United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
JAMES C. FOX, Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment [DE-38]. For the following reasons, this motion shall be ALLOWED.
On March 8, 2012, Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the State of North Carolina proceeding pro se, filed this action against Defendants alleging violations of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that, while he was incarcerated at Tabor Correctional Institution ("Tabor"), Defendants did not allow him to receive special "Halal" food items during the Islamic feast of "Eid al Fitr." Compl. [DE-l], pp. 3-4.
The court determined that Plaintiff's complaint survived frivolity review and directed the Clerk of Court to maintain management of the matter on June 20, 2012 [DE-7]. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [DE-23] on November 16, 2012 and Plaintiff sought leave to amend his complaint on December 12, 2012 [DE-27]. Defendants' motion to dismiss was denied without prejudice and Plaintiff's motion to amend was allowed in the court's September 3, 2013 Order [DE-30]. On August 4, 2014, the undersigned dismissed Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief, noting that they were now moot because Plaintiff has been transferred to Warren Correctional Institution ("Warren"). See August4, 2014 Order [DE-33], p. 2. Plaintiff filed his amended complaint [DE-34] on August 18, 2014. Defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment on December 12, 2014 [DE-38]. Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) (per curiam), the court notified Plaintiff about the motion for summary judgment, the consequences of failing to respond, and the response deadlines [DE-40]. Plaintiff has filed several responses [DE-42, 43, 44], and the motion for summary judgment is now ripe for adjudication.
II. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Standard of review
Summary judgment is appropriate when, after reviewing the record taken as a whole, no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in its pleading, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49, but "must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis removed) (quotation omitted). A trial court reviewing a motion for summary judgment should determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In making this determination, the court must view the evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).
As noted above, Plaintiff raises claims pursuant to the First Amendment and RLUIPA. His claims for injunctive relief have already been dismissed as moot due to his transfer out of Tabor. Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 186 (4th Cir. 2009) ("[A]s a general rule, a prisoner's transfer or release from a particular prison moots his claim for injunctive or declaratory relief."). RLUIPA provides that "[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, " unless the burden furthers "a compelling government interest, " and does so by the "least restrictive means." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). Although RLUIPA provides an avenue for an inmate to remove a substantial burden on his religious exercise through injunctive relief, it "does not authorize claims for official or individual capacity damages." Sossaman v. Texas, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1663 (2011) (finding that RLUIPA does not authorize a private cause of action for money damages against prison personnel for action taken in their official capacity); Rendleman, 569 F.3d at 198. Moreover, as is the case for claims under§ 1983, a claim for injunctive or declaratory relief under RLUIPA is moot once a prisoner is transferred to another facility. See Rendleman, 569 F.3d at 186. Accordingly, because Plaintiff cannot recover monetary damages under RLUIPA and because his request for declaratory and injunctive relief is moot, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [DE-38] is ALLOWED as to this claim. The court shall now analyze Plaintiff's sole remaining claim: his claim for damages pursuant to§ 1983.
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment provides that "Congress shall make no law... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion. U.S. Const. amend. I. However, a prisoner does not enjoy the full range of freedoms as those not incarcerated. Rather, state action violates a prisoner's religious rights if it burdens his constitutional rights and is not reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987); see O'Lonev. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987). A prisoner asserting a violation of his Free Exercise rights must show that he sincerely holds his religious beliefs. See Hines v. S.C. Dep't of Corr., 148 F.3d 353, 358 (4th Cir. 1998). He also must show that the actions of which he complains substantially burden his religious exercise and the actions are not reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. See O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349; Hines, 148 F.3d at 358.
In evaluating a prisoner's claim that a prison policy violates his First Amendment rights, the court must evaluate four factors to determine whether the policy is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90.
First, is there a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it? Second, are there alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates? Third, what impact will accommodation of the asserted constitutional right... have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally? And, fourth, are ready alternatives for furthering the governmental interest available?
Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 ...