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Luther v. Kentucky Department of Corrections

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

March 22, 2019



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District

         Plaintiff Dion Luther filed the instant pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action proceeding in forma pauperis. This matter is before the Court upon initial review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss some of Plaintiff's claims and allow other claims to proceed for further development.


         Plaintiff is an inmate at the Kentucky State Penitentiary (KSP). He sues the following Defendants: the Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC); James Erwin, identified as a KDOC commissioner; Christopher Kleymeyer, the KDOC Director of Operations; Skyla Grief, the KSP Deputy Warden; and Dan Smith, the KSP Program Director. He sues each of the individually named Defendants in their individual and official capacities.

         Plaintiff asserts that on February 27, 2018, he filed a grievance stating that he had been denied the “Ital diet” which he describes as his “required religious diet as a Bobo Ashanti [Ras Tafari] practitioner.” (Brackets by Plaintiff.) In a grievance attached to the complaint, which is dated February 27, 2018, he states, “During lockdown which begun on or about 2/21/18 due to security measures. During these . . . days I was deprived of adequate nutrition in accordance with the American Correctional Association (ACA).” In the grievance, Plaintiff also states that he “was not given the opportunity to ‘self-select' or choose from the included ‘no-flesh' option which caused consequently mal-nutrition, starvation, weak knees, light head, etc.”

         According to the complaint, “The Plaintiff requested he be permitted to choose from a alternative menu, which includes the no flesh option. However the Defendants as of now have continuously thwarted the Plaintiff from eating in accordance with his religious beliefs.” He states that because he has not been given “an adequate nourished Ital diet, the Plaintiff has become malnourished according to the American Correctional Association (ACA) standard.” Plaintiff reports that KDOC offers alternative portions but a large number of the alternatives are made with animal products and other foods which do not comply with Plaintiff's religious diet. He states, “Therefore, during about two-third of daily meals the Plaintiff has to skip the main portion, or side portion in order to maintain his Ital diet[, ]” which has caused him to be malnourished. Plaintiff states that “in addition to the lockdown of February 21, 2018, the Plaintiff has been blatantly starved on numerous lockdowns and occasions.”

         Plaintiff states that Defendant Grief “was in charge of the operations of the kitchen during the time of the Plaintiff's grievance . . ., was made aware of the Plaintiff situation through both grievances and dialogues.” He continues, “On one occasion Defendant Skyla Grief stated, ‘There is no formal required menu plan for Rastafarism'! ‘The alternative meal best satisfies your preferences[.]'” Plaintiff also states that he “alerted the Program Director, Defendant Dan Smith, who at the time was acting as Chaplain, of his malnutritious state, however he refered the Plaintiff to [a] Grievance . . . . Defendant Dan Smith also failed to rectify the situation once the Plaintiff pleaded with him.”

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Grief and Smith violated Plaintiff's rights under the First, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendments, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

         Plaintiff next maintains that on March 5, 2018, he filed a grievance in regards to his ability “to purchase and use the Ethiopia Africa Black International Congress, also known as the Bobo Ashanti, Creational Banners.” He reports that “he requested the banners be implemented in Ras Tafari worship services. However, the Defendants have failed to implement the Banners as ceremonial items.” Citing a Commissioner Review of Plaintiff's grievance attached to the complaint, Plaintiff states, “When Commissioner James Erwin was made aware of the situation he remarked, ‘At the next annual review of the Departments Religious Practices Manual, we will review the possibility of adding the Ras Tafari Bobo Shanti flag to the IRC mandatory congregate religious items list.'” Plaintiff states that he has still not been permitted to purchase the banners. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Kleymeyer was informed about the situation by the KSP chaplain and “failed to rectify the problem though he is the Director of Operations (including religious operations).”

         Plaintiff states that Defendants KDOC, Erwin, and Kleymeyer violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments and RLUIPA “because they have failed to create religious guidelines which satisfy the Plaintiff's and Bobo Ashanti religious requirements, e.g., the use of the creational banners.”

         Plaintiff further maintains that on September 29, 2017, he filed a grievance concerning “his ability to wear an Bobo Ashanti magunasafaya (robe) in his cell and at religious services.” He states that he requested to be allowed to wear the robe “to conform to his religious statues, laws, and tenets as a Bobo Ashanti Ras Tafari.” He asserts that Defendant Smith responded to his grievance by stating that the KDOC Religious Manual does not specify robes as an allowable religious item. Plaintiff states that Defendant Smith “was also the acting Chaplain during this time. And when the Plaintiff spoke to him about the item it was to no avail.” Plaintiff also reports that Defendant Kleymeyer “after being made aware of the Plaintiff's arguments at the annual review of the KY DOC Religious Manual refused to rectify the situation.”

         Plaintiff states that Defendants KDOC, Kleymeyer, and Smith violated the First Amendment and RLUIPA “because they have failed to permit the Plaintiff to wear his robe(s) during religious services in both his cell and the Inmate Religious Center, which substantially burdens the Plaintiff from fulfilling the Bobo laws and commandments.”

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and injunctive relief in the form of “permitting and Ital diet (adequate in nutrients) and “allow the purchasing of robe and creational banners.”

         II. ...

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