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Luther v. White

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

February 6, 2019





         This matter comes before the Court upon Second Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Randy White, Dan Smith, Terry Peede, Jesse Coombs, Gage Rodriguez, and Skyla Grief. (R. 64). Plaintiff Dion L. Luther, proceeding pro se, has responded, (R. 81), and the Defendants' time to reply has long since passed. As such, this matter is ripe for adjudication and, for the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants' Motion, (R. 64), is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         With its ruling on the Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court also DENIES AS MOOT Luther's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, (R.11), and DENIES Luther's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint, (R, 24).


         Inmate and pro se Plaintiff Dion Luther is a Bobo Shanti Rastafari. (R. 1, Pl.'s Compl.). He is also a Kentucky State Penitentiary (“KSP”) inmate. Luther alleges various constitutional and statutory violations while incarcerated, all concerning his Bobo Shanti Rastafarian faith.

         A. Luther's Initial Claims

         1. Luther's Dreadlocks are Allegedly Forcibly Removed.

         Luther arrived at KSP on January 12, 2017 with his hair in dreadlocks. (Id.). Upon arrival, Luther was to be placed directly in KSP's Restrictive Housing Unit. (Id.). During processing, Luther was approached by Defendant Jessie Coombs and allegedly told that he must comb his dreadlocks out. (Id.). Luther refused, asserting that he was required to wear his hair in dreadlocks pursuant to his Bobo Shanti Rastafarian faith. (Id.). Upon refusal, Coombs placed Luther in a security cage. (Id.). Once in the cage, Defendant Terry Peede again told Luther to comb his dreadlocks out. (Id.). Again, Luther refused on religious grounds. (Id.).

         At this point, Peede produced a memorandum from Warden White and showed it to Luther. (Id.). The memorandum allowed restricted housing inmates to have long hair but stated that inmates' hair must “remain free flowing” and prohibited “Weaves, Corn rows, Braids, Dread Locks, Twists, or any other hair style that would hinder or affect the security or operations of the unit.” (R. 1 Pl.'s Compl. Ex. 1, Warden White Mem.). Along with the memo, Peede allegedly handed Luther a comb and told him he had thirty minutes to comb his hair out. (R. 1, Pl.'s Compl.). Luther refused to comply. (Id.).

         After his thirty minutes lapsed, Luther was restrained, and his dreadlocks were cut off by Defendant Gage Rodriguez. (Id.). According to Luther, Rodriguez had to yank at his dreadlocks while cutting them off, and the clippers used were unsanitary. (Id.). Consequently, Luther allegedly suffered lacerations to the back of his head and developed a rash. (Id.).

         Luther alleges that the forcible removal of his dreadlocks violated his right to religious exercise under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). (Id.). Luther further claims that in violently cutting his hair, Gage exhibited deliberate indifference towards his safety and subsequent medical need. (Id.).

         2. Luther's Religious Property is Allegedly Confiscated.

         Also upon entering KSP, Luther claims that H.C. Vinson confiscated his medallion and headgear. (Id.). Luther was allegedly denied the right to send such confiscated property home through the mail. Luther claims that he wrote a grievance concerning the issue on January 17, 2017, but Defendant Dan Smith never responded to the grievance. (Id.). Instead, according to Luther, Dan Smith thwarted his opportunity to properly take advantage of the grievance process. (Id.).

         Luther claims that the alleged confiscation of his property violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment, as well as RLUIPA. (Id.).

         3. Luther is Allegedly Denied a Turban.

         According to Luther, as a part of his religious faith, he is required to wear a turban. (Id.). Allegedly, KSP Chaplin John Neece had agreed to allow Luther to wear a turban. However, before Luther could purchase the turban, Chaplin Neece died. (Id.). According to Luther, Defendant Dan Smith is now in Charge of the situation and is denying Luther a turban. (Id.).

         Luther claims that in being denied a turban, his First Amendment and RLUIPA rights have been violated. (Id.).

         4. Luther is Allegedly Denied a Diet in Conformity with His Religious Beliefs.

         According to Luther, he was only served bologna, fruit, milk, and chips during a lock-down at KSP that lasted for some weeks in July. (Id.). Luther claims that he is prohibited from eating bologna pursuant to his religious beliefs. (Id.). Luther alleges that Skyla Greif informed him that he would have to be satisfied with the substitution offered by the kitchen, and that he would receive no special meals. (Id.). Luther allegedly told Grief that the substitution was what he was requesting. She then stormed away frustrated. (Id.). Luther never claims that Grief denied him the substitution. (See Id.).

         Based on these allegations, Luther claims that his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated. He also claims a RLUIPA violation.

         5. Luther is Allegedly Denied Incense.

         On September 6, 2018, the Court allowed Luther to supplement his Complaint with a claim against Skyla Grief, Dan Smith, and Chris Kleymeyer. According to Luther, the burning of incense is integral to his Rastafarian faith. (R. 16, Pl.'s Mot. to Supplement Claims). Skyla Grief, Dan Smith, and Chris Kleymeyer allegedly denied him incense. (Id.).

         Luther Claims that, as such, his rights under the First Amendment and RLUIPA have been violated. (Id.).

         B. Claims Dismissed Pursuant to the Court's 28 U.S.C. § 1915A Review.

         Because Luther is an inmate seeking relief against governmental entities, officers, and/or employees, this Court reviewed Luther's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Pursuant to that review, the Court dismissed Luther's official-capacity claims for damages, including those arising under RLUIPA. (R. 6). This Court also dismissed Luther's diet related claims against Defendant Skyla Grief. (Id.). Finally, the Court dismissed Luther's claims against Daniel Smith related to the grievance process. (Id.).

         C. The Settlement Conference Held on January 4, 2019.

         After the Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment had been filed, and pursuant to the Court's referral, Magistrate Judge King conducted a settlement conference between the Parties on January 4, 2019. At the Settlement conference, Luther agreed that he is currently allowed to wear a turban. (R. 89, Judge's Report). Also at that settlement conference, the Defendants agreed that Luther or a third-party would be allowed to purchase frankincense or myrrh incense and donate it to the KSP religious center, if available from an approved vendor, for congregate use in religious ceremonies under the supervision of the KSP religious advisor. (Id.). As such, Judge King recommends that Luther's claims related to incense be dismissed. (Id.).


         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

         “[N]ot every issue of fact or conflicting inference presents a genuine issue of material fact.” Street v. J. C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1477 (6th Cir. 1989). The test is whether the party bearing the burden of proof has presented a jury question as to each element in the case. Hartsel v. Keys, 87 F.3d 795, 799 (6th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence in support of his position; the plaintiff must present evidence on which the trier of fact could reasonably find for the plaintiff. See Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). The plaintiff may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Mere speculation will not suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment; “the mere existence of a colorable factual dispute will not defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment. A genuine dispute between the parties on an issue of material fact must exist to render summary judgment inappropriate.” Monette v. Electronic Data Sys. Corp., 90 F.3d 1173, 1177 (6th Cir. 1996).


         Defendants Randy White, Dan Smith, Terry Peede, Jesse Coombs, Gage Rodriguez, and Skyla Grief now move for summary judgment. The Court will address the Defendants' arguments, each in turn, as they correspond to Luther's remaining claims.

         A. Luther's Turban Claims

         Luther initially brought claims for monetary damages against the Defendants both in their individual and official capacities under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. (R.1, Pl.'s Compl.). Luther also sought an injunction from the Court, which would allow Luther to wear a turban. This Court has already dismissed all Luther's claims for monetary damages against the Defendants in their official capacities. (R. 6). Furthermore, Luther is now permitted to wear a turban. (R. 88 Judge's Report).[1] As such, Luther's request for injunctive relief is now moot, as is his separate Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed January 8, 2018, (R. 11). This leaves only Luther's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims for monetary damages against the Defendants in their individual capacities. The Court will start with the simpler of the two.

         Luther's RLUIPA claims for money damages against the Defendants in their individual capacities must be dismissed. The law is settled. RLUIPA does not allow an inmate to collect monetary damages from defendants sued in their individual capacities. See Hardy v. Agee, No. 14-2230, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 23370, ...

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