United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division
D. Whitney Chief United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on initial review of
Plaintiff's Complaint, (Doc. No. 1). On October 5, 2017,
this Court entered an order granting Plaintiff in forma
pauperis status and waiving the initial filing fee. (Doc. No.
Plaintiff William Luke Cousins is a North Carolina prisoner
incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution in Marion,
North Carolina. Plaintiff filed this action on September 8,
2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming as the sole
Defendant Kenneth E. Lassiter, identified as the Director of
Prisons for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety,
and Plaintiff states that he is suing Lassiter in both his
individual and official capacities. (Doc. No. 1). In the
Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, while incarcerated at
Marion, he has requested a vegan diet so he can observe his
Rastafarian religion. (Doc. No. 1 at 7-8). Plaintiff alleges
that he was informed that, pursuant to prison policy, he
could not change his diet for ninety (90) days, which he
contends violates his First Amendment right to practice his
religion. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief,
as well as compensatory damages. (Id. at 9).
Plaintiff specifically seeks “[a] preliminary and
permanent injunction ordering defendant Kenneth E. Lassiter
to stop enforcing such policy that a detainee can only change
his diet every 90 days.” (Id.).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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 or
malicious [or] fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). In its frivolity
review, this Court must determine whether the Complaint
raises an indisputably meritless legal theory or is founded
upon clearly baseless factual contentions, such as fantastic
or delusional scenarios. Neitzke v. Williams, 490
U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989). A pro se complaint must be construed
liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1972). However, the liberal construction requirement will
not permit a district court to ignore a clear failure to
allege facts in his Complaint which set forth a claim that is
cognizable under federal law. Weller v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment states that
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion.” U.S. Const. amend. I. The Supreme Court
has applied the First Amendment to the states through the
Fourteenth Amendment. See Everson v. Bd. of Educ.,
330 U.S. 1, 15 (1947). To state a free exercise claim under
the First Amendment, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient
to show that he held a sincere religious belief, and that the
official action or regulation substantially burdened his
exercise of that belief. Hernandez v. Comm'r,
490 U.S. 680, 699 (1989). A prison policy that substantially
burdens an inmate's ability to practice his religion
withstands a First Amendment challenge when it is
“reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests.” O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz,
482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987) (quoting Turner v. Safley,
482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). In deciding whether a
defendant's actions can be sustained as reasonably
related to legitimate penological interests, the court must
consider the following four factors: (1) whether there is a
valid, rational connection between the regulation and the
legitimate penological interest; (2) whether there are
alternative means of exercising the right in question that
remain open to prisoners; (3) the impact accommodation of the
asserted constitutional right would have on guards and other
inmates and on the allocation of prison resources; and (4)
whether ready alternatives exist which accommodate the right
and satisfy the penological interest. See Turner,
482 U.S. at 89-90.
Court finds that Plaintiff's First Amendment claim is not
clearly frivolous and therefore survives initial review.
reasons stated herein, the Court finds that Plaintiff's
First Amendment claim survives initial screening by the Court
in that it is not clearly frivolous.
IS, THEREFORE, ORDERED that:
Plaintiff's action survives initial review under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Clerk is
directed to mail a summons form to Plaintiff for Plaintiff to
fill out and return for service of process on Defendant
Lassiter. Once the Court receives the summons forms, the
Clerk shall then direct the U.S. Marshal to effectuate
service on Defendant. The Clerk is 3. ...