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Roberts v. Perry

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

March 12, 2018

FRANK L. PERRY, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint, (Doc. No. 1).[1] He is proceeding in forma pauperis. See (Doc. No. 7).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Jimmy Allen Roberts, who currently resides at the Craggy Correctional Center in Asheville, has filed a 117-page civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) against Secretary of Prisons Frank L. Perry, and the following employees of Mountain View C.I.: Superintendent of Programs Carol Buchannan, Mailroom Supervisor Lynn Ollis, Correction Officer Grear, and Administrator Mike Slagle.

         Construing the Complaint liberally and accepting the allegations as true, Plaintiff alleges that, while he was incarcerated at the Mountain View C.I., he was thwarted from beginning a weekly Messianic Faith Group by Defendant Buchannan and her “underling” Chad Green, who is not named as a defendant in the Complaint. On May 17, 2017, Plaintiff told Buchannan and Green that the requisite number of inmates wanted to enroll in the Messianic Faith Group to begin a weekly educational class pursuant the Educational Section of the Messianic Appendix currently recognized by NC DPS. (Doc. No. 1 at 5). Plaintiff proposed that Inmate James Keaton, who was approved to conduct previous Passover celebrations, would serve as the Faith Helper, and that a well-established source would donate a series of DVD seminars to the prison chapel for that purpose. Buchannan said that Inmate Keaton had changed his religious affiliation and could not serve as their Faith Helper, which Inmate Keaton later told Plaintiff was untrue. Buchannan further said that Raleigh officials had enacted “sweeping measures” prohibiting outside religious groups from donating religious DVDs to the prison to be used by their respective inmate faith group. All religious DVDs had to be preapproved and purchased by the prison and that these measures prohibited inmates from attending religious services for six months after their enrollment. (Doc. No. 1 at 6). These measures were not enacted in response to the furtherance of a compelling government interest and are not the least restrictive means of satisfying a minor penological interest; rather, it stems from the desire of prison officials to substantially burden Plaintiff's religious practice. (Doc. No. 1 at 7). Defendants are substantially burdening Plaintiff's free exercise by enacting irrational, arbitrary, overreaching restrictions designed to prevent him from getting educated on his ancestral religion that is unavailable in any format other than A/V seminars. This violates the First Amendment and RLUIPA because the Government cannot meet strict scrutiny standard and Defendants are not using the least restrictive means. (Doc. No. 1 at 8). Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding the matter on June 17, 2016.

         On June 24, 2016, five religious books arrived for Plaintiff at Mountain View C.I. They were authored by and sent to Plaintiff by Pastor Everett Ramsey of Faith Baptist Church, and they were published by James Nelson Publishers. On June 24, 2016, Defendant Ollis rejected the publications because they did not come from a legitimate publisher or marketer, and Plaintiff appealed. On June 26, 2016, Plaintiff sent Defendant Slagle a request form informing him of Ollis' actions. On July 15, 2016, Plaintiff sent a letter to Perry notifying him of Ollis' actions. (Doc. No. 1 at 18). On July 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a grievance and received an unsatisfactory response. Defendant Ollie's rejection of the publications violates the First Amendment rights to free speech freedom of religion as well as RLIUPA. Reading religious literature is part of the way Plaintiff practices and expresses his religious beliefs. Taking the literature was responsible for making his exercise impracticable and is substantially burdening him, is an insurmountable impediment to his spiritual growth and development. The arbitrary rejection and procedural rubber-stamping was not in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest but instead was motivated by Defendant Ollis' personal desire to punish Plaintiff because of his race and religious beliefs in violation of Equal Protection. Plaintiff had been receiving Pastor Ramsey's publications at Mountain View C.I. until he was moved to the East Unit where Defendant Ollis processed the mail. The inside page of Ramsey's book entitled “Kingdom Parables” shows this fact as well as Plaintiff's claim of racial-religious discrimination agenda by “Mt. View C.I. Staff.” (Doc. No. 1 at 21).

         On August 15, 2016, Correctional Officer Grear confiscated Volume 2 of Lawrence Buchard's “The Covenant Heritage Series” from Inmate Eddie Money. (Doc. No.1 at 55). Plaintiff informed Defendant Grear that he had loaned the book to Inmate Money as authorized by DPS policy. However, Grear said the book was Aryan Brotherhood material and therefore contraband. Plaintiff contends the book is religious regarding his ancestral religious practice and does not contain any gang-related subject-matter. Confiscation was the sole product of Grear's hatred of Plaintiff because of his race and “ancestral religion” and tries to use the security policies to punish Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 1 at 56). Plaintiff had received the book while at Avery C.I through proper mailroom screening three years before it was confiscated. It was inspected upon his arrival at Mountain View C.I., and he had it for over a year at Mountain View C.I. where it was inspected repeatedly without incident. Plaintiff was also allowed to receive Volumes 4 and 5 of the book prior to encountering Defendant Ollis. The book does not satisfy the criteria justifying confiscation. Plaintiff filed a grievance August 25, 2016, and received an unsatisfactory response. The grievance responses show that prison officials changed their strategy after investigating his claims, saying the confiscation was due to the fact Plaintiff loaned the book to Inmate Money. The confiscation was unlawful and was misdemeanor Larceny under North Carolina law. Plaintiff had received mailings for several years from Sommerville at different prisons without incident. (Doc. No. 1 at 70). The mailings were religious and/or political which shows violation of First Amendment freedom of speech. Defendant Ollis' actions violate the First Amendment by substantially burdening free exercise of his religion in violation of RLUIPA. (Doc. No. 1 at 71). Defendant Ollis also violated Due Process by failing to follow mandatory mail procedures. Plaintiff asks the court to judicially notice the fact that there are inmates at Mountain View C.I. who continually suffer abuses of Defendant Ollis, condoned by Defendants Perry and Slagle, and these abuses will continue without the court's intervention. (Doc. No. 1 at 72).

         Plaintiff's incoming correspondences with Ed Sommerville suddenly stopped while Plaintiff was housed at Mountain View C.I., without notice. Plaintiff came to suspect that Defendant Ollis was responsible. On June 6, 2016, Plaintiff found out that Sommerville's correspondences had been returned to him by mailroom staff. On July 11, 2016, Plaintiff wrote to Ollis on a request form and asked her to explain why the religious and political articles had been returned without notice or due process procedures, which are mandatory. On July 13, 2016, Defendant Ollis rubber stamped the request, saying the mailings had been returned due to absence of prisoner number in the address. This was deceptive because Sommerville's mailings had a computer generated address with Plaintiff's prisoner number. On July 12, 2016, Plaintiff wrote to Perry informing him of Ollis' abuses. (Doc. No. 1 at 74). On October 22, 2016, after Plaintiff was transferred to Craggy C.I., he received two letters from Sommerville informing another Mountain View C.I. inmate of his futile attempts to mail religious and political printouts to Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 1 at 75). Plaintiff filed another grievance on October 22, 2016.

         Plaintiff seeks no money damages. (Doc. No. 1 at 113). He seeks the following “remedial” relief, and any other relief the Court deems appropriate:

(1) That this Court enter and order requiring:
(2) Defendants absorb and pay all filing fees, and any additional costs accrued with the advancement of this Complaint.
(3) Defendants to contact Pastor Everett Ramsey and purchase, and provide the five books that were unlawfully rejected by Defendant #4 Lynn Ollis.
(4) Defendants contact publisher & author Lawrence Blanchard, and purchase and provide Plaintiff a new copy of Vol. 2 of the Covenant Heritage Series.
(5) That Defendant #1 Frank L. Perry be officially reprimanded and demoted with reduction in pay.
(6) That Defendant #2 Mike Slagle be officially reprimanded, demoted, with a reduction in pay. This demotion shall exist for a period of five years.
(7) Defendant #3 Carol Buchannan be officially reprimanded, demoted with reduction in pay. This demotion shall exist for a period of five years.
(8) Defendant #4, Lynn Ollis' employment with the N.C. Dept. of Public Safety be immediately terminated with prejudice, including forfeiture of all benefits.
(9) Defendant #5 Corrections Officer Grear be officially reprimanded, demoted, and permanently reassigned away from inmate housing units. Said reassignment shall not be promotional nor an advancement.
(10) Defendant #5 Corrections Officer Grear be charged with misdemeanor larceny.
(12) Defendant #1 Frank Perry to issue an order to all prisons wherein Plaintiff is currently housed, or will be housed in the future requiring prison staff to immediately cease and desist all ...

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