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Miles v. Guice

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

January 22, 2018




         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) (DE 87). Also before the court is plaintiff's motion to reopen discovery (DE 92). The issues raised have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication. As explained below, plaintiff's motion to reopen discovery is denied and defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.


         The procedural background is set forth in this court's September 23, 2016 order, and restated in relevant parts here. On August 14, 2013, plaintiff filed a § 1983 action claiming violations of the First Amendment and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) pertaining to his beliefs under the Nation of Gods and Earths (“NGE”).[1] On November 27, 2013, plaintiff filed a verified amended complaint adding claims of alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. On July 28, 2014, defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). On February 26, 2015, in response to defendants' motion to dismiss, the court dismissed plaintiff's due process claim. On March 2, 2015, the parties received a discovery deadline of August 3, 2015. On November 2, 2015, defendant filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that no violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights had occurred, and plaintiff responded in opposition.

         On September 23, 2016, the court determined that plaintiff had not established any constitutional violations or violations under RLUIPA for his NGE claims of corporate worship, fasting, possessing religious texts, a vegan diet, and possession of a medallion or flag. Plaintiff appealed the court's judgment, and on April 21, 2017, the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the judgment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's analysis of the underlying claims, except for the treatment of plaintiff's fasting claim. See Miles v. Guice, 688 F. App'x 177, 179 (4th Cir. 2017) (per curiam). For the fasting claim, the court vacated and remanded the court's order, holding that failure to accommodate fasting on holy days does present a substantial burden under RLUIPA and should be analyzed under a strict scrutiny standard. Id.

         On May 24, 2017, the court requested further briefing from the parties on whether the defendant prison officials' asserted failure to accommodate fasting by plaintiff on holy days violated RLUIPA under a strict scrutiny standard. On August 9, 2017, defendants filed the instant motion, a second motion for summary judgment, claiming that they meet the standard under strict scrutiny, and including the affidavit of Kelli Harris (DE 89-1), a non-party, to their appendix to the statement of material facts. In support of their motion, they also rely upon plaintiff's response in opposition to defendants' first motion for summary judgment (DE 62-5), plaintiff's amended complaint (DE 8), and incorporate all sources relied upon in their first motion for summary judgment (DE 57), including: defendant Dunston's affidavit (DE 58), defendant Brown's affidavit (DE 59), defendant Dunston's supplemental affidavit (DE 67), defendant Brown's supplemental affidavit (DE 70), and plaintiff's administrative grievances (DE 1-1).

         In response, on September 7, 2017, plaintiff filed a motion to reopen the discovery period and an extension of time to file a response to defendants' second motion of summary judgment. Plaintiff states that because of his previous housing in a restrictive housing unit and his lack of knowledge regarding the discovery process, he was unable to conduct discovery. Plaintiff requests an additional discovery period in order to respond to defendants' instant motion. In plaintiff's previous response to defendants' motion for summary judgment (DE 62), plaintiff relied upon his amended complaint (DE 8) and included the following in his appendix to his response: administrative grievances (DE 62-1), articles on NGE (DE 62-5), NCDPS procedures for religious menu accommodations (DE 62-5), his petition for religious accommodation (DE 62-5), records from a past investigation (DE 62-5), three declarations providing statements by other prisoners (DE 62-5), and plaintiff's own declaration (DE 73-1).

         On October 13, 2017, defendants responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion, arguing that plaintiff has not demonstrated any permissible excuse for not conducting discovery and that the effect of re-opening discovery would be prejudicial because two years have passed since the expiration of the discovery period.


         The factual background is set forth in this court's September 23, 2016 order, and restated in relevant parts here. Except as where otherwise identified below, the facts viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff may be summarized as follows. Plaintiff, a state prisoner, challenges defendants' refusal to accommodate his fasting schedule on NGE holy days. Plaintiff alleges NGE is a legitimate religion, founded in New York nearly fifty years ago. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 12); (Pl.'s Dec. (DE 73-1) ¶ 4). Plaintiff alleges, as an adherent to NGE, that he needs to keep a strict diet, which includes fasting on holy days. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 15). According to plaintiff, there are four NGE holy days. (See id. ¶ 19). Two of the four holy days are also observed by the Nation of Islam (“NOI”).[2] (See id. ¶¶ 15, 19). On these holy days, plaintiff alleges that he “is placed in a position to follow his beliefs in observing holy days and save his food in light of policy by violating policy [ . . .] Therefore when Holy Days approach he has to choose to save his food or eat his food, which both options are violating a policy or a tenant. Thus plaintiff eats nothing.” (Id. ¶ 35). Adversely, defendants contend that “fasting is not a practice or religious exercise of the NGE or the Five Percenters.” (Def.s' Mem. (DE 90) 7).

         NGE is not recognized by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”) as a religion. (Brown Aff. ¶ 10). Plaintiff did seek religious recognition for NGE, but NCDPS denied his petition. (See id. Ex. C). In their decision to deny religious recognition, the Religious Practice Committee (“RPC”) concluded the “Five Percenters” were not a religion, based upon their own materials which “unequivocally states that they are not a religion, but a culture. They have been determined to be a violent hate group by security professionals.” (Brown Suppl. Aff. ¶ 10). NCDPS designates NGE as a Security Threat Group (“STG”) with connections to the gang, the United Blood Nation (“UBN”). (Dunston Aff. ¶¶ 7-9). Defendants assert Five Percenters are engaged in violence and gang culture within the North Carolina prison system. Specifically, as of October 30, 2011, defendants classified plaintiff as a Five Percenter, Level III UBN member, and High Security Maximum Control prisoner because of his “pattern of behavior” and two assault incidents, taking place in 2007 and 2009. (See Dunston Suppl. Aff. ¶¶ 12, 13). Aside from plaintiff's actions, defendant Dunston provides two examples over the past four years involving “Five Percenter” violence, the first involving a Five Percenter and UBN member at Alexander Correctional, and the second incident involving a Five Percenter at Tabor Correctional. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20). Additionally, defendant Brown cites one example from the South Carolina prison system involving “Five Percenters” and violence that occurred nearly twenty years ago. (See Brown Aff. ¶ 13).

         Defendants also assert the NGE's beliefs are racist. (Id.). Further, defendant Brown states “Five Percenters” are banned “in almost every correctional system in the nation.”[3] (Brown Suppl. Aff. ¶ 15). Defendant Brown also asserts that she “personally, do[es] not know of any correctional system that recognize[s] NGE as a religion.” (Id. ¶ 16). Defendant Dunston states, “[t]hey are not a religion nor do they hold themselves out to be. This is a belief shared by nearly every correctional system in the United States.” (Dunston Suppl. Aff. ¶ 23).

         Because NGE is not recognized as a religion by NCDPS, they are not entitled to religious accommodations, such as fasting. (See Harris Aff. ¶¶ 16, 23). Islam is a NCDPS recognized religion. (Brown Aff. ¶ 19). As such, fasting for Ramadan is accommodated. During Ramadan,

“Correctional Food Services staff must develop a plan and menu that can be prepared for pre-dawn and post-sunset meals. This requires each facilities food service staff to prepare meals early during Ramadan, causing inmates and staff to report to work early. It also requires that the evening meal be served late to Muslim inmates, which again, disrupts the operations of the food services staff and the correctional staff assigned to escort inmates to and [from] the facility dining hall. For inmates in single-cell or restrictive housing, their meals must be prepared and packaged by food services staff ahead of regularly scheduled meals and must be served by correctional services staff ahead of all other inmate meals.” (Harris Aff. ¶ 12).

         Further, “[i]n order to supplement the caloric intake of fasting inmates, food service staff are also required to package additional supplemental pack-out meals for inmates to consume in their cells. (Id. ¶ 13).


         A. Motion to Reopen Discovery

         As for plaintiff's motion to reopen discovery, the motion is DENIED. Plaintiff fails to show good cause, where plaintiff did not conduct discovery during the entire discovery period. Plaintiff's restricted ...

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