiff SHALL promptly notify the Court of any address changes and he is
ADVISED that his failure so to do, within fourteen (14) days of any such change, will result in
the dismissal of this lawsuit for failure to prosecute under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
/s/ Harry S. Mattice, Jr._____
HARRY S. MATTICE, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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