United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division
G. D. THOMPSON PLAINTIFF
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
B. BIGGERS SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on the pro se prisoner
complaint of G. D. Thompson, who challenges the conditions of
his confinement under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the purposes
of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the court notes that the
plaintiff was incarcerated when he filed this suit. The
plaintiff has brought the instant case under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, which provides a federal cause of action against
“[e]very person” who under color of state
authority causes the “deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and
laws.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff alleges
that the defendants violated his right to the free exercise
of religion under both the First Amendment to the
Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act by enforcing a Mississippi Department of
Corrections policy requiring male inmates to keep their hair
cut shorter than a certain length. The defendants have moved
for summary judgment, arguing that they enjoy qualified
immunity from civil suit. The plaintiff has responded to the
motion, and the matter is ripe for review. For the reasons
set forth below, the defendants' motion for summary
judgment will be granted as to the plaintiff's claim for
damages; however, under recent binding precedent from the
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the plaintiff's request
for prospective injunctive relief will be granted.
judgment is appropriate if the “materials in the
record, including depositions, documents, electronically
stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials”
show 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) and (c)(1).
“The moving party must show that if the evidentiary
material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in
court, it would be insufficient to permit the nonmoving party
to carry its burden.” Beck v. Texas State Bd. of
Dental Examiners, 204 F.3d 629, 633 (5th Cir.
2000) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317
(1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988)). After a
proper motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts
to the non-movant to set forth specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91
L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Beck, 204 F.3d at 633; Allen
v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 204 F.3d 619, 621
(5th Cir. 2000); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas
Pipeline Company, 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir.
1998). Substantive law determines what is material.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “Only disputes over
facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary
will not be counted.” Id., at 248. If the
non-movant sets forth specific facts in support of
allegations essential to his claim, a genuine issue is
presented. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 327. “Where
the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier
of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine
issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986); Federal Savings and Loan, Inc. v. Krajl, 968
F.2d 500, 503 (5thCir. 1992).
facts are reviewed drawing all reasonable inferences in favor
of the non-moving party. Allen, 204 F.3d at 621;
PYCA Industries, Inc. v. Harrison County Waste Water
Management Dist., 177 F.3d 351, 161 (5th Cir.
1999); Banc One Capital Partners Corp. v. Kneipper,
67 F.3d 1187, 1198 (5th Cir. 1995). However, this
is so only when there is “an actual controversy, that
is, when both parties have submitted evidence of
contradictory facts.” Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994);
see Edwards v. Your Credit, Inc., 148 F.3d 427, 432
(5th Cir. 1998). In the absence of proof, the
court does not “assume that the nonmoving party could
or would prove the necessary facts.” Little,
37 F.3d at 1075 (emphasis omitted).
very purpose of summary judgment is to “pierce the
pleadings and assess the proof in order to see whether there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Advisory Committee Note
to the 1963 Amendments to Rule 56. Indeed, “[t]he
amendment is not intended to derogate from the solemnity of
the pleadings[;] [r]ather, it recognizes that despite the
best efforts of counsel to make his pleadings accurate, they
may be overwhelmingly contradicted by the proof available to
his adversary.” Id. The non-moving party (the
plaintiff in this case), must come forward with proof to
support each element of his claim. The plaintiff cannot meet
this burden with “some metaphysical doubt as to the
material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd.
v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct.
1348, 1356 (1986), “conclusory allegations, ”
Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871,
871-73, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3180 (1990), “unsubstantiated
assertions, ” Hopper v. Frank, 16 F.3d 92
(5th Cir. 1994), or by a mere
“scintilla” of evidence, Davis v. Chevron
U.S.A., Inc., 14 F.3d 1082 (5th Cir. 1994).
It would undermine the purposes of summary judgment if a
party could defeat such a motion simply by “replac[ing]
conclusory allegations of the complaint or answer with
conclusory allegations of an affidavit.” Lujan v.
National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110
S.Ct. 3177, 3188 (1990). In considering a motion for summary
judgment, a court must determine whether the non-moving
party's allegations are plausible.
Matsushita, supra. (emphasis added).
“[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible
claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to
draw on its experience and common sense.” Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009)
(discussing plausibility of claim as a requirement to survive
a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)).
considering a motion for summary judgment, once the court
“has determined the relevant set of facts and drawn all
inferences in favor of the nonmoving party to the extent
supportable by the record, [the ultimate decision
becomes] purely a question of law.” Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007) (emphasis in original).
“When opposing parties tell two different stories, one
of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no
reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt
that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on the
motion for summary judgment.” Id. at 380.
Thompson practices the Rastafarian Nazarite religion (and has
done so since the 1970s), and one of the tenets of that
religion is to grow one's hair out until it forms
dreadlocks. The Mississippi Department of Corrections
enforces a policy that all male inmates maintain their hair
less than a certain length, though the court cannot discern
the length limit from the pleadings and motions. Thompson has
often requested, informally and through the formal grievance
process, that he receive a religious exemption from the
Mississippi Department of Corrections haircut policy;
however, Warden Simon just tells him, “I am going by
policy.” On March 23, 2016, Warden Simon issued an
order for Thompson to get his hair cut. Captain Reid, Lt. R.
Benford then told Thompson to cut his hair. He refused. At
this point, Lt. Benford and two other correctional officers
pinned Thompson down and cut off “copious amounts of
hair from the base of the plaintiff's dreadlocks.”
Captain Reid recorded the compulsory haircut using a video
camera. In addition, various staff members have repeatedly
issued Rule Violation Reports against Thompson for failing to
have his hair cut, as ordered.
First Amendment Free Exercise Claim
prison policy or practice will not be found unconstitutional
as long as it is reasonably related to a legitimate
penological objective of the facility. Hay v.
Waldron, 834 F.2d 481, 487-87 (5th Cir.1987).
This general statement of the law has been upheld when the
regulation completely stifled a group of Muslim inmates'
opportunity to attend Jumu'ah, the central religious
ceremony of the Muslim faith, analogous to Christian Sunday
services or Saturday services of the Jewish faith.
O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 360
(1987). This rule has also been applied to require
Rastafarians to cut their hair, even though keeping one's
hair unshorn and unwashed is a tenet of the Rastafari
religion. Scott v. Mississippi Dept. of Corrections,
961 F.2d 77 (5th Cir. 1992), Hicks v.
Garner, 69 F.3d 22, 25 (5th Cir. 1995).
Scott and Hicks are controlling as to
Thompson's First Amendment claims in this case; as such,
the motion by the defendants for summary judgment will be
granted as to those claims.
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000,
§ 2 et seq., 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc et seq.
(“RLUIPA”) prohibits imposing a substantial
burden on an inmate's religious exercise unless that
burden furthers a compelling interest and is the least
restrictive means of furthering that interest. 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000cc-1(a). RLUIPA provides a private cause of action
for an inmate to enforce this right. Id. §
2000cc-2(a). It states, in relevant 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 ...