Goins v. Flemming et al
OPINION & ORDER granting in part and denying in part 30 Motion for Summary Judgment (Opinion and Order mailed to Pro Se Party). Signed by Judge James P. Jones on 9/12/2017. (tvt)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
CHAD E. GOINS,
L. FLEMING, ET AL.,
Case No. 7:16CV00154
OPINION AND ORDER
By: James P. Jones
United States District Judge
Chad E. Goins, Pro Se Plaintiff; Laura H. Cahill, Office of the Attorney
General, Richmond, Virginia, for Defendants.
The plaintiff, Chad E. Goins, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this
civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5.
Goins asserts that the defendant prison officials are not adequately accommodating
his religious practices in several respects. After review of the record, I conclude
that the defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted in part and
denied in part.
Goins is serving a Virginia prison sentence and has been confined at
Wallens Ridge State Prison (“Wallens Ridge”) since November 2013, in the
custody of the Virginia Department of Corrections (“VDOC”). Goins states that he
is Sunni Muslim and must eat a diet and worship in a manner, individually and in
group worship services, consistent with the Sunni beliefs.
In his Complaint, Goins sues Henry Ponton, VDOC Regional Administrator;
L. Fleming 1 and Combs, Warden and Assistant Warden of Wallens Ridge; and the
following individuals who also work at Wallens Ridge: Cope, a captain; Stallard, a
unit manager; Coleman, a lieutenant; M. Hensley, who handles grievances; B.
Ravizee, the ombudsman; M. Brogles, a kitchen supervisor; and Mitchell, a
chaplain. Liberally construed, Goins’ss Complaint claims that the defendants’
policies and practices burden his religious practices in the following respects: (1)
The Common Fare Program prevents Goins from consuming certain foods allowed
by his religious beliefs, thereby forcing him to comply with others’ religious
dietary beliefs; (2) Goins cannot pray or wear his kufi (religious head covering)
during pod recreation; (3) The defendants do not provide an in room officer at all
times during Sunni group religious services; (4) Dividing the Sunni Muslim
services has left Goins’ss group with no qualified religious teacher; (5) Goins
cannot access a bathroom during his religious services, while inmates of other
religions meet for group services in the gym where they have access to a bathroom.
Goins contends that the defendants’ actions have violated his rights under RLUIPA
and the First, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments.
He also asserts
Defendant Fleming’s name was misspelled in the Complaint as “Flemming.”
supplemental state law claims of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional
distress.2 For these alleged violations, Goins seeks monetary, declaratory, and
The defendants move for summary judgment on the ground of qualified
immunity and on the merits of Goins’s claims. They offer affidavits from Fleming
and Combs and copies of prison policies regarding the challenged religious
accommodations. Goins has responded to the defendants’ motion, making it ripe
for disposition. Because Goins’s claims arise from three different sets of facts, I
will address the claims in three groups.
A. Initial Matters.
Some of Goins’s claims for monetary damages fail at the outset.
defendants are protected by immunity against damage claims for actions taken in
their official capacities. See Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58
(1989). Moreover, monetary damages are not available under RLUIPA for any of
the defendants’ alleged actions. See, e.g., Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 2852
Goins also invokes as authority for his claims the Federal Tort Claims Act
(“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1346. The FTCA provides a waiver of sovereign immunity when
the federal government would be liable to the claimant for certain state law torts, such as
negligence, committed by federal employees acting within the scope of their
employment. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Because the defendants Goins has named are
state officials, however, their actions do not give rise to any claim actionable under the
FTCA. Therefore, I must summarily dismiss Goins’s FTCA claims as legally frivolous.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
86 (2011) (finding damages not recoverable against defendants in their official
capacities under RLUIPA); Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 188-89 (4th Cir.
2009) (finding no RLUIPA claim for damages available against defendants in their
individual capacities). 3
Therefore, I will grant summary judgment for the
defendants on all claims for monetary damages against the defendants in their
official capacities and all claims for monetary damages under RLUIPA.
B. Religious Diet.
1. Factual Allegations.
Wallens Ridge, like many other VDOC facilities, offers the Common Fare
diet to inmates whose religious dietary beliefs cannot be met by the VDOC’s
master menu. The Common Fare menus feature protein items that are considered
Kosher and do not contain any pork or pork derivatives prohibited by Islamic halal
dietary rules. These menus also provide participants with fresh, uncooked fruits
and vegetables in keeping with halal rules.
Providing an inmate with the specialized Common Fare meals subjects the
institution to additional financial costs and administrative burdens that it would not
incur when providing that inmate with a regular diet. Consequently, VDOC policy
These cases address the immunity question only as it pertains to RLUIPA as an
exercise of congressional spending power, and the statute also invokes congressional
commerce power. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b). I am satisfied that Goins’s Complaint
does not present a factual basis for a claim of monetary damages under the Commerce
Clause nexus of RLUIPA, however. See, e.g., Rendelman, 569 F.3d at 189.
requires inmates to demonstrate their religious sincerity to be approved to receive
Common Fare meals and to sign a Common Fare Agreement by which they
commit to comply with the terms of participation as a condition to receiving such
meals. An inmate who violates a term of the agreement may be temporarily
suspended from the diet, and repeated violations can lead to removal from the
Common Fare program. Actions that violate the Common Fare Agreement are
stated in the document itself and include:
eating, trading, or possessing
unauthorized food items from the regular meal line; giving away or trading a
Common Fare food item; and purchasing or eating food items from the
commissary that are inconsistent with the dietary requirements of the Common
Fare program. Commissary items that violate Common Fare are clearly identified
Goins signed a Common Fare Agreement on March 13, 2015, that stated,
among other things, “This program provides me with an appropriate religious diet
that meets or exceeds minimum daily nutritional requirements.” Fleming Aff.
Enclosure B, ECF No. 31-1. The Agreement also advised Goins that eating food
items inconsistent with Common Fare dietary requirements or from the regular
menu would violate the agreement and result in suspension of his religious meals.
In Claim (1) of the Complaint, Goins admits that the Common Fare menu is
the only menu option available to him at Wallens Ridge that excludes the pork and
pork byproducts that his Sunni beliefs forbid him to eat.
however, that he is forbidden by Allah from making foods unlawful that are not
forbidden to Muslims. As specific examples, Goins states that his Sunni beliefs do
not prohibit him from eating dairy and meat together or from eating the cheese and
pasta products he can buy from the commissary. If he eats these food items,
however, he violates the Common Fare Agreement and can be suspended from this
menu option. Goins contends that by prohibiting him from eating foods that are
not unlawful for Sunnis to eat, the VDOC policy forces him to comply with
another religion’s dietary restrictions and prevents him from freely exercising his
own religious beliefs.
2. RLUIPA and the First Amendment.
To survive the defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on any of his
claims, Goins must present material disputed fact(s) that would persuade a jury to
rule in his favor. 4 I find no such disputed fact material to his dietary claims under
RLUIPA or the First Amendment.
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 party.” Id. I must draw all reasonable
inferences from the facts in favor of Goins, the nonmoving party. Williams v. Staples,
Inc., 372 F.3d 662, 667 (4th Cir. 2004).
The First Amendment prohibits the government from imposing “a
substantial burden” on an inmate’s ability to exercise his religion unless the
government can demonstrate an appropriate reason for the burden. Lovelace v.
Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 198-99, n.8 (4th Cir. 2006). Under RLUIPA, “when a prison
substantially burdens an inmate’s exercise of religion, the prison must demonstrate
that imposing the burden serves a compelling government interest and does so by
the least restrictive means.” Id. at 182. For either a First Amendment or a
RLUIPA claim, then, the inmate “bears the initial burden to demonstrate that the
prison’s policy exacts a substantial burden on religious exercise.” Incumaa v.
Stirling, 791 F.3d 517, 525 (4th Cir. 2016). “[A] substantial burden on religious
exercise occurs when a state or local government, through act or omission, ‘put[s]
substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his
Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 187 (RLUIPA context) (quoting Thomas v.
Review Bd. of Ind. Emp’t Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 718 (1981)) (First Amendment
Stated simply, the established facts in this case do not show that the
challenged policy places any substantial burden on Goins’s beliefs.
undisputed evidence establishes that Goins can consume his Common Fare meals
without violating his Sunni dietary requirements to avoid pork and that these meals
meet or exceed his nutritional needs. Goins presents no evidence that his inability
to consume food items that violate the terms of his Common Fare Agreement puts
substantial pressure on him to violate any dietary mandate of his Sunni beliefs. At
the most, this restriction is an inconvenience or difficulty, not sufficient to
constitute a triable fact showing a substantial burden on his religious exercise. See
Marron v. Miller, No. 7:13CV00338, 2014 WL 2879745, at *2 (W.D. Va. June 24,
2014) (“No 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 his or her religious beliefs or abandon one of the
precepts of his or her religion.”) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
3. Other constitutional claims.
I also conclude that Goins has not stated any actionable claim under the
Eighth Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause regarding his religious diet. He
does not state facts showing that the Common Fare program deprives him of the
nutrition he needs to live or that it has caused him any significant harm. Farmer v.
Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (holding that Eighth Amendment claim
requires showing of deprivation of minimal necessities of life): Shakka v. Smith, 71
F.3d 162, 166 (4th Cir. 1995) (requiring showing that challenged condition caused,
or is likely to cause, “significant physical or emotional harm, or a grave risk of
such harm”). Goins also states no facts showing that this diet program treats him
differently from other similarly situationed inmates because of intentional
discrimination based on his religious views. Veney v. Wyche, 293 F.3d 726, 730
(4th Cir. 2002) (stating standard for equal protection claim in prison context).
For the stated reasons, I conclude that all of the defendants are entitled to
summary judgment on Goins’s constitutional and RLUIPA challenges in Claim (1)
concerning the Common Fare program.
Consequently, I decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over any related claim Goins may be attempting to raise
under state law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), and will dismiss such claims without
C. Prayer and Head Covering in Common Areas.
1. Factual Allegations.
In Claim (2), Goins complains that while in the pod, (a) he cannot pray and
(b) he cannot wear his kufi, a religious head covering. His submissions indicate
that his Sunni beliefs require him to wear a kufi at all times and to kneel to pray at
five times each day, wherever he is.
The defendants explain that under VDOC Operating Procedure (“OP”)
841.3, titled Offender Religious Programs, kufis are approved for possession by
male inmates for use under the same restrictions that apply to other approved head
coverings. See Combs Aff. ¶ 5, Enclosure A, ECF No. 31-2. Inmates’ in-pod
recreation occurs without searches of their clothing or headwear for contraband.
The defendants state that because inmates could “easily conceal contraband and
notes” under kufis or other head coverings, they are prohibited from wearing any
head covering during pod recreation. Id. On the other hand, because inmates are
searched before and after outside recreation, they may wear head coverings,
including kufis, during this activity and in their cells.
VDOC policy provides for opportunities when inmates can meet for
religious services in designated areas under supervision, wear kufis, and use prayer
rugs for kneeling prayers. Inmates may also use prayer rugs in their cells. The
defendants explain, however, that for safety and security reasons, inmates cannot
gather for group prayers or kneel on a prayer rug during in-pod recreation. The
defendants state that religious activities in the pod may offend inmates of other
faiths and that prayer rugs can be a slip hazard, cause friction between gangs, or be
used as protection while attacking another inmate or staff. Inmates may conduct
individual prayers in the pod if they remain in an upright position and do not gather
The defendants do not contest Goins’s claim that his inability to wear his
kufi and to kneel for prayer in the pod places substantial burdens on his religious
practice. Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 187. Therefore, my inquiry here is whether the
defendants have shown that the policies further state interests to the extent that the
burden on Goins’s religious exercise is lawful under the First Amendment and
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 Goins’s religious practices nevertheless survives a
constitutional challenge “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests.’” Id. at 199 (quoting Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 405 (1974);
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 Goins was “deprived of all forms of religious exercise or
[was] able to participate in other observances of [his] 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 burden of proof “is not on the State to prove the validity of prison regulations
Goins does not identify any Eighth Amendment or equal protection concerns
related to Claim (2).
but on [Goins] to disprove it” under the Turner factors. Overton v. Bazzetta, 539
U.S. 126, 132 (2003).
RLUIPA provides federal statutory protection of prisoners’ religious
exercise under a stricter legal standard than the First Amendment requires. If an
inmate presents admissible evidence that the challenged policy substantially
burdens his exercise of religion, then to survive a RLUIPA challenge, prison
officials must prove that their policy is the “furthers a compelling governmental
interest by the least restrictive means.” Incumaa, 791 F.3d at 525.
The least-restrictive-means standard is exceptionally demanding, and
it requires the government to sho[w] that it lacks other means of
achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on
the exercise of religion by the objecting part[y]. [I]f a less restrictive
means is available for the Government to achieve its goals, the
Government must use it.
Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853, 863 (2015) (internal quotation marks and citations
a. Prayer in the Pod.
Goins offers no disputed fact contradicting the defendants’ evidence of
significant potential security hazards presented by allowing inmates to carry and
use their prayer rugs during in-pod recreation. Goins also does not suggest any
less restrictive means to address these risks than the present no-rug policy and does
not dispute the evidence that inmates are permitted to pray during pod recreation if
they do so in an upright position. On the present record, I conclude that the
defendants have shown that prohibiting inmates from kneeling on their prayer rugs
during in-pod recreation furthers compelling security interests by the least
restrictive means, id., and is thus also rationally related to legitimate penological
purposes under Turner. Thus, I will grant summary judgment for the defendants
on Claim (2)(a).
b. Kufis in the Pod.
I find, however, that some aspects of Goins’s Claim (2)(b) survive summary
judgment. Goins disputes the defendants’ evidence that kufis are a security risk
because they can conceal notes or contraband. He points out that notes and other
contraband could much more easily be concealed in the pockets of the pants he is
permitted to wear during pod recreation, than under his kufi. He also states that
inmates are subject to search at any time during pod recreation by the floor officer,
who could easily and quickly search a kufi as needed. I conclude that Goins may,
on these facts, be able to show that the kufi ban during pod recreation does not
further a compelling security interest by the least restrictive means as required to
prevail on his RLUIPA claim. Incumaa, 791 F.3d at 525.
Goins’s First Amendment challenge to the kufi ban also survives summary
judgment under the four-factor test in Turner, 482 U.S. at 89. While Goins can
clearly practice his Sunni beliefs in other ways, such as diet and religious services,
the facts are disputed as to the other Turner factors. Goins may be able to persuade
a fact finder that there is no valid connection between the ban on head coverings
during pod recreation and preventing the concealment of contraband and that
periodic searches of inmates’ head coverings in the pod would be an easy
alternative to the ban with little impact on prison resources. Id.
c. Qualified Immunity.
“Qualified immunity protects officials “who commit constitutional
violations but who, in light of clearly established law, could reasonably believe
that their actions were lawful.” Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir.
2011) (en banc). The court must first
identify the specific right that the plaintiff asserts was infringed by the
challenged conduct. [The court] then engage[s] in a two-step inquiry,
asking whether a constitutional violation occurred and whether the
right violated was clearly established at the time of the official’s
conduct. Courts have discretion to take these steps in either order.
. . . . A right is clearly established only if its contours are sufficiently
clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right. The unlawfulness of the official’s conduct must be
apparent in light of pre-existing law. To be clearly established,
existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional
question beyond debate.
Booker v. S.C. Dep’t of Corr., 855 F.3d 533, 537-38 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted).
I conclude that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity against
Goins’s First Amendment claim for monetary damages here. Goins has not alleged
facts showing that any of the defendants, personally, enacted the policy that
prohibits him from wearing his kufi during pod recreation. Thus, he fails to state
any claim against them under § 1983 in their individual capacities. See Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . .
§ 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant,
through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”)
Moreover, the challenged regulation bars all head coverings during pod
recreation, not only kufis. Such “neutral, generally applicable laws [or regulations]
that incidentally burden the exercise of religion usually do not violate the Free
Exercise Clause.” Holt, 135 S. Ct. at 859 (summarizing the holding of Emp’t Div.,
Dept. of Human Res. of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 884-85 (1990)). In light of
Smith as clearly established law, the defendants could reasonably have believed
that enforcing the general rule of banning headwear during pod recreation was
constitutional, even if it had the incidental effect of burdening Goins’s religious
tenet to wear his kufi at all times. Henry, 652 F.3d at 531. Therefore, as to Claim
(2)(b), I will grant summary judgment on Goins’s First Amendment claim for
monetary damages against the defendants in their individual capacities on the
ground of qualified immunity. Consequently, I decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over any related claim Goins may be attempting to raise under state
law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), and will dismiss such claims without prejudice.
However, I will deny the defendants’ motion as to Goins’s Claim 2(b) seeking
injunctive and declaratory relief under RLUIPA and the First Amendment
regarding kufi wearing during pod recreation.
D. Sunni Muslim Group Worship.
1. Factual Allegations.
After experiencing “disruptive offenders and ongoing trouble with gangs,”
officials found it “necessary to divide the Sunni Muslim services at [Wallens
Ridge] into two groups.” Combs Aff. ¶ 7, ECF No. 31-2. The defendants state
that this division was intended “to lower the numbers and allow for closer
supervision.” Id. The two Sunni groups meet at the same time in the prison’s two
“chow halls,” and the group each inmate attends is determined by his housing
assignment. “In accordance with OP 841.3(IV)(A)(7)(b), an officer is stationed
outside each chow hall during religious services” to monitor the group from “a gun
post [with] the ability to fire rounds of O/C gas if necessary.” Id. at ¶ 9. A canine
officer is also posted outside the chow halls, and a yard officer makes “continuous
rounds” to monitor inmate activity. Id. “[A]n Imam comes from Richmond once a
month for [Sunni Muslim] services.” Id.
In Claims (3), (4), and (5), Goins contends that these accommodations do
not meet his group worship needs. He insists that no officer is posted outside the
Sunni services and no floor officer makes regular rounds. He also asserts that
VDOC policy requires an in-room officer to monitor inmates’ group meetings. He
complains that the Sunni group includes gang members and other “visitors” who
talk loudly and thus interfere with his ability to worship and pray. Compl. ¶ 40,
ECF No. 1. He has complained to the chaplain, who has promised to attend and
monitor services, but has failed to do so. Goins claims that seeking help from a
floor officer takes too long and draws unwanted attention from the disruptive
inmates, who have accused him of being a snitch.
Goins fears that the assigned control booth officer is often too distracted by
other duties to protect Goins in case of an inmate assault. He alleges that on July
30, 2015, [a]n assault occur[r]ed ten (10) minutes prior to the gun post officer
knew anything was going on.” Id. at ¶ 43. Goins states that the noise from the
visitors and his fear for his safety inhibits his ability to hear the sermon and
concentrate on his prayers.
Finally, Goins complains that splitting the Sunni community at Wallens
Ridge into smaller groups for services has left one group without a qualified Sunni
leader. He explains that the teacher of a Sunni community must be the person who
has believed in Islam for the longest time and has the most knowledge of the Quran
and “the Sunna.” Id. at ¶ 47.
Goins also explains that his Sunni beliefs require him to cleanse himself
with water before praying and that prayers offered while he needs to urinate will
“not be accepted” by Allah. Compl. Ex. X, at 43, ECF No. 1-1. The defendants
state that “[t]here are bathroom facilities and sinks in the chow halls that are
separate from the food preparation and service areas. The offenders are allowed to
use these facilities during services.” Combs Aff. ¶ 8, ECF No. 31-2. Goins asserts
that the officers do not open the chow hall bathrooms during the Sunni service for
security reasons, thus preventing him from using the toilets and sinks in those
facilities. He also asserts that religious groups who conduct group services in the
prison gym have access to bathrooms.
a. Dividing and Monitoring Sunni Group Services.
I cannot find that Goins has presented any material disputed fact showing a
substantial burden on his religious practice related to the division or monitoring of
the Sunni service or safety, as alleged in Claims (3) and (4). Goins admits that
since the division, he can still worship and pray with other Sunni believers. He
presents no religious basis that prevents the most experienced, knowledgeable
Sunni Muslim in each of the two worship groups from being qualified to lead his
community during services.
Goins also does not dispute the defendants’ evidence that a control booth
officer is assigned to monitor the Sunni Muslim services and intervene when a
disruption threatens inmate or staff safety. Goins has expressed fear that others in
the Sunni service might attack him while he is praying or for asking officers to
order them to be quiet. He does not state facts showing that anyone in the Sunni
service has threatened or caused serious harm to others.
Even if Goins’s
speculative fears of such attacks interfere with his own ability to hear or pray, I
find no evidence that the current accommodations provided for the Sunni group
services have pressured him to violate his beliefs. Thus, he has failed to show a
substantial burden placed on his religious practice by the defendants so as to
violate RLUIPA or the First Amendment. Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 187.
I also find no material fact in dispute showing an Eighth Amendment
violation related to officials’ monitoring of Sunni services. Goins mentions one
assault that allegedly occurred in July 2015 during a Sunni service in the chow
hall. He presents no evidence that he or anyone else suffered substantial harm, or
that a pattern of similar incidents must have put the defendants on notice that the
chow hall monitoring practices create a significant risk to the safety of the Sunni
worshipers. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837 (requiring evidence of defendants’
deliberate indifference to excessive risk of serious harm).
Goins contends that the Sunnis are treated differently than other religious
groups who have not been divided or who are allowed to conduct services in the
gym. I find no equal protection claim here, however. Goins has not presented
evidence that any of these other groups is as large as the Sunni community at
Wallens Ridge or that the other groups caused the types of disruptions during
services that motivated the defendants to split the Sunni group. Without a showing
that the Sunnis were similarly situated to the other groups in all relevant respects,
Goins’s equal protection claim fails under Veney. 293 F.3d at 730.
Finally, Goins complains that VDOC policy requires placing an officer in
the room to maintain order during a group religious meeting. The defendants’
alleged violations of VDOC policies are not independently actionable under
§ 1983, however. See Riccio v. Cty. of Fairfax, 907 F.2d 1459, 1469 (4th Cir.
1990) (“If state law grants more procedural rights than the Constitution would
otherwise require, a state’s failure to abide by that law is not a federal due process
issue.”); see also United States v. Caceres, 440 U.S. 741, 751-52 (1978) (where a
government agency is not constitutionally required to adopt certain regulations, a
violation of those regulations, without more, does not “raise any constitutional
For the stated reasons, I find no disputed fact in the record showing that
either VDOC policy or any of defendants’ actions have placed a substantial burden
on Goins’s religious practice, related to his allegations in Claims (3) and (4).
Accordingly, I will grant summary judgment for the defendants as to these claims.
Consequently, I decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any related
claim Goins may be attempting to raise under state law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c),
and will dismiss such claims without prejudice.
b. Bathroom Access During Sunni Group Services.
I conclude on this record that Goins’s Claim (5) survives summary
judgment. Goins offers evidence that the chow hall bathrooms are not available
for inmate use during Sunni services, as the defendants have asserted. See Goins
Aff. ¶ 11, ECF No. 35-2; Ex. W, at 41, ECF No. 35-3. Goins admits that he can
usually urinate and wash himself in his cell before attending the group service. He
states, however, that sometimes inmates are called to services without the
opportunity to return first to their cells to urinate or wash. Sometimes an inmate
may soil himself and need to wash again to continue his worship. On these facts,
Goins may be able to show that he has no access to a sink or toilet to perform
necessary ablutions during Sunni group services and thus may suffer a substantial
burden on his religious practice.
The defendants do not offer any evidence suggesting that denial of bathroom
access for Sunni groups meets the Turner standard or furthers any compelling state
interest by the least restrictive means.
As stated, their position is that the
bathrooms are available to the Sunni group. On this material dispute, I must deny
summary judgment as Goins’s Claim (5) seeking injunctive and declaratory relief
under the First Amendment and RLUIPA.
3. No Individual Capacity Claims.
Goins has not alleged, however, any instance when he, personally, has
needed to wash or use the toilet during the Sunni service in the chow hall and one
of the named defendants personally prohibited him from doing so. He also does
not allege that any of the named defendants personally implemented a policy
prohibiting bathroom access during Sunni services. Thus, he fails to state any
claim against them under § 1983 in their individual capacities. See Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 676 (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff
must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official’s own
individual actions, has violated the Constitution.”) I will grant summary judgment
as to Goins’s claims for monetary damages against the defendants in their
individual capacities, related to Claim (5). Consequently, I decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction over any related claim Goins may be attempting to raise
under state law, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), and will dismiss such claims without
E. Remaining Claims.
The only claims remaining before me now seek injunctive and declaratory
relief regarding kufi use during pod recreation and bathroom access during Sunni
group services. Neither Goins nor the defendants state, with any factual support,
which officials are or are not responsible, or have authority to make revisions to,
these policies or practices at Wallens Ridge. From the affidavits submitted by
Fleming and Combs, warden and assistant warden, respectively, I find it likely that
these defendants are responsible for the operations of the facility and have
sufficient authority to orchestrate review and revision of policies that govern those
operations. I find no evidence, however, that the other named defendants have
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
Accordingly, I will grant summary
judgment for all defendants except Fleming and Combs in their official capacities
as to Claims (2)(b) and (5) under RLUIPA and the First Amendment.
For the reasons stated, it is accordingly ORDERED as follows:
The Clerk shall correct the court’s docket to reflect the proper
spelling of defendant Fleming’s last name;
The defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 30)
is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion
is DENIED as to Claims (2)(b) and (5) under RLUIPA and the
First Amendment against defendants Fleming and Combs in
their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief; the
motion is GRANTED as to all other federal claims against all
other defendants; and the Clerk will terminate these defendants
as parties to the action;
All supplemental state law claims and any claims under the
Federal Tort Claims Act are hereby DISMISSED WITHOUT
PREJUDICE under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) and 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(b)(1); and
The claims remaining before the court are hereby referred to the
Honorable Pamela Meade Sargent, United States Magistrate
Judge, for mediation.
ENTER: September 12, 2017
/s/ James P. Jones
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?