Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Thompson v. Mississippi Department of Corrections

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

August 18, 2017

G. D. THOMPSON PLAINTIFF
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary 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).

         The 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).

         The 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)).

         In 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.

         Undisputed Material Facts

         G. D. 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.

         Thompson's First Amendment Free Exercise Claim

         A 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.

         Application of RLUIPA

         The 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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.