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Roberts v. Perry

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

August 1, 2017

FRANK L. PERRY, et al., Defendants.


          Frank D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Betty Brown, Frank L. Perry, and Mike Slagle, (Doc. No. 35).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Pro se Plaintiff Jimmy Allen Roberts, a North Carolina state inmate currently incarcerated at Craggy Correctional Institution (“Craggy”) in Asheville, North Carolina, filed this action on February 16, 2016, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff has named as Defendants: (1) Frank L. Perry, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”); (2) Betty Brown, Director of Chaplaincy Services with the NCDPS; and (3) Mike Slagle, Administrator of Mountain View Correctional Institution (“MVCI”). Plaintiff contends that, when he was incarcerated at MVCI, Defendants Perry, Brown, and Slagle violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq, by failing to recognize “Nation of Israel” as an approved religion and by limiting the number of religious texts he can possess. (Id. at 8-19). To summarize Plaintiff's claim, Plaintiff argues that he applied for recognition of “Nation of Israel” in 2014 by completing a form DC-572. (Id. at 4-7). In 2015, he was informed that the group would not be recognized and that his religious texts would be limited according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”) policy. (Id.). Plaintiff claims this impedes his ability to practice his religion. (Id.). Plaintiff also claims that he attempted to contact North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services (“NCPLS”) in 2015 for legal assistance, but they declined to represent him. (Id. at 19-24). According to Plaintiff, this constitutes a violation by Defendants of his First Amendment right to access to the courts. (Id.). Plaintiff requests declaratory and injunctive relief. (Id. at 24-29).

         Defendants filed the pending summary judgment motion on May 23, 2017. (Doc. No. 35). On May 31, 2017, this Court entered an order in accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the requirements for filing a response to the summary judgment motion and of the manner in which evidence could be submitted to the Court. (Doc. No. 39). On June 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed an “objection, ” which the Court will treat as his response to the summary judgment motion. (Doc. No. 40). Plaintiff has attached various publications and prison policies to his objection.

         B. Factual Background

         1. Defendants' Summary Judgment Materials

         To support the summary judgment motion, Defendants rely on all pleadings, exhibits, and other documents incorporated into the record, including the affidavits of Defendants Brown and Slagle. In her affidavit, Defendant Brown states that, as Director of Chaplaincy services, she has encountered only one request related to Nation of Israel and that request was from inmate Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 37 at ¶ 7: Brown Aff.). Brown asserts that she has never met Plaintiff and only engaged in limited correspondence with him because Chaplain Edwards was tasked with communicating with Plaintiff about his request. (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5, 8). According to Brown, Plaintiff completed a form DC-572, or a Request for Religious Assistance, and the form was transmitted to Brown's office in September 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-11; Ex. A). The request was then forwarded to the Religious Practices Committee (“RPC”) on October 2, 2014, in accordance with Religious Services Policy procedures. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 14; Ex. A, B).

         The form indicates that Plaintiff was seeking recognition of “Nation of Israel” as a religion and includes information from two pastors about the group. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12). The pastors, who are in Kentucky and Missouri, do not indicate that they have ever met Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 37-1 at 8-9). The Nation of Israel information supported by the pastors indicates that church membership is limited to “racially pure Anglo-Saxon” individuals-meaning whites only, and the information further refers to Jews as a “mongrel race.” (Id. at 11, 13). The church also allows inmates to serve as priests. (Id. at 13). Brown asserts in her affidavit that, although she does not substantively consider DC-572s, she does cursorily review them before forwarding them to the RPC. (Doc. No. 37 at ¶¶ 13-14, Ex. B). Brown opines that neither the group's racist ideology nor the sanctioning of inmates as priests is conducive to correctional settings. (Id. at ¶ 13).

         On November 12, 2014, Plaintiff requested to know the status of his DC-572. (Id. at ¶ 16, Ex. D). On December 16, 2014, Brown responded that the RPC was considering Plaintiff's request. (Id. at ¶ 17, Ex. D). On December 4, 2014, the RPC determined that, because of the group's discriminatory rhetoric and Plaintiff's security threat status, Nation of Israel would not be recognized for purposes of the Religious Practices Manual (“RPM”). (Id. at ¶ 18, Ex. E). Specifically, the RPC concluded that Nation of Israel does not necessarily hold itself out to be a religious group separate from Christianity or Messianic Judaism requiring a need for separate recognition. (Id. at ¶ 23). Further, the RPC concluded-from the group's and Plaintiff's own submitted materials-that the group is a white supremacist or racially exclusive organization which excludes non-whites from membership. (Id.). The RPC also concluded that Plaintiff, who was designated as a Messianic Jewish inmate, was permitted to worship that faith in whatever fashion his custody level permitted, including receiving a Kosher diet, as long as he is not disruptive or presenting a threat to the institution. (Id. at ¶¶ 24, 25, 27). The RPC also noted that Plaintiff could be accommodated though private devotion and Messianic Jewish or Christian services because Messianic Jewish designation and his beliefs appeared consistent with those faith practices. (Id.).

         After Brown was informed of the December 2014 RPC meeting, she requested that Chaplain Edwards meet with Plaintiff in January 2015 to inform him of the RPC's determination. (Id. at ¶ 20). In May 2015, Plaintiff wrote to Brown again and requested to appeal the RPC's determination. (Id. at ¶ 21, Ex. F). Edwards again spoke with Plaintiff and informed him of the RPC consensus. (Id. at ¶ 22, Ex. F).

         As to Plaintiff's challenge to his designated security status, Brown states in her affidavit that neither she nor the RPC make determinations related to security threat or risk groups (“STG” or “SRG”) and did not designate Plaintiff as a member of either group. (Id. at ¶ 26). Brown further states that neither she nor the RPC make determinations related to the permissibility of publications. (Id. at ¶ 28). She states, however, that Plaintiff would be able to receive any publications, including Nation of Israel publications, as long as they were approved by the review policy set forth by the publications policy and committee. Generally, to receive publications, the materials must be free of gang-related information, racist information, violence, and the like. (Id. at ¶ 29). Brown asserts that she did not review any materials indicating that Plaintiff was prohibited from possessing appropriate religious material. (Id. at ¶ 30). Brown also did not see any information indicating that Nation of Israel beliefs require Plaintiff to possess more religious materials than other inmates. (Id.). Facilities make determinations on how many religious texts that inmates may possess based on the facility's security and operational needs. (Id.).

         Finally, Brown asserts that DPS has refused to recognize Nation of Israel as a group because of its hateful, racist, and separatist rhetoric, as established and documented in its own literature. (Id. at ¶ 31). Brown further opines that groups espousing racist ideals are not suitable to DPS recognition because the violence and racist ideals promoted by the groups are not suitable in a correctional setting. (Id. at ¶ 32). Such groups are usually intended to instill violence, revolt, and racism against non-white individuals. (Id.).

         In support of the summary judgment motion, Defendants have also submitted the affidavit of Defendant Slagle, current Administrator of MVCI. (Doc. No. 36 at ¶ 3: Slagle Aff.). He was not the Administrator of MVCI before 2015, but was employed at the facility. (Id. at ¶ 4). Slagle asserts that he had no interactions with Plaintiff while he was housed at MVCI, and he denies that he personally infringed on Plaintiff's religious rights or blocked his access to legal representation. (Id. at ...

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