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Ramirez v. Collier

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

May 31, 2018

BRYAN COLLIER, [1] et al, Defendants.


          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Manuel Caudillo Ramirez (“Ramirez”), is a state inmate who is currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) at the Wynne Unit in Huntsville. Ramirez originally brought this civil rights action for injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), alleging that he was wrongfully punished in a series of disciplinary cases for wearing a beard in violation of the prison grooming policy. He is pro se and he proceeds in forma pauperis (Dkt. 15). On August 12, 2016, the Court dismissed most of Ramirez's claims without prejudice after determining that they were moot (Dkt. 12). His sole remaining claim is that he is entitled to relief from a series of disciplinary convictions that he received when he was confined at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon.[2]

         At the Court's request, the Office of the Attorney General, as amicus curiae, filed a Martinez Report (Dkt. 24), which the Court has converted to a motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 25). The report includes an affidavit from Regional Director Tony O'Hare, who explains that offenders are currently allowed to wear a 4-inch beard if they are approved for a religious beard under the recently amended TDCJ grooming policy (Exhibit A); copies of Ramirez's pertinent disciplinary, classification, and housing records (Exhibit B); and copies of the relevant Administrative Directives for identification cards and grooming standards (Exhibit C).

         Ramirez has not filed a response in opposition to any of the arguments or evidence presented in the Martinez Report, and his time to do so has expired. The Court has considered the pleadings, the Martinez Report, the evidence in the record, and the applicable law, and concludes that this case must be dismissed for the reasons that follow.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As a Sunni Muslim, Ramirez contends that he is required to wear a beard as a tenet of his religious faith (Dkt. 1 at 9). On January 20, 2015, the Supreme Court held that a grooming policy enforced by the Arkansas Department of Corrections, which prohibited prisoners from growing a quarter-inch beard, violated the RLUIPA. See Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015). On February 8, 2015, Ramirez filed a Step 1 Grievance (Grievance No. 2015088390) “challenging the constitutionality of [TDCJ's] grooming policy, ” which at that time required all inmates to be clean shaven unless they qualified for a medical exemption (Dkt 1-1 at 1). Citing the decision in Hobbs, Ramirez requested permission to wear a half-inch beard (Id. at 2). On February 17, 2015, prison officials responded to the Step 1 Grievance by explaining that existing policy did not allow offenders to wear beards without the proper authorization (Dkt. 1-1 at 2). Ramirez filed a Step 2 Grievance to appeal that result (Dkt. 1-1 at 3-4).

         Before Ramirez submitted his Step 2 Grievance appeal he incurred a series of disciplinary convictions at the Ramsey Unit. On March 10, 2015, Ramirez was charged in two cases (#20150200332 and #20150195054) stemming from separate incidents in which he created a disturbance and then later failed to obey an order to submit to hand restraints (Dkt. 24, Ex. B, at 23, 31). He was convicted of both disciplinary offenses (Id.). As a result, Ramirez temporarily lost an assortment of privileges, forfeited 15 days of previously earned good-time credit, and was reduced in classification status (Id.).

         On March 29 and 30, 2015, Ramirez was charged in two additional cases (#20150217730 and #20150217736) with refusing to shave in compliance with the prison grooming policy (Dkt. 24, Ex. B, at 38, 47). Ramirez was found guilty as charged in both cases following a hearing that he declined to attend on April 6, 2015 (Id.). As a result of these convictions, Ramirez lost additional privileges, forfeited a total of 75 days of previously earned good-time credit, and was further reduced in classification status (Id.). Shortly thereafter, Ramirez was transferred from the Ramsey Unit to the Eastham Unit (Dkt. 24, Ex. B, at 20).[3]

         On April 30, 2015, prison officials responded to the Step 2 Grievance appeal that had been filed by Ramirez, noting that TDCJ was “preparing to permit any TDCJ offender to grow up to a half-inch beard for religious purposes, ” but that it was “expected to take approximately six months before this policy is implemented” (Dkt. 1-1, at 4). On August 1, 2015, TDCJ changed its grooming policy to allow inmates with a religious exemption to wear a beard of up to a half inch in length (Dkt. 24-1, Ex. A at 1).

         On October 13, 2015, Ramirez filed his complaint in this case (Dkt. 1). By this time, Ramirez had been transferred to the Clements Unit in Amarillo and the new policy allowing half-inch beards was already in effect (Dkt. 1 at 1). On February 1, 2017, TDCJ again changed its policy to allow religious beards up to 4 inches in length (Dkt. 24-1, Exhibit A at 1).[4] Ramirez contends in his sole remaining claim that he is entitled to relief under the Due Process Clause from the disciplinary convictions entered against him at the Ramsey Unit for refusing to shave pursuant to the grooming policy that was in effect at the time.


         A. The PLRA and Pro Se Pleadings

         Because the plaintiff is an inmate proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required by the PLRA to scrutinize the claims and dismiss the complaint, in whole or in part, if it determines that the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) (providing that the court “shall on its own motion or on the motion of a party dismiss an action” if it is satisfied that the complaint is “frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief”). An administrative report submitted by state officials pursuant to Martinez v. Aaron, 570 F.2d 317 (10th Cir. 1978) (a “Martinez report”), is a tool to assist courts in making a determination of frivolity under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F.3d 286, 292-93 (5th Cir. 1997); see also Cay v. Estelle, 789 F.2d 318, 323 & n.4 (5th Cir. 1986) (discussing the utility of a Martinez report).

         In reviewing the pleadings, the Court is mindful of the fact that the plaintiff in this case proceeds pro se. Complaints filed by pro se litigants are entitled to a liberal construction and, “however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even under this lenient standard a pro se plaintiff must allege more than “labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action[.]” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 ...

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