Fields v. Robinson et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. See for complete details. Signed by District Judge Henry E. Hudson on 01/19/2017. Clerk mailed copy to pro se Plaintiff. (nbrow)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
PHILLIP W. FIELDS,
DAVID ROBINSON, et al.,
JAN I 9 2017
CLERK, U.S. DISTRICT COURT
Civil Action No. 3:15CV455-HEH
(Granting Motion for Summary Judgment)
Phillips W. Fields, a Virginia inmate proceeding prose and informa pauperis,
filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. Fields alleges, inter alia, that the Defendants 1 have
unlawfully burdened his religious exercise by prohibiting him from participating in the
Common Fare diet unless he picks up a requisite number of trays and refrains from
giving his Common Fare meals to other inmates. Specifically, Fields makes the
following claims for relief:
By removing Fields from the Common Fare diet, Defendants
denied Fields a diet consistent with his religious precepts in
violation of his rights under (a) the Religious Land Use and
names as Defendants: David Robinson, Chief of Corrections Operations for the Virginia
Department of Corrections ("VDOC"); Harold Clarke, the Director of the VDOC; Tracy
Chumura, the Housing and Program Manager for Saint Brides Correctional Center ("SBCC");
Tracy Ray, the Warden of SBCC; Gregory Holloway, the Regional Administrator; and Rick
White the Assistant Warden ofSBCC.
Institutionalized Person Act2 ("RLUIPA") and (b) the First
In order to receive the Common Fare diet, which accommodates
Fields's religious dietary needs, Defendants require that Fields pick
up seventy-five percent of his meal trays. This requirement
frustrates Fields's ability to fast and violates his rights under
(a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.
In order to receive the Common Fare diet, Defendants require that
Fields not give his meals to other inmates. This requirement
frustrates Fields's religious desire to be charitable and violates his
rights under (a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.
In order to receive the Common Fare diet, Defendants require that
Fields not give his meals to other inmates. This requirement
frustrates Fields's religious desire to not be wasteful and violates
his rights under (a) RLUIPA and (b) the First Amendment.
The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the
reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.
I. STANDARD 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
oflaw." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). It is the responsibility of the party seeking summary
judgment to inform the court of the basis for the motion, and to identify 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
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") of2000, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 2000cc et seq.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof .... " U.S. Const. amend. I.
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) and 56(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)). However, a mere "'scintilla of evidence"' will
not preclude summary judgment. Anderson, 4 77 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co.
v. Munson, 81 U.S. (14 Wall.) 442, 448 (1872)).
In support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants rely upon the
affidavit of Tracy Chumura, the Housing and Program Manager at SBCC (Mem. Supp.
Mot. Summ. J. Ex. 1 ("Chumura Aff.," ECF No. 22-1), and a copy ofFields's Common
Fare Diet Agreement (id. Encl. A). In opposition, Fields submitted his own declaration
("Fields Deel.," ECF No. 24). In light of the foregoing submissions, the following facts
are established for the Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court draws all permissible
inferences in favor of Fields.
II. UNDISPUTED FACTS
Fields is an Orthodox Sunni Muslim inmate confined in SBCC. (Fields Deel. ~ 4;
Compl. 2.)4 In 2013, Fields submitted a request to participate in the Common Fare diet
"because it served food consistent with [his religious] beliefs." (Fields Deel.~ 5.)
The "Common Fare is a diet designed to meet the religious needs of offenders.
Offenders sign an agreement when they are approved for participation in the Common
Fare diet which requires that they only retrieve Common Fare trays and that they attend
religious services. If an offender is found to have broken the Common Fare agreement,
they are recommended for Common Fare suspension." (Chumura Deel.~ 4.)
Additionally, Fields's Common Fare Agreement required that he pick up "a minimum of
seventy-five percent of [the] meals served per month." (Common Fare Agreement 1.)
The Common Fare Agreement further prohibited Fields from "giving away or trading a
Common Fare food item," and "eating, trading or possessing unauthorized food items
from the main [food] line." (Id. at 1.)
On October 13, 2014, Fields was observed giving another offender food items
from his Common Fare tray. (Chumura Deel.~ 5.) Fields was referred to the Internal
Classification Authority ("ICA") for possible suspension from the Common Fare diet.
(Id.) At the conclusion of the ICA hearing, the ICA recommended removing Fields from
the Common Fare diet for six months.
8.) Chumura approved that
Court corrects the capitalization and spelling in the quotations from the parties'
After the completion of his six-month suspension, Field could have requested to
be reinstated to the Common Fare diet. (Id.
9.) Fields has not requested to be
reinstated to the Common Fare diet. (Id.)
Fields represents that he did not request to be reinstated to the Common Fare diet
because the Common Fare Agreement "restricted so many different acts of worship as
opposed to the one benefit of the religious diet .... " (Fields Deel.~ 11.) Specifically,
Fields contends that the Common Fare Agreement impairs his religious exercises of
engaging in "voluntary fasts," being charitable, and avoiding "wastefulness." (Id..)
III. RLUIPA AND FREE EXERCISE CLAIMS
RLUIPA provides, in pertinent part, that:
No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious
exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution ... unless the
government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l(a). Thus, to begin, Fields must demonstrate that Defendants'
policies impose a "substantial burden" on his religious exercise. In determining if Fields
has met this standard, the Court must answer two questions: "(l) Is the burdened activity
'religious exercise,' and if so (2) is the burden 'substantial'?" Adkins v. Kaspar, 393 F.3d
559, 567 (5th Cir. 2004); see Couch v. Jabe, 679 F.3d 197, 200-01 (4th Cir. 2012)
(employing similar two-part inquiry).
Whether the Burdened Activities Are a Religious Exercise
"RLUIPA defines the term 'religious exercise' broadly to include 'any exercise of
religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief."'
Couch, 679 F.3d at 200 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A)). Arguably, four religious
exercises are implicated by Fields's Complaint: (1) Fields's desire to consume a diet
consistent with his religion; (2) Fields's desire to engage in voluntary fasting; (3)
Fields's desire to be charitable; and, (4) Fields's desire to avoid being wasteful. Given
RLIBPA's broad definition of religious exercise, the Court assumes these activities
constitute religious exercise. See Whitehouse v. Johnson, No. 1:10cv1175 (CMH/JFA),
2011WL5843622, at *3 (E.D. Va. Nov. 18, 2011) (assuming inmate's enrollment in
seminary course constituted religious exercise for purposes ofRLIBPA).
Fields Fails to Demonstrate a Substantial Burden on His Religious
RLUIPA fails to define the term substantial burden. See Couch, 679 FJd at 200.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined that the Supreme
Court's jurisprudence interpreting the Free Exercise Clause provides guidance on the
issue. See Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 187 (4th Cir. 2006). Thus, the Fourth Circuit
has explained that a substantial burden
is one that put[ s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior
and to violate his beliefs, or one that forces a person to choose between
following the precepts of h[is] religion and forfeiting [governmental]
benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of h[is]
religion ... on the other hand.
Couch, 679 F.3d at 200 (alterations and omission in original) (quoting Lovelace, 472 F.3d
at 187). In conducting the substantial burden inquiry, the plaintiff "is not required ... to
prove that the exercise at issue is required by or essential to his [or her] religion."
Krieger v. Brown, 496 F. App'x 322, 325 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544
U.S. 709, 725 n.13 (2005)). Nevertheless, "at a minimum the substantial burden test
requires that a RLUIPA plaintiff demonstrate that the government's denial of a particular
religious ... observance was more than an inconvenience to one's religious practice."
Smith v. Allen, 502 F.3d 1255, 1278 (11th Cir. 2007) (citingMidrash Sephardi, Inc. v.
Town ofSurfside, 366 F.3d 1214, 1227 (11th Cir. 2004)); 5 see Krieger, 496 F. App'x at
326 (affirming grant of summary judgment where inmate failed to "show that the
deprivation of an outdoor worship circle and the requested sacred items modified his
behavior and violated his religious beliefs" (citing Lovelace, 472 FJd at 187)). Thus, no
substantial burden occurs if the government action merely makes the "religious exercise
more expensive or difficult," but fails to pressure the adherent to violate his or her
religious beliefs or abandon one of the precepts of his religion. Living Water Church of
God v. Charter Twp. of Meridian, 258 F. App'x 729, 739 (6th Cir. 2007).
Two cases from the Fourth Circuit illustrate a plaintiffs responsibility with
respect to demonstrating a substantial burden. In Couch, the plaintiff "testified that the
primary religious texts of Islam command that he grow a beard and that the refusal to
maintain a beard is a sin comparable in severity to eating pork." Couch, 679 F.3d at 200.
In Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 293 (2011), the Supreme Court abrogated Smith's
ultimate holding that RLUIP A allows for monetary damages against state officials acting in their
The VDOC's grooming policy prohibited inmates from growing beards and enforced this
rule by placing a noncompliant inmate in a program that "restricted or limited [the
inmate's] access to personal property, movement rights, the right to eat and associate
with others, recreation time, and visitation time." Id. at 199. The Fourth Circuit
concluded that VDOC's grooming policy and enforcement mechanism "fit squarely
within the accepted definition of 'substantial burden"' because it placed substantial
pressure on the plaintiff to modify his behavior and violate his beliefs. Id. at 200-01
(citing Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 995-96 (9th Cir. 2005)).
In Krieger, the Fourth Circuit declined to find an inmate had demonstrated a
substantial burden where prison officials denied "his requests for an 'outdoor worship
circle' and certain 'sacred items' related to his religious practice of Asatru." Krieger, 496
F. App'x at 322. The plaintiff "asserted that deprivation of the outdoor worship circle
would require him to pray indoors, and that the 'Blot' ceremony is 'best performed
outdoors."' Id. at 325 (emphasis added). The Fourth Circuit conclud~d that the mere
denial of the optimal manner for performing the "Blot" ceremony could not demonstrate
a substantial burden where the plaintiff "failed to offer any explanation regarding the
reason why indoor worship would compromise his religious beliefs." Id. Similarly, the
inmate failed to demonstrate a substantial burden with respect to the denial of additional
sacred items simply by the "blanket assertion" that ''the sacred items were 'necessary' to
perform 'well-established rituals."' Id. at 326. The Fourth Circuit noted that plaintiff
"did not identify those rituals, or explain why the absence of the sacred items had an
impact on the rituals and violated his beliefs." Id.
Krieger illuminates another consideration in conducting the substantial burden
inquiry. The availability to an inmate, in the most general sense, of other means to
practice his or her faith is not relevant to the RLUIPA substantial burden inquiry. A/Amin v. Shear, 325 F. App'x 190, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). "Nevertheless, courts properly
consider whether the inmate retains other means for engaging in the particular religious
activity, such as the "Blot" ceremony, in assessing whether a denial of the inmate's
preferred method for engaging that religious exercise imposes a substantial burden."
Shabazz v. Va. Dep 't Corr., 3:10CV638, 2013 WL 1098102, at *7 (E.D. Va. Mar. 15,
2013) (citing Krieger, 496 F. App'x at 326; Coleman v. Governor ofMich., 413 F. App'x
866, 875-76 (6th Cir. 2011)). Thus, an inmate failed to demonstrate the denial of
additional group study time imposed a substantial burden upon his religious exercise
where prison officials already provided three hours of group study and worship time and
allowed inmate to study in his cell. See Van Wyhe v. Reisch, 581FJd639, 656-57 (8th
Cir. 2009). Similarly, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit concluded
that prison policies which limited the inmates' access to religious radio and television
broadcasts failed to substantially burden the inmates' religious exercise because the
inmates "may receive religious literature via the mail and may receive visitors at the
prison to discuss their religious beliefs." Coleman, 413 F. App'x at 876. As explained
below, in light of the foregoing principles, Fields fails to demonstrate any substantial
burden upon his religious exercise.
Fields has submitted evidence that indicates that the Common Fare diet provides
food consistent with his religious beliefs. Fields, however, fails to direct the Court to any
evidence that reflects the regular diet at SBCC is not consistent with his religious beliefs ·
and forces him to consume foods that violate his religious tenets. Shabazz v. Johnson,
No. 3:12CV282, 2015 WL 4068590, at *10 (E.D. Va. July 2, 2015) (explaining no
substantial burden exists when inmate can discard food "at odds with" his religious diet
(citing Muhammad v. Mathena, No. 7:14-cv-00134, 2015 WL 300363, at *3 (W.D.Va.
Jan. 22, 2015)). Accordingly, Fields fails to demonstrate that his suspension from the
Common Fare diet substantially burdens his religious exercise.
Moreover, even if one assumed the lack of a Common Fare diet substantially
burdened Fields's religious exercise, any RLUIPA claim would fail, as the burden on
Fields's religious exercise flows from Fields's own failure to reapply for the diet, rather
than any state action. Smith v. US. Cong., No. 3:12CV45, 2015 WL 1011545, at *13
(E.D. Va. Mar. 6, 2015) (emphasizing that ''the plaintiff must demonstrate that a
government practice, rather than some other consideration not attributable to the
government, imposes the substantial burden on his or her religious exercise" (citing
Adkins, 393 F.3d at 571)). Accordingly, Claim l(a) will be dismissed.
Furthermore, as explained below, Fields fails to demonstrate that the requirements
for participating in the Common Fare diet substantially burden his religious desires to
fast, be thrifty, and be charitable.
Fasting, Charity, and Avoiding Wastefulness
Fields asserts the restrictions of the Common Fare Agreement "put substantial
pressure [on me] to modify my normal practice of the religion with respect to voluntary
fasting, giving away unwanted food in charity, and observing the prohibition of
wastefulness in my religion." (Resp. Mot. Summ. J. 6, ECF No. 26.) The evidence and
common sense simply do not support this assertion.
With respect to fasting, Fields is permitted to miss twenty-five percent of his
meals per month. Thus, Fields can fast for a week every month if he so desires. Fields
fails to direct the Court to any evidence that suggests his religious beliefs require that he
fast for this significant number of meals. Thus, Fields fails to demonstrate Defendants'
policies substantially burden his ability to fast. Van Wyhe, 581 F.3d at 656-57
(concluding that an inmate failed to demonstrate that the denial of additional group study
time imposed a substantial burden upon his religious exercise where prison officials
already provided three hours of group study and worship time and allowed inmate to
study in his cell); Coleman, 413 F. App'x at 876 (holding that prison policies that limited
the inmates' access to religious radio and television broadcasts failed to substantially
burden the inmates' religious exercise because the inmates "may receive religious
literature via the mail and may receive visitors at the prison to discuss their religious
beliefs"). Accordingly, Claim 2(a) will be dismissed.
Next, Fields contends that the inability to give food away from his Common Fare
tray substantially burdens his religious desire to be charitable. "This is not a case where
the actions of prison officials have completely prevented an inmate from participating in
a religious ritual or practicing a tenet of his or her faith. Rather, Defendants' current
policies limit one method for" Fields to be charitable "while allowing [Fields] ample, if
not unlimited, opportunities to engage in that religious practice." Smith, 2015 WL
1011545, at *14 (citations omitted). Although Fields may not be able to give away his
government-provided food, he fails to suggest that he cannot use his own funds to
support charities and other organizations. See Living Water Church of God, 258 F.
App'x at 739 (concluding no substantial burden imposed where defendants' policies
simply make the religious exercise "more expensive or difficult"). As Fields fails to
demonstrate his religious desire to be charitable has been substantially burdened, Claim
3(a) will be dismissed.
Finally, Fields asserts that preventing him from giving away his unwanted food
interferes with his religious desire to not be wasteful. Fields has ample opportunities to
avoid being wasteful of the food provided. If Fields is not hungry or not inclined to eat
the food provided on a Common Fare meal, the VDOC provides him with ample
opportunity to skip a quarter of his meals. Additionally, if Fields does not wish to waste
some of the food on his tray, he should simply eat it. Thus, Fields fails to "demonstrate
that a government practice, rather than some other consideration not attributable to the
government, imposes the substantial burden on his ... religious exercise." Smith 2015
WL 1011545, at* 13 (citing Adkins, 393 F.3d at 571). As Fields fails to demonstrate that
Defendants substantially burdened his religious desire to not be wasteful, Claim 4(a) will
Free Exercise Claims
Similar to RLUIPA, in order for Fields to survive summary judgment for his First
Amendment claims, Fields must demonstrate that Defendants' conduct substantially
burdened his religious exercise. Whitehouse, 2011 WL 5843622, at *5. "RLUIPA
provides considerably more protection for an inmate's religious exercise than does the
Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution of the United States." Id. at *5 (citing Lovelace,
472 F.3d at 186). Thus, "[w]here an inmate has not put forth sufficient evidence under
RLUIPA to demonstrate a substantial burden on his religious exercise, his claim fails
under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment as well." Van Wyhe, 581 F.3d at
657-58 (citing Patel v. U.S. Bureau ofPrisons, 515 F.3d 807, 813 (8th Cir. 2008)). As
explained above, Fields has failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on his religious
exercise with respect to his RLUIPA claims set forth in Claims l(a) though 4(a). Thus,
his related Free Exercise claims in Claims l(b) through 4(b) also fail. Accordingly,
Claims l(b), 2(b), 3(b), and 4(b) will be dismissed.
For the forgoing reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 21) will be granted. Fields's claims will be dismissed. Fields's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 25) will be denied. The action will be dismissed.
An appropriate Order shall accompany this Memorandum Opinion.
HENRY E. HUDSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Date: Jo.4\.\~ ~0\1
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