United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER AND RECOMMENDATION
Charles H. Weigle United States Magistrate Judge
accordance with the Court's previous order requiring the
same, pro se Plaintiff Deante Gholston, an inmate
currently incarcerated at the Georgia Diagnostic and
Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, has paid the
required initial partial filing fee. Plaintiff has also filed
a motion to amend his original Complaint (ECF No. 8) and a
motion for a temporary restraining order (ECF No. 9). For the
following reasons, Plaintiff's motion to amend is
GRANTED,  and his religious freedom claims
against Defendants shall proceed for further factual
development. It is RECOMMENDED, however,
that Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order
Standard of Review
accordance with the Prison Litigation Reform Act
(“PLRA”), the district courts are obligated to
conduct a preliminary screening of every complaint filed by a
prisoner who seeks redress from a government entity,
official, or employee. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a). Screening is also required under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e) when the plaintiff is proceeding IFP. Both statutes
apply in this case, and the standard of review is the same.
When conducting preliminary screening, the Court must accept
all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Boxer X
v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006);
Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1159-60 (11th Cir.
2003). Pro se pleadings, like the one in this case,
are “held to a less stringent standard than pleadings
drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally
construed.” Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted). Still, the Court must dismiss a prisoner complaint
if it “(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such
relief.” 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b).
is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in
law or in fact.” Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d
1091, 1100 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The Court may dismiss claims that are based on
“indisputably meritless legal” theories and
“claims whose factual contentions are clearly
baseless.” Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not
include “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true,
to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The factual allegations in a complaint
“must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level” and cannot “merely create a
suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (first alteration in
original). In other words, the complaint must allege
enough facts “to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence” supporting a claim.
Id. at 556. “Threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege that (1) an act or omission deprived him of a right,
privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or a
statute of the United States; and (2) the act or omission was
committed by a person acting under color of state law.
Hale v. Tallapoosa County, 50 F.3d 1579, 1582 (11th
Cir. 1995). If a litigant cannot satisfy these requirements
or fails to provide factual allegations in support of his
claim or claims, the complaint is subject to dismissal.
See Chappell v. Rich, 340 F.3d 1279, 1282-84 (11th
Factual Allegations and Plaintiff's Claims
claims arise from his incarceration at the Georgia Diagnostic
and Classification Prison (“GDCP”) where
Plaintiff is housed in the Tier III segregation unit. Attach.
2 to Compl. 2, ECF No. 1-2. Plaintiff alleges that he is a
devout Muslim who “wishes to grow a beard that is . . .
palm length or longer in accordance with his religious
beliefs.” Id. Plaintiff states that this
requirement is “obligatory” to his religious
practice. Id. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff
alleges that he also wishes to grow his “head hair long
down to his shoulders, ” which is a practice that is
not necessarily “obligatory, ” but is
“lawful for the Muslim.” Attach. 1 to Mot. Am.
Compl. 3, ECF No. 8-1. Plaintiff states that he sought
religious exemptions to grow his beard and head hair from
Defendants, but his requests were “returned to him
unprocessed” and that his related grievances were
denied based on Defendants' “opinions” about
what his religion required. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff
contends that Defendants have thus denied him the ability to
practice his religion in violation of the United States
Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000c
et seq. As a result of these alleged violations,
Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, costs, and
“any additional relief this Court deems just, proper,
and equitable.” Id. at 5.
First Amendment, as applied to the states through the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
U.S. Const. amend. I. “Although prison inmates retain
protections afforded by the First Amendment's Free
Exercise Clause, ” prison officials may limit a
prisoner's exercise of sincerely held religious beliefs
if such “limitations are ‘reasonably related to
legitimate penological interests.'” Johnson v.
Brown, 581 Fed.Appx. 777, 780 (11th Cir. 2014) (per
curiam) (quoting O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz,
482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987)). RLUIPA requires the government to
justify any substantial burden on a prisoner's religious
exercise by demonstrating a compelling governmental interest.
See Smith v. Allen, 502 F.3d 1255, 1266 (11th Cir.
2007) abrogated on other grounds by Sossamon v.
Texas, 131 S.Ct. 1651, 1659 (2011). “To establish
a prima facie case under section 3 of RLUIPA, a
plaintiff must demonstrate 1) that he engaged in a religious
exercise; and 2) that the religious exercise was
substantially burdened.” Smith v. Governor for
Ala., 562 Fed.Appx. 806, 813 (11th Cir. 2014) (per
curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted).
allegations are sufficient to warrant further factual
development. While Defendants may certainly have
“legitimate penological interests” that would
justify any decision not permit Plaintiff to grow his beard
and head hair, at this stage of the litigation such interests
are not apparent from the face of the Complaint.
Johnson, 581 Fed.Appx. at 780-81 (reversing district
court's dismissal of RLUIPA and First Amendment free
exercise claims where prisoner's pro se
complaint alleged that prison officials infringed his
practice in numerous ways); Saleem v. Evans, 866
F.2d 1313, 1316 (11th Cir. 1989) (per curiam) (noting in
appendix to case that generally the court should
“permit dismissal of a First Amendment claim only if it
involves a religious claim so facially idiosyncratic that
neither a hearing nor state justification of its regulation
is required”). Plaintiff's religious freedom claims
must therefore proceed against Defendants.
Motion for Temporary Restraining Order
has also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order
(“TRO”). A TRO or preliminary injunction is a
drastic remedy used primarily to preserve the status quo
rather than grant most or all of the substantive relief
sought in the complaint. See, e.g., Cate v. Oldham,
707 F.2d 1176, 1185 (11th Cir. 1983); Fernandez-Roque v.
Smith, 671 F.2d 426, 429 (11th Cir. 1982). Factors a movant
must show to be entitled to a TRO include: “(1) a
substantial likelihood of ultimate success on the merits; (2)
the TRO is necessary to prevent irreparable injury; (3) the
threatened injury outweighs the harm the TRO would inflict on
the non-movant; and (4) the TRO would serve the public
interest.” Ingram v. Ault, 50 F.3d 898, 900
(11th Cir. 1995) (per curiam).
juncture the facts have not been sufficiently developed to
conclude that there is a substantial likelihood that
Plaintiff will ultimately prevail on the merits of his claims
or that Plaintiff will suffer immediate or irreparable injury
before Defendants can be heard in opposition. Fed.R.Civ.P.
65(b)(1); see also Levine v. Comcoa Ltd., 70 F.3d
1191, 1194 (11th Cir. 1995) (Hill, J., concurring
dubitante) (“An ex parte temporary
restraining order is an extreme remedy to be used only with
the utmost caution.”). Defendants should be afforded an
opportunity to respond to Plaintiff's allegations, and
any claims for ...