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Jones v. North Carolina Department of Public Safety

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

September 12, 2017

SARIKO ANTONIO JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Frank D. Whitney, Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of pro se Plaintiff Sariko Antonio Jones's Complaint (Doc. No. 1), filed May 12, 2017. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, 1915(e).[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a prisoner of the State of North Carolina. He brings this Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq.[2] He names the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”), and Buford Brown, identified as the Work Release Coordinator for NCDPS, as Defendants.

         The Complaint alleges that Defendant Brown required Plaintiff to shave off his beard before Brown would send Plaintiff to a work release job interview. Plaintiff objected on the grounds that his Muslim faith required that he have a beard. Plaintiff ultimately complied with Brown's directive so that he could go to the interview. (Compl. 3, Doc. No. 1.)

         According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was offered a job by a work release employer but had to wait for a work-related document to come through. Defendant Brown, however, refused to send Plaintiff to the job after the document came through. According to Plaintiff, the employer called Brown to ask him to send Plaintiff, but Brown sent other inmates to the job site instead. (Compl. 3-4.)

         Plaintiff alleges religious discrimination on the part of Defendant Brown. He seeks punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the Complaint to determine whether it is subject to dismissal on the grounds that it is “frivolous, ” “malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In its frivolity review, the Court must determine whether the Complaint raises an “indisputably meritless legal theory, ” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992), or is founded upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as “fantastic or delusional scenarios, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

         RLUIPA provides, in part: “No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . . even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person-(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). “RLUIPA thus protects institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent on the government's permission and accommodation for exercise of their religion.” Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 721 (2005).

         Under RLUIPA, a plaintiff must initially show that the challenged policy substantially burdens his exercise of his religion. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(b); Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015). The statute defines “religious exercise” as “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A); Smith v. Ozmint, 578 F.3d 246, 251 (4th Cir. 2009). A “‘substantial burden' is one that puts substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, [ ] or one that forces a person to choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting governmental benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion on the other hand.” Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174, 187 (4th Cir. 2006) (quotations, citation, and alterations omitted).

         The Court finds that Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to survive frivolity ...


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