Rountree v. Clarke et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief United States District Judge Glen E. Conrad on 2/16/2017. (tvt)
CLERK'S OFFICE U.S. DIST. COURT
AT ROANOKE, VA
FEB 1 6 2017
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
PIPER A. ROUNTREE,
CASE NO. 7:15CV00220
HAROLD CLARKE, ET AL.,
By: Glen E. Conrad
Chief United States District Judge
Piper A. Rountree, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5. She contends that prison officials have refused
to approve yoga mats as personal faith objects so she can possess and use such a mat to practice
yoga in her cell according to her Buddhist religious beliefs. After review ofthe record, the court
concludes that the defendants are entitled to summary judgment.
Rountree is incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women ("FCCW"). In the
second amended complaint (hereinafter "complaint"), 1 She states that even . before her
incarceration, she became an adherent of Buddhism and took Dharma vows, including a vow to
live a healthy lifestyle through exercise, walking, and practicing yoga. Rountree asserts:
Generally, the Buddhist practice strongly emphasizes maintaining a regimen that
is daily in nature. The daily practices include meditating, studying, living, and
practicing the Buddhists' tenets, and practicing yoga. For Buddhists, it is of
paramount importance that these practices are adhered to on a daily rather than
Defendants have moved for summary judgment on Rountree's second amended complaint (ECF No. 39).
Rountree now moves for leave to submit a third amended complaint (ECF No. 58). This third amended complaint
would merely add the current FCCW warden, Jeffrey Dillman, as a defendant to Rountree's claims for monetary
damages and prospective relief. Because the court herein determines that Rountree has not established any material
fact in dispute so as to preclude summary judgment, the court will deny her motion for leave to amend as untimely
filed and futile. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a).
weekly or sporadic basis. Since the point of the practices is to create or maintain
an optimally healthy mindset, physical state, and habits, only daily and repeated
practice will create and maintain the optimal health and mindset sought. ...
Part of [Rountree's] sincerely held religious beliefs include[s] this daily practice
of the yoga asanas. Asanas are the physical posture of yoga taken for the spiritual
and meditative purpose. This practice usually takes a total of 2 hours to perform,
at intervals or in a continuous, focused meditative session.
(Compl. 9, ECF No. 39) (emphasis in original). Rountree contends that yoga mats are necessary
for the safe and correct practice of yoga.
The non-slip, cushioned, unique design of ... yoga mats allow[s] silent ease of
often rapid flowing moves. Where the Buddhist's practice also includes extended
seated meditation, doubled and rolled-up yoga mats [as a substitute for Buddhist
meditation cushions called zafus] allow for positioning the body in the correct
[upright] posture without pain.
Rountree complains that the VDOC will not allow her to possess a yoga mat in her own
cell to perform daily yoga maneuvers and that doing yoga exercises and mediation poses without
a yoga mat has caused her pain and injuries. Rountree asserts that she cannot properly practice
her Buddhist beliefs.
Without daily use of the yoga mat, she cannot perform the complete set of yoga
postures, cannot hold correct alignment without severe pain and injury, and
cannot practice or maintain[ ] the required breath and mind focus or control.
Furthermore, without the silenced cushioning, the practice tends to become a
point of noisy contention between roommates, leading to a violation of her first
Dharma vow. Without such yoga mat for meditation, she's forced to sit in either
a crunched position on her bed (because of overhead obstructions), or she faces
violating sanitary standards and prison ordinances for using her blankets on the
floor. Extensive prostrations have become painful and noisy without the
Virginia Department of Corrections ("VDOC") Operating Procedures require that the
Faith Review Committee ("FRC") must review and approve any property item requested for an
inmate's religious practices. The FRC is a panel of representative VDOC staff who receive
referrals from Facility Unit Heads on requested faith property and practices, and determine
whether a requested property item, practice, or accommodation should or should not be approved
in accordance with VDOC procedures and operational concerns. The stated purpose of this
centralized approval of inmate faith items is to maintain "consistency for offender
accommodation of religious property and practices" throughout the VDOC. OP 841.3(IV)(D).
Attachment 5 of OP 841.3 lists individual faith items already approved by the FRC for an inmate
to possess in cell for religious practices. To request any exception to the operating procedure, an
inmate must complete a "Request for Approval of Faith Object" form through the Facility Unit
Head, to the FRC for review. All FRC decisions must also be reviewed and approved by the
Chief of Corrections Operations and the Corrections Operations Administrator before
The FRC list of approved faith items is particularized. For example, the FRC reviewed
prayer rugs, found them to be widely recognized as necessary and integral to the practice of
certain religions, and approved them for addition to the list of individual faith property items.
An approved prayer rug maybe no larger than 48" x 30" and must normally be stored in the
inmate's locker when not in use for religious observance. Rountree possesses an approved
prayer rug in her cell?
The FRC also reviewed yoga mats and determined that they were not considered required
articles of faith in the practice of Buddhism. Nevertheless, the FRC approved "integral yoga
mats" as "communal property" to be "stored in recreation area" for inmates to use in activities,
including religious practice and rituals. OP 841.3, Attach. 5. The FRC did not approve yoga
See Rountree v. Clarke, 7:11CV00572 (W.D. Va. Mar. 23, 2015) (consent order regarding Rountree's
request to conduct Buddhist prayers on her individual prayer rug in her cell during count procedures).
mats for individual inmate possession m cell because of storage, sanitation, and security
The defendants present the affidavit of Elisabeth Thornton, the former Corrections
Operation Administrator for the VDOC, identifying several security and safety concerns posed
by allowing an inmate to possess a yoga mat in cell. An inmate could use a yoga mat (also
known as a sticky mat) to better maintain footing and balance when physically resisting security
staff, to block OC spray, to hinder a canine, and to act as a buffer between the inmate and
sec.urity staff during an incident. An inmate could use a yoga mat to hide contraband easily
within the folds, thus slowing staffs search ability and creating a safety concern for inmates and
staff. A standard yoga mat (68" x 24" x ~"), 3 rolled up, could function as a two-foot-long club
of 4" to 5" in diameter and be used as a weapon. Also, if one inmate were allowed to use a yoga
mat in cell, it would cover a majority of the shared space and interfere with a cell mate's access
to the bunk area, possibly leading to arguments or physical altercations between cell mates.
Finally, yoga mats can stick to the floors if not cleaned regularly. They are porous and hold
sweat, oils, and dead skin from users.
In her second amended complaint, Rountree stated that the yoga mat she desired to keep in her cell for
her religious practice measured 2' x 5' x 14", considerably thicker than the standard yoga mat. In later submissions,
Rountree has clarified that she made typographical errors in stating the desired measurements and that a one-quarterinch-thick mat, 24 inches in width, and 68 inches in length, would suffice for her needs.
Because of these security and sanitation concerns, the FRC did not approve yoga mats as
individual faith objects, and Rountree may not possess and store a yoga mat in her cell. She can
and does check out a yoga mat from staff for use in her religious yoga practice. 4
The defendants offer evidence that Rountree's prison grievance records do not include
any regular grievances from her, reporting that she had suffered physical injuries as a result of
practicing yoga without being allowed to use a yoga mat. Similarly, they offer evidence that
Rountree's prison medical file does not include any medical complaints, medical treatment
forms, medical documents, or other medical records documenting any report from Rountree of
particular injuries she sustained from practicing yoga without a yoga mat.
Rountree asserts, generally, that Buddhists are treated differently than other religious
groups at FCCW. Muslims may possess a prayer rug in cell as a personal faith object, and other
faith groups may possess individual faith objects. Other faith groups at FCCW are allegedly
allowed "approximately 17 hours per week of group fellowship to practice their faith." (Compl.
12.) By comparison, Buddhists are approved to meet once per week in a community setting
where they can use yoga mats, but cannot possess personal yoga mats in their cells
In this civil rights action, Rountree sues the VDOC director, a regional director and an
assistant regional director, several FRC members, and two former FCCW wardens for the
policies and practices described.
She states that the defendants' actions have violated and
continue to violate her rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments and RLUIPA,
When and where Rountree may use a communal yoga mat is not clear from the record. The defendants
imply that Rountree may check out and use a yoga mat in a communal area of the prison every day. Rountree states,
however, that this checkout practice has changed over time. Her submissions state that for years, FCCW inmates
have been allowed to check out a yoga mat on a quarterly basis, for use in large groups or for "in-room use" at "all
hours of every day and night." (Pl. Resp. 10, ECF No. 56.) She complains that a Buddhist's ability to check out a
communal yoga mat depends on availability of mats and the number of other inmates attempting the same activity.
Elsewhere in her submissions, Rountree states that Buddhists' yoga mats are stored in the chaplain's closet and may
only be used during the weekly Buddhist group meeting time.
and she seeks monetary, declaratory, and prospective relief. 5 The defendants have filed a motion
for summary judgment, supported by affidavits, and Rountree has responded, making the motion
ripe for consideration. 6
A. Standard of Review
A court should grant summary judgment "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 of law." Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a). "As to materiality ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of
the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is
genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
In considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a court must view the
record as a whole and draw all reasonable· inferences in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. See,
Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994). The non-moving
party may not rely on beliefs, conjecture, speculation, or conclusory assertions unsupported by
factual matter to defeat a motion for summary judgment, however. Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am.,
977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992).
The court previously dismissed Rountree's claims for monetary damages under RLUIPA. See Rountree
v. Clarke, No. 7:15CV00220, 2016 WL 324491 (W.D. Va. Jan. 26, 2016). Her§ 1983 claims for monetary damages
remain before the court, however.
Rountree has engaged in discovery. The magistrate judge previously sustained the defendants'
objections to some discovery requests and denied Rountree's motion to compel additional discovery responses.
(ECF No. 40.) Rountree has filed a motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 43) of the denial of her motion to compel,
but the court finds no error and will deny her motion accordingly.
B. No First Amendment Claim
Under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, prison officials must reasonably
accommodate an inmate's exercise of his sincerely held religious beliefs. O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 350 (1987). To prove a violation of this right, an inmate must first state
facts sufficient to show that the challenged prison regulation substantially burdens his right to
. free exercise of a sincerely held religious belief. Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 187 (4th Cir.
2006). In this context, a "substantial burden" is one that "put[s] substantial pressure on an
adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs." Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind.
Employment Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981).,_ '"[A]t a minimum the substantial burden test
requires that a ... plaintiff demonstrate that the government's denial of a particular religious ...
observance was more than an inconvenience to one's religious practice."' Dellinger v. Clarke,
172 F. Supp. 3d 898, 902 (W.D. Va. Mar. 22, 2016) (quoting Smith v. Allen, 502 F.3d 1255,
1278 (11th Cir. 2007) (alteration in original). Thus, "[n]o substantial burden occurs if the
government action merely makes the 'religious exercise more expensive or difficult' or
inconvenient, but does not pressure the adherent to violate her religious beliefs or abandon one of
the precepts of her religion." Rountree v. Clarke, No. 7:11CV00572, 2015 WL 1021286, at *7
(W.D. Va. Mar. 9, 2015) (quoting Living Water Church of God v. Charter Twp. ofMeridian, 258
F. App'x 729, 739 (6th Cir. 2007) (unpublished)).
Because "courts are ill equipped to deal with the increasingly urgent problems of prison
administration," they must defer to the expertise of prison officials in crafting policies addressing
those problems, such as security, discipline, and efficient use of limited resources; therefore, a
prison regulation that substantially burdens inmates' religious practices is, nevertheless, '"valid
if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."'
Lovelace, 472 F .3d at 199
(quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). This determination turns on a four-factor
test: (1) "whether there is a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation" and the
asserted government interest; (2) whether Rountree was "deprived of all forms of religious
exercise or [was] able to participate in other observances of [her] faith; (3) what impact the
desired accommodation would have on security staff, inmates, and the allocation of prison
resources; and (4) whether there exist any obvious, easy alternatives to the challenged
. regulation." Id. at 200 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The defendants do not challenge the sincerity of Rountree's Buddhist beliefs. Rather,
they argue that her First Amendment claims fail under the substantial burden requirement and the
four-factor Turner test. The court agrees.
Rountree simply fails to marshal evidence that not having a yoga mat authorized as an
individual faith object to use and store in her cell has pressured her to abandon or violate her
By her own account, she can and does practice many yoga moves and
positions in her cell without a yoga mat. While she alleges difficulty holding positions as well,
as comfortably, as quietly, or as long as she would like without a yoga mat, she can perform
these moves. When concerned about sanitation or cushioning during mediation, she can use her
prayer rug. Moreover, at least once per week or more, Rountree can practice yoga on a yoga mat
checked out from the appropriate staff rriember and returned for storage in a communal area
when she is finished.
Rountree claims to have received medical treatment for sprained wrists and an
unspecified muscle injury incurred while doing yoga without a mat. She offers no explanation
for the absence of any mention of these injuries in her medical and grievance records, however.
She also offers no medical evidence that the alleged injuries were caused by the lack of a mat
rather than by the yoga moves themselves. Accordingly, the court finds no genuine issue of
material fact in dispute on which Rountree could prove that the defendants' failure to classify
yoga mats as individual faith objects has substantially burdened herreligious exercise.
Moreover, the defendants have established that the FRC's limited approval of yoga
mats-for communal use, but not for individual in cell possession-is rationally related to
legitimate penological goals under
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