United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on defendants’ motion for
summary judgment (DE 36) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 56. The motion was fully briefed and the issues
raised are ripe for decision. For the reasons that follow,
the court grants the motion.
OF THE CASE
a state inmate proceeding pro se, commenced this action by
filing complaint and motion to appoint counsel on January 26,
2017, alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et
seq. Plaintiff alleges defendants Thomas Eldridge
(“Eldridge”), Betty Brown (“Brown”),
Susan Addams (“Addams”) and Charles Johnson
(“Johnson”) violated his rights to freely
practice his religion and discriminated against him by
rejecting a Rastafarian medallion he received in the mail. As
relief, plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages,
declaratory relief, and a permanent injunction prohibiting
prison officials from discriminating against Rastafarians.
20, 2017, the court denied plaintiff’s motion to
appoint counsel, conducted its initial frivolity review of
the complaint, and allowed the action to proceed. On January
3, 2018, the court entered case management order governing
discovery and pretrial motions practice.
filed second motion to appoint counsel on March 15, 2018. The
court denied the motion on April 6, 2018, to the extent
plaintiff requested general appointment of counsel, but
informed plaintiff that North Carolina Prisoner Legal
Services, Inc. (“NCPLS”) is available to assist
plaintiff with discovery pursuant to Standing Order 17-SO-03.
Plaintiff accepted assistance from NCPLS. The parties
completed discovery on or about July 20, 2018, and NCPLS
moved to withdraw from representing plaintiff that same day.
The court granted NCPLS’s motion to withdraw.
October 26, 2018, defendants filed the instant motion for
summary judgment. In support, defendants rely upon a
memorandum of law, statement of material facts, and the
following: 1) affidavit of defendant Eldridge and
accompanying exhibits; 2) affidavit of defendant Addams and
accompanying exhibits; and 3) defendants’ responses to
plaintiff’s discovery requests.
November 5, 2018, plaintiff filed motion to compel discovery
responses, which was fully briefed. Also on November 5, 2018,
plaintiff responded in opposition to the instant motion for
summary judgment, relying upon a memorandum of law, opposing
statement of material facts, and the following: 1)
plaintiff’s declaration; 2) North Carolina Department
of Public Safety (“DPS”) policies concerning
inmate religious practices; 3) plaintiff’s
administrative grievances concerning the Rastafarian
medallion; 4) correspondence between plaintiff and DPS staff
concerning the medallion; 5) DPS memorandum concerning the
medallion; and 6) defendants’ responses to
plaintiff’s discovery requests. On November 8, 2018,
plaintiff filed supplemental response in opposition, relying
upon a second opposition statement of material facts, and
additional discovery responses produced by defendants.
December 10, 2018, the court entered order finding
plaintiff’s motion to compel moot because
defendants’ made supplemental production of documents
to plaintiff. The court, however, permitted plaintiff to file
second supplemental response to the instant motion for
summary judgment to account for the newly-produced discovery
responses. Plaintiff filed supplemental response on December
28, 2018, relying upon the additional discovery responses.
OF THE FACTS
defendants move for summary judgment, the court recounts the
facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff.
is a state inmate in DPS custody at the Polk Correctional
Institution (“Polk C.I.”), and he practices the
Rastafarian religion. (Pl.’s Decl. (DE 48) ¶ 4;
Eldridge Aff. (DE 39-1) ¶ 3). Plaintiff is assigned to
the high control/restrictive housing unit at the Polk C.I.
due to disciplinary issues. (Eldridge Aff. (DE 38) ¶
10). Defendant Eldridge is the senior chaplain at the Polk
C.I.; defendant Addams is a DPS regional chaplain; defendant
Brown was the DPS director of chaplaincy services during the
relevant time frame; and defendant Johnson was the assistant
superintendent at the Polk C.I. (Eldridge Aff. (DE 39-1)
¶ 2; Addams Aff. (DE 39-2) ¶ 2; Pl.’s Decl.
(DE 43) ¶¶ 6-8).
September 9, 2016, plaintiff received a Rastafarian medallion
in the mail from his grandmother. (Pl.’s Decl. (DE 48)
¶ 4). Prison staff forwarded the item to defendant
Eldridge, who determined the item did not comply with DPS
policy and thus rejected plaintiff’s request to retain
the item for religious purposes. (Id. ¶ 5).
Plaintiff filed a grievance concerning the rejection.
(Id. ¶¶ 7-8). In response, defendant
Eldridge explained that Rastafarians may retain a religious
medallion, but only if it does not come with a necklace or
lanyard. (Pl.’s Resp. Ex. E (DE 42-5) at
After further discussion between defendant Eldridge and
defendant Johnson (the Polk C.I. assistant superintendent),
defendants determined plaintiff may order a new medallion if
he agreed to allow prison staff to remove the necklace or
lanyard before issuing it to plaintiff. (Id. at 2).
Plaintiff refused to order a new medallion. (See
Pl.’s Decl. (DE 48)).
Rastafarian inmates on high control status (like plaintiff),
DPS policy provides that they may possess a religious
medallion, but it cannot be worn around the neck. (Eldridge
Aff. (DE 39-1) ¶ 10; Eldridge Aff. Ex. E (DE 39-1) at
46). This is the primary reason defendant Eldridge rejected
plaintiff’s medallion. (Eldridge Aff. (DE 39-1) ¶
10). As noted, defendants attempted to accommodate
plaintiff’s request for the medallion by allowing him
to order another one through ...