Shabazz v. Lokey et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER denying 102 Motion to Alter Judgment. Signed by District Judge Elizabeth K. Dillon on 9/24/2018. (tvt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
HASSAN RAASHANN SHABAZZ,
B.J. LOKEY, et al.,
Civil Action No. 7:14-cv-00457
By: Elizabeth K. Dillon
United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is now before the court on plaintiff Hassan Raashann Shabazz’s motion to
alter or amend the judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), which defendants
oppose. For the following reasons, the court will deny Shabazz’s motion to alter or amend.
On August 27, 2014, Hassan Raashann Shabazz filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming officials of the Augusta Correctional Center and the Virginia
Department of Corrections (“VDOC”) as defendants. At trial, Shabazz argued that defendants
violated his rights under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”) by confiscating documents from his cell.
On September 30, 2017, the court entered judgment in favor of defendants.
Amending a judgment “is an extraordinary remedy that should be applied sparingly.”
Mayfield v. National Ass’n for Stock Car Racing, Inc., 674 F.3d 369, 378 (4th Cir. 2012)
(citation omitted). “A Rule 59(e) motion may only be granted in three situations: ‘(1) to
accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not
available [previously]; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.’” Id.
(quoting Zinkand v. Brown, 478 F.3d 634, 637 (4th Cir. 2007)). “Importantly, however, a Rule
59(e) motion for reconsideration may not be used to ‘reargue the facts and law originally argued
in the parties’ briefs.’” Projects Mgmt. Co. v. DynCorp Int’l, LLC, 17 F. Supp. 3d 539, 541
(E.D. Va. 2014) (quoting United States v. Smithfield Foods, 969 F. Supp. 975, 977 (E.D. Va.
1997)); see also Durkin v. Taylor, 444 F. Supp. 879, 889 (E.D. Va. 1977) (“Whatever may be the
purpose of Rule 59(e) it should not be supposed that it is intended to give an unhappy litigant one
additional chance to sway the judge.”).
Shabazz claims that the court erred because: (1) defendants violated Shabazz’s rights
under the First Amendment and RLUIPA; and (2) defendants were not entitled to sovereign
immunity on the detinue claim and Shabazz should have his confiscated materials returned to
At the threshold, Shabazz is merely presenting issues that the court already ruled upon,
either expressly or by reasonable implication, when the court dismissed his case. He has failed
to show an intervening change in controlling law, new evidence not available at trial, a clear
error of law, or manifest injustice. However, even though Shabazz’s motion does not satisfy the
requirements of Rule 59(e), the court will briefly discuss his arguments.
First, Shabazz argues that the court misread the intent requirement of Lovelace v. Lee,
472 F.3d 174 (4th Cir. 2006), because § 1983 does not require a specific intent to interfere with a
plaintiff’s free exercise of religion. Instead, Shabazz contends that defendants satisfied the intent
requirement when they intentionally seized Shabazz’s documents.
Plaintiff is correct that § 1983 “does not include an independent state-of-mind
requirement,” because “the Court must look to the underlying constitutional right to determine
whether allegations of negligent deprivations will suffice to state a claim in any particular § 1983
action.” Shaheed v. Winston, 885 F. Supp. 861, 868 (E.D. Va. 1995). Under both the Free
Exercise Clause and RLUIPA, a plaintiff “must assert conscious or intentional interference with
his free exercise rights to state a valid claim under § 1983.” Wall v. Wade, 741 F.3d 492, 500
n.11 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 201). Granted, the Fourth Circuit has never
definitively determined “whether RLUIPA reaches beyond the Free Exercise Clause to prohibit
conduct, such as deliberate indifference, that is less than intentional but more than negligent.”
Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 195. However, “simple negligence . . . does not suffice to meet the fault
requirement of RLUIPA,” Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 194, and the court determined that “any tortious
conduct here was, at most, negligent.” (Mem. Op. 14, Dkt. No. 100.) Therefore, relief under
Rule 59(e) is inappropriate because plaintiff has not presented an intervening change in
controlling law, new evidence, or a clear error of law.
Second, Shabazz asserts that the court erred by granting defendants sovereign immunity
on the detinue claim. Specifically, he contends that (1) defendants were grossly negligent; (2)
defendants’ actions were ministerial, not discretionary; and (3) regardless of sovereign
immunity, the VDOC should return the confiscated materials to Shabazz. However, defendants
state that Shabazz’s claim is moot because his property has been returned to him.1
Regardless, plaintiff has not established that the court’s determination that defendants
were entitled to sovereign immunity was a clear error of law.2 First, defendants’ confiscation of
suspected gang material did not constitute “utter disregard of prudence amounting to a complete
“Defendants note, however, that, in light of the Coward [v. Robinson, 276 F. Supp. 3d 544 (E.D. Va.
2017)] decision, VDOC has voluntarily elected to return all of the Plaintiff’s confiscated materials to his
possession.” (Defs.’ Resp. in Opp’n to the Pl.’s Rule 59(e) Mot. 3, Dkt. No. 105.) Further, “[a]s of the time of this
filing, Defendants were awaiting written confirmation from Augusta Correctional Center that all of those items are
back in the Plaintiff’s physical possession.” (Id.)
The Coward decision is mostly irrelevant to Shabazz’s case because the plaintiff in Coward sought to
establish that the VDOC’s zero-tolerance policy as to NGE members/Five Percenters violated RLUIPA. Here,
Shabazz specifically did not challenge “the zero-tolerance policy on its face or as applied to NGE members/Five
Percenters.” (Mem. Op. at 1.) Therefore, Coward is not an intervening change in controlling law.
neglect.” Green v. Ingram, 608 S.E.2d 917, 922 (Va. 2005). Moreover, although defendants
failed to interview Shabazz, Shabazz has not shown that defendants’ oversight shocked the
conscience so as to constitute gross negligence. Third, the court previously determined that
defendants’ actions were discretionary in examining the suspected prohibited items, and Shabazz
does not present any law or facts contradicting the court’s ruling. Therefore, Shabazz has not
presented any intervening change in controlling law, new evidence, or a clear error of law that
would entitle him to relief under Rule 59(e).
Accordingly, the court DENIES the motion to alter or amend the judgment (Dkt. No.
The clerk is directed to provide a copy of this opinion and order to all counsel of record.
Entered: September 24, 2018.
/s/ Elizabeth K. Dillon
Elizabeth K. Dillon
United States District Judge
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