United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
States Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle recommends granting
in part and denying in part Defendant Warden Gregory
McLaughlin's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 38). Doc.
49. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommends allowing
Plaintiff Jerome Knott's Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) claim to proceed to
trial and dismissing his First Amendment claim. Id.
Both parties have objected to the Recommendation. Docs. 50;
51. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court has
considered the parties' objections (Docs. 50; 51) and has
made a de novo determination of the portions of the
Recommendation (Doc. 49) to which the parties object. For the
following reasons, the Recommendation (Doc. 49) is
ADOPTED as modified.
Plaintiff filed this action against the Defendant in his
official and individual capacities on January 30, 2017,
seeking injunctive relief and $10, 000 in damages under
RLUIPA and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of
his rights under the First Amendment. Doc. 1 at 9.
Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that on February 26,
2015, the Defendant issued a memorandum stating that inmates
at Macon State Prison (MSP) no longer will be allowed
“to gather or pray in any area inside of the dorms or
living units, ” including the common area. Id.
at 10. The Plaintiff, a Muslim inmate at MSP, states that it
is “central to his faith” to offer five daily
prayers “in congregation (where there are two or more
Muslims present).” Id. at 7. The Plaintiff
argues that the Defendant violated his First Amendment rights
and RLUIPA by ordering him to offer his five daily prayers
individually in his cell rather than congregationally.
Id. at 8.
the Defendant moved to dismiss. Doc. 11. The Court, adopting
the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation (Doc. 21),
partially granted the Defendant's motion. Doc. 22. The
Court ruled that the Plaintiff could only recover injunctive
relief for the alleged RLUIPA violation because the Plaintiff
could only sue the Defendant in his official capacity, and
limited the Plaintiff's relief under his First Amendment
claim to injunctive relief and nominal damages. Id.
The motion was otherwise denied. Id. After
discovery, the Defendant moved for summary judgment. Doc. 38.
The Plaintiff responded. Doc. 44. The Magistrate Judge
recommends (1) that the Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim proceed
to trial because there are genuine issues of material fact
regarding whether banning congregational prayer places a
substantial burden on the Plaintiff's religious exercise
and is the least restrictive means of furthering MSP's
compelling interest in prison security; but (2) that the
Plaintiff's First Amendment claim be dismissed because
the ban was reasonably related to MSP's legitimate
penological interests. Doc. 49 at 9. As will be discussed,
the superficially conflicting recommendations are the result
of the different standards for RLUIPA and § 1983 First
Amendment Free Exercise claims. Both parties objected to the
Recommendation. Docs. 50; 51.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
shall grant summary judgment “if 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). A material fact is any fact relevant or
necessary to the outcome of the suit, and a factual dispute
is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
movant may support its assertion that a fact is undisputed by
“citing to particular parts of materials in the record,
including depositions, documents, electronically stored
information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations
(including those made for the purposes of the motion only),
admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). However, “[w]hen the
nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial,
the moving party is not required to ‘support its motion
with affidavits or other similar material negating
the opponent's claim.'” United States v.
Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d 1428, 1437 (11th
Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986)) (emphasis in original). Rather, the
moving party “simply may show . . . that there is an
absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's
case.” Id. at 1438 (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
the moving party has met its burden, the non-movant must then
show a genuine dispute regarding any issue for which it will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Info. Sys.
& Networks Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220,
1224-25 (11th Cir. 2002) (citing Celotex Corp., 477
U.S. at 324). “A party asserting that a fact is
genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing
to particular parts of materials in the record.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). “The nonmoving party does not
satisfy its burden if the rebuttal evidence ‘is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative' of a
disputed fact.” Jones v. UPS Ground Freight,
683 F.3d 1283, 1292 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50). In a case regarding
allegations of constitutional and statutory violations, the
plaintiff must produce more than a “scintilla of
evidence”-or evidence of which a reasonable jury could
rely on to rule in the plaintiff's favor-showing that the
defendant violated his constitutional and statutory rights.
Presley v. Edwards, 2007 WL 174153, at *3 (M.D. Ga.
2007) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251) (other
citations omitted). Further, where a party fails to address
another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule
56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court may
consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). However, “credibility
determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing
of legitimate references from the facts are jury functions,
not those of a judge. . . . The evidence of the non-movant is
to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be
drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
officials may not “substantially burden”
prisoners' religious exercises unless the prison
officials use the least restrictive means to further a
compelling governmental interest. 42 U.S.C. 2000cc-1(a).
“Once a plaintiff proves that a challenged practice
substantially burdens his religious exercise, the burden
shifts to the defendant to show that the policy is the least
restrictive means of furthering a compelling government
interest.” Rich v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of
Corr., 716 F.3d 525, 532 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(b)) (other citation omitted).
“RLUIPA applies strict scrutiny to government actions
that substantially burden the religious exercise of
institutionalized persons[.]” Benning v.
Georgia, 391 F.3d 1299, 1304 (11th Cir. 2004) (citation
objection, the Defendant argues that (1) the Plaintiff has
not met his initial burden of showing that the
Defendant's restriction on congregational prayer
substantially burdens his exercise of religion; (2) even if
the Defendant's restriction substantially burdens the
Plaintiff's exercise of religion, the restriction is
narrowly tailored and is the least restrictive means of
furthering a compelling governmental interest; (3) the
Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) the
Plaintiff is not entitled to injunctive relief. Doc. 50 at 2,
7-8, 12, 14.
Defendant argues that the Plaintiff is not substantially
burdened because he “is not completely
prevented from performing the five daily prayers.”
Id. at 4 (emphasis added). Relying on Holt v.
Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015), the Defendant claims his
partial ban on prayer is not a substantial burden.
Id. In Holt, the Supreme Court held that a
prison's policy banning beards violated RLUIPA because a
tenet of Hobbs' religion forbade trimming facial hair,
and thus the ban completely prevented him from participating
in a religiously mandated activity. 135 S.Ct. 853, 859-61
(2015). Here, the Defendant argues the Plaintiff “is
free to pray in his individual cell” and “retains
the ability to participate in small-group Koran study within
the common areas of [MSP].” Doc. 50 at 4. In other
words, the Defendant argues (1) that congregational prayer is
a mere ...