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Batts v. Brown

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

April 2, 2019

TITUS BATTS, Plaintiff,
v.
BETTY BROWN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          FRANK D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court following additional briefing by the parties on the issue of whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for prospective injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), codified as 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. For the following reasons, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment as to Plaintiff's claim for prospective, injunctive relief under the RLUIPA. Because this disposes of all remaining issues in this case, the case shall therefore be terminated.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff Titus Bates, a North Carolina state inmate currently incarcerated at Carteret Correctional Center in Newport, North Carolina, filed this action on June 22, 2017, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), codified as 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that, while he was confined at Foothills Correctional Institution in Morganton, North Carolina, Defendant Betty Brown, as the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (“NCDPS”) Director of Chaplaincy Services I, violated his religious rights under the RLUIPA by refusing to allow him to be excluded from prison work duties on Fridays in observance of his membership in the Moorish Science Temple of America (“MSTA”).

         Defendant filed a summary judgment motion on November 2, 2018. (Doc. No. 30). On November 5, 2018, 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. 33). Plaintiff responded to the summary judgment motion on November 13, 2018, Defendant filed a Reply on November 20, 2018, and Plaintiff filed a Surreply on December 11, 2018. (Doc. Nos. 34, 35, 36).

         On January 10, 2019, this Court granted summary judgment to Defendant on Plaintiff's damages claim under the RLUIPA, but the Court ordered Defendant to provide further briefing on Plaintiff's claim for prospective injunctive relief. (Doc. No. 37). On February 13, 2019, Defendant filed a supplemental memorandum, arguing that Plaintiff's claim for prospective injunctive relief is moot because he has been transferred away from Foothills. (Doc. No. 42). Defendant's summary judgment materials on the issue of prospective injunctive relief include an affidavit of David Lambert, with attached Exhibit A, an affidavit of Larry Williamson, and an affidavit of Tina Cameron, with attached exhibits, and Defendant also relies on the evidence submitted supporting the original summary judgment motion. (Doc. Nos. 43-1, 43-2, 43-3).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id.

         The movant has the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations omitted).

         Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in his pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324. The nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence from which “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert County, Md., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995).

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence and any inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “‘Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 129 S.Ct. 2658, 2677 (2009) (quoting Matsushita v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As noted, Plaintiff alleges a claim pursuant to the RLUIPA, which 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 the RLUIPA, the plaintiff bears the initial burden of showing 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 ...


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