Where a detainee alleged that officials had a patten of cancelling weekly meetings and special events of his NGE religion, while allowing other religious events to proceed, his equal protection and free exercise claims survived their early motion for summary judgement.
James R. Boughton Jr., a Virginia detainee, has filed a pro se lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion, his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, while he was in custody at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, or LVCC.
The LVCC is operated by The GEO Group Inc. On July 20, 2022, GEO Group and the three former GEO Group employees filed a motion for summary judgment.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires that an inmate exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing a suit to challenge prison conditions. The court finds that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies with respect to claims three and four, which involve plaintiff’s request for a microscope as a religious object. Defendants are thus entitled to summary judgment on those claims.
Self Born Allah
In claim one, plaintiff alleges that defendants’ denial of Self Born Allah’s application violated the Equal Protection Clause. According to plaintiff, Self Born Allah is an “elder” of the NGE religion and that plaintiff needs “to be taught the NGE tenets by a bonafide elder.” Plaintiff has submitted an unsworn statement from Self Born Allah in which Self Born Allah states that he had been approved as a “volunteer visitor” for NGE members at another facility.
Plaintiff’s equal protection claim fails because, even assuming that Self Born Allah’s unsworn statement provides a basis to infer that plaintiff was treated differently from other NGE members at other facilities, plaintiff has failed to show that the disparate treatment was the result of purposeful discrimination.
Instead, the record shows that LVCC has routinely allowed plaintiff and other NGE members to hold services, and the prison’s response to plaintiff’s grievance clearly states that Self Born Allah was denied visitor status because of his criminal history, not because of his affiliation with NGE. Plaintiff’s equal protection claim in claim one additionally fails because plaintiff has not established that any of the named defendants had any direct involvement in denying the volunteer application.
Finally, even if the named defendants did have personal involvement in the denial of Self Born Allah’s application, plaintiff’s equal protection claim still fails because the volunteer application policy is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.
Claim two alleges that the denial of Self Born Allah’s volunteer application violated RLUIPA. This claim also fails to survive summary judgment. Plaintiff has failed to satisfy his initial burden of showing that the denial of Self Born Allah’s visitor application substantially burdened plaintiff’s religious exercise.
Claims five, six and seven concern defendants’ failure to provide plaintiff with a meal before sunrise on Feb. 22, 2020, prior to his fast in observance of Allah’s physical birth. Plaintiff argues that the denial of the pre-sunrise meal violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and RLUIPA.
These three claims all fail at the outset because plaintiff has not shown that any of the named defendants intentionally discriminated against plaintiff in denying his asserted “right to fast.” Instead the undisputed facts make clear that defendants acted only negligently in failing to provide plaintiff with his requested meals on the date of his fast. Plaintiff’s Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA claims fail for the additional reason that plaintiff has failed to establish that plaintiff’s missed meals on Feb. 22, 2020, created a substantial burden on plaintiff’s practice of religion
Claims eight, nine and ten allege that defendants had a “pattern of cancelling NGE weekly meetings and special events,” which plaintiff argues constitutes a pattern of behavior that violates plaintiff’s right to equal protection, his rights under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA.
Defendant’s motion does not address plaintiff’s allegations that defendants had a pattern of cancelling NGE events while allowing other religious events to proceed. Now did defendants sufficiently address plaintiff’s allegations that defendants intentionally scheduled certain events that cause staff shortages in a manner that unfairly impacted NGE adherents, and that greater accommodations were made for other faith groups during the lockdowns. Their motion for summary judgment on these claims is denied.
Defendants’ motion for summary judgment granted in part, denied in part.
Boughton v. The GEO Group Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-938, Feb. 9, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Ellis). VLW 023-3-059. 36 pp.