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Wilson v. Livingston

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

May 31, 2018

LAMONT E WILSON, TDCJ #00759951, Plaintiff,
BRAD LIVINGSTON, et al, Defendants.


          George C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Lamont Wilson (“Wilson”) is a state inmate who is currently in the custody of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (“TDCJ”) at the Michael Unit in Tennessee Colony, Texas. Wilson brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., alleging that TDCJ's grooming practices interfere with his religious liberties to grow a beard without a mustache (Dkt. 1). Pending is Defendants' motion for summary judgment on mootness (Dkt. 20), to which Wilson has filed a response in opposition (Dkt. 21). The Court has carefully considered the motion, response, evidence in the record, and applicable law, and concludes as follows.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As a Muslim of the Hanafi school of Sunni law, Wilson contends that he is required to wear a fist-length beard without a mustache as a tenet of his religious faith (Dkt. 1 at 2). At the time he filed his Complaint, he was housed at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon, Texas (Id.). Wilson alleges that when he was in the chow line one day, Captain Smith ordered him to produce his identification card and informed him that he would have to shave the hair on his chin (Id.). When Wilson explained that his religion requires that he grow a beard without a mustache, Captain Smith explained that offenders who are authorized to wear religious beards must grow it out and not shave the mustache. Captain Smith also told him that if he did not comply with the grooming policy, he would receive a disciplinary case (Id.).

         On April 10, 2016, Wilson filed a grievance complaining that he felt Captain Smith had threatened or intimidated him to cut his beard (Id.). He received a disciplinary case later that same day (Id. at 2-3). On April 15, 2016, Wilson was brought to Lieutenant Lopez's office regarding the disciplinary charge and stated that his Muslim religion requires him to grow a beard and cut his mustache ( 3). Wilson was found guilty of the disciplinary infraction and sentenced to 30 days commissary restriction (Id.). Wilson filed step one and step two grievances to appeal the decision, but his appeal was denied because he had violated the grooming policy in place at the time (Id.).

         Wilson filed this lawsuit on July 12, 2016, alleging that TDCJ's religious grooming policy only allowing prisoners to grow beards for religious reasons up to one-half inch, and preventing those who grow beards for religious purposes from shaving the mustache, substantially burdens his Hanafi religious practice and violates RLUIPA. Wilson seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to change the policy to allow him to grow his beard and cut his mustache.

         Defendants move for summary judgment based on mootness, because TDCJ promulgated a state-wide policy change regarding religious beards on February 1, 2017, allowing religious beards of up to four inches, and again on December 1, 2017, allowing inmates to shave their mustaches and neatly trim their beards. Defendants present evidence indicating that the new policy permits offenders with a religious beard to “shave the moustache, neck, and cheek line of their religious beards provided that the religious beard remains neatly trimmed and clean, and that no lines, designs, patterns, or symbols are cut or shaped into the religious beard.” (Dkt. 20, Ex. A at 2). Defendants point out that the December 1, 2017 Notice to Offenders portrays a picture of a man with a shaved moustache and fist-length beard as an illustration of the new acceptable grooming practices (Id. at 7). Wilson has filed a response, contending that he is still not allowed to shave his mustache and that Defendants are not entitled to the presumption of good faith because the new policy is substantially similar to the old policy it replaced.


         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”). 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 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted).

         B. Summary Judgment - Rule 56

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates the entry of 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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). If the movant demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-movant to provide “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). If the movant meets this initial burden, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action. A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” DIRECT TV Inc. v. Robson, 420 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted).

         In deciding a summary judgment motion, the reviewing court must “construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Dillon v. Rogers, 596 F.3d 260, 266 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). However, the non-movant cannot avoid summary judgment simply by presenting “conclusory allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation.” Jones v. Lowndes Cnty., 678 F.3d 344, 348 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002)); see also Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (a non-movant cannot demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence). Likewise, Rule 56 does not impose upon the Court a duty to sift through the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment; evidence not referred to in the response to the motion for summary judgment is not properly before the Court, even if it exists in the summary judgment record. Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 405 (5th Cir. 2003).

         Although the plaintiff in this case is proceeding pro se, “the notice afforded by the Rules of Civil Procedure and the local rules” is considered “sufficient” to advise a pro se party of his or her burden in opposing a summary judgment motion. Martin v. Harrison County Jail, 975 F.2d 192, 193 (5th Cir. 1992). Even a pro se plaintiff must specifically refer to evidence in the summary judgment record in order to place that evidence properly before the court. See Outley v. Luke & Assocs., Inc., 840 F.3d 212, 217 (5th Cir. 2016) (citing E.E.O.C. v. Simbaki, Ltd., 767 F.3d 475, 484 (5th Cir. 2014) (‚ÄúDespite our general willingness to construe pro se filings liberally, we still require pro ...

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