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Luther v. White

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

October 4, 2019



          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon a Fourth Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Gage Rodriguez and Jesse Coombs. [DN 120.] Plaintiff Dion L. Luther, proceeding pro se, has not responded and the time has passed. As such, this matter is ripe for adjudication and, for the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Inmate and pro se Plaintiff Dion Luther is a Bobo Ashanti Rastafari. [DN 1.] 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. 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 was 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 Ashanti 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, dreadlocks, twists, or any other hair style that would hinder or affect the security or operations of the unit.” [DN 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. [DN 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.] Luther's Eighth and First Amendment claims have been dismissed by the Court. [DN 94.] Luther's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claims remain against Coombs and Rodriguez. Luther's injunctive relief claims under RLUIPA and the First Amendment for injunctive relief also remain.

         Defendants now seek Summary Judgment on these claims.

         II. Legal Standard

         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 Matshushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (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 reasonable find for the plaintiff. See Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (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).

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's ...

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