United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
States Magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle recommends denying
Plaintiff Deante Gholston's motion for summary judgment
and granting in part and denying in part the Defendants'
motion for summary judgment such that Gholston be permitted
to proceed to trial on his claims against Defendant William
Powell and the current Georgia Diagnostic and Classification
Prison (“GDCP”) chaplain under the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. Doc. 36. Both Gholston
and the Defendants have objected to the Recommendation and
responded to each other's objections. Docs. 38; 40; 41;
42. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court has
reviewed de novo the portions of the Recommendation
to which the parties object. After review, the Court accepts
and adopts the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of
the Magistrate Judge. The Recommendation, Doc. 36, is
ADOPTED and made the Order of the Court.
Deante Gholston is an inmate in the Special Management Unit
(“SMU”) at GDCP. Doc. 25-3 at 3. Gholston wants
to grow shoulder-length hair and a beard that is at least
palm-length. Doc. 8-1 at 2-3. His desire to do so is
rooted in his religious beliefs and desire to follow the
prophet Muhammad. Doc. 38 at 1.
Georgia Department of Corrections (“GDC”) has a
standard operating procedure (“SOP”) that limits
male prisoners' hair to three inches in length and their
beards to one-half inch in length (“grooming
policy”). Doc. 25-19. GDC also has a SOP that
provides religious accommodations for “any special
religious grooming requests beyond the requirements of its
grooming policy” (“religious accommodations
policy”). Doc. 25-20.
March 25, 2017, Gholston applied for a religious
accommodation to grow his hair and beard. Doc. 25-3 at 11.
This request was “returned to him unprocessed.”
Doc. 27-1 at 1. The Defendants acknowledge they did not
adhere to the approval process required by the religious
accommodations policy. Doc. 25-3 at 11. Gholston was
instructed to complete a second request, which he did on
August 28, 2018. Id. His second request was denied
on November 20, 2018 because of Gholston's “history
of possessing escape tools and weapons, including items
concealed on his body.” Doc. 25-21 at 1.
filed the current action against William Powell, the Deputy
Warden of Security at GDOC; James Smith, a “special
agent” responsible for processing grievances; and John
Muhammad, the former GDCP chaplain. Doc. 8-1 at 1-2. He
sought only injunctive relief and sued each Defendant in his
official capacity. Id. at 2; Doc. 29-1 at 1.
parties moved for summary judgment. The Defendants argued (1)
they were not proper parties to the lawsuit, because they
could not provide Gholston the relief he sought, Doc. 25-1 at
8-9; (2) Gholston does not have a sincere religious belief in
growing his hair longer than three inches, Id. at
11-12; (3) GDC's grooming policy furthers compelling
interests in maintaining security, safety, and order,
minimizing the flow of contraband, reducing violence, aiding
in the quick identification of inmates, and keeping inmates
clean and hygienic, Id. at 12-25; and (4) GDC's
grooming policy is the least restrictive means to further
these compelling interests, Id. at 25-30.
argued summary judgment should be granted in his favor
because (1) he has a sincerely held religious belief that
requires shoulder-length hair and a palm-length beard, Doc.
27-1 at 1-2; (2) these sincerely held religious beliefs are
substantially burdened by GDC's hair and beard length
requirements, Id. at 4; and (3) the Defendants
failed to show the hair and beard length requirements are the
least restrictive means to further any compelling
governmental interest, Id. at 5-9.
Magistrate Judge recommends granting Defendant James D.
Smith's motion for summary judgment on the grounds that
the record does not show any personal wrongdoing by Smith;
Smith has no connection to the GDC's grooming or
religious accommodations policies; Smith is incapable of
providing Gholston any relief; and Smith's only
involvement in the underlying conduct was the denial of a
prison grievance. Doc. 36 at 5-7. To the extent that the
initial screening order in this case noted distinct First
Amendment claims, the Magistrate Judge recommended that such
claims be deemed abandoned and dismissed. Id. at 3.
Finally, he determined that as to both Plaintiff's
hair-length and beard-length claims, genuine issues of
material fact precluded summary judgment for either Gholston,
Powell, or Muhammad (now Miller). Id. at 8-20.
following reasons, the Recommendation is
CLAIMS BEFORE THE COURT
United States Magistrate Judge recommends that any First
Amendment claims be deemed abandoned and dismissed. In his
complaint, Gholston expressly referenced only RLUIPA. Doc. 36
at 2. In their cross motions for summary judgment, the
parties did not raise or litigate any First Amendment claims.
Id. The parties have not objected to the Magistrate
Judge's recommendation to dismiss any First Amendment
claims. The Court accepts and adopts this recommendation, and
any First Amendment claims are deemed abandoned and
PARTIES BEFORE THE COURT
United States Magistrate Judge recommends granting summary
judgment to Defendant James D. Smith. Doc. 36 at 5-7. Neither
party has objected to this recommendation. The Court accepts
and adopts these findings and GRANTS
Smith's motion for summary judgment.
and Muhammad (now Miller) also moved for summary judgment on
the grounds that they have no connection to the grooming
policy or religious accommodations policy and are incapable
of providing Gholston any relief. Doc. 25-1 at 8-9. The
United States Magistrate Judge recommends denying their
motion. Doc. 36 at 4-8. He found that both Defendants are
connected to the religious accommodations policy because the
procedure contemplates review by Miller, as the prison
chaplain, and Powell as the
“Warden/Superintendent.” Doc. 25-20 at 4. The
Magistrate Judge also found that Powell bears a connection to
GDC's policy of forced shaves and haircuts. Id.
at 6 (quoting Doc. 25-21 at 1-2). Powell and Miller objected
to these findings. Doc. 40.
record supports the Magistrate Judge's findings that
Miller and Powell have some connection to the religious
accommodation policy. Doc. 36 at 6. But Powell and Miller
argue the Magistrate Judge “failed to consider whether
the parties can provide the relief that Gholston seeks:
namely, that Gholston be granted a religious accommodation in
contravention of GDC's policies.” Doc. 40 at 3.
Powell and Miller state that they have no “decision
making authority over religious accommodations, the authority
to amend GDC policies, or the authority to deviate from GDC
grooming policies.” Id. at 4. Miller states
that he conducts the initial review of a religious
accommodations request and provides only a recommendation,
which may or may not be accepted by the Regional Manager,
Field Operations Director, Director of Chaplaincy Services,
and General Counsel. Doc. 40 at 5. According to Miller,
“[t]here is no presumption that the other individuals
must accept the chaplain's recommendation or that his
recommendation will ultimately be the final result. Four
other individuals have to approve the request before it can
come to fruition for the inmate.” Id. (citing
Docs. 25-2; 25-20 at 7, 10).
argues there is no support for the Magistrate Judge's
finding that he is “‘in practice . . . the
superintendent, and that Powell ‘ran [the] GDCP . . .
as if he was the superintendent who has [a] part in [the]
religious accommodation [process].'” Doc. 36 at 6
(quoting Doc. 29-1 at 6). While the parties disagree as to
Powell's role and responsibility, the record supports
this finding. Doc. 29-1 at 6 (stating that Powell “in
practice was [the] superintendent”). Powell argues even
if this is true, the record shows that the
Warden/Superintendent does not have the final authority to
grant or deny a religious accommodation. Instead, just like
the chaplain, he makes only a recommendation.
the Defendants' statements regarding who must approve a
religious accommodations request are conflicting, there is
support in the record for Miller and Powell's argument
that they lack decision-making authority over the religious
accommodations policy, at least when that policy's
required procedures are followed. Their lack of authority is
demonstrated by what transpired when Gholston submitted his
second request for a religious accommodation. Both the
Facility Chaplain and the Warden/Superintendent approved his
request. Doc. 25-21. Gholston's request was, however,
ultimately denied because the Regional Manager, Facility
Operations Director/Designee, Director of Chaplaincy
Services, and General Counsel/Designee disapproved the
request. Id. Thus, it seems when the Defendants
adhere to the approval procedure called for in the religious
accommodations policy, Miller and Powell do not have the
authority to grant Gholston's religious accommodations
request to grow a palm-length beard or shoulder-length hair.
there are allegations that the approval process required by
the religious accommodations policy is not adhered to.
Defendants admit that the approval process was not followed
when Gholston made his first request for a religious
accommodation on March 25, 2017. Doc. 25-3 at 11. Gholston
states that his request was “returned to him
unprocessed, along with Chaplain Muhammad's [Miller's
predecessor] opinions and wrong understanding of the
religious practice.” Doc. 27-1 at 1. Thereafter,
according to Gholston, he met with both Powell and the
chaplain and they opposed his request “due to their
opinions of the religion. . . .” Id. Thus,
Gholston states these two Defendants have personally
participated in denying him the proper process required by
the religious accommodations policy. Doc. 29-1 at 5. Gholston
has also provided additional evidence showing a later
November 2018 request for religious accommodations was ...