United States District Court, D. Maryland
KENNETH L. TRICE, JR., Plaintiff,
BOBBY P. SHEARIN, et al., Defendants.
JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.
Defendants move for dismissal or summary judgment in the above-captioned civil rights case. ECF 18. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF 22 & 23. The court finds a hearing in this matter unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated below, defendants' motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment,  shall be DENIED.
Plaintiff Kenneth L. Trice, Jr. ("Trice"), an inmate incarcerated at North Branch Correctional Institution ("NBCI"), asserts that his right to practice his chosen religion was abridged by defendants when he was denied the opportunity to participate in Native American ceremonial worship. Trice indicates that after his informal efforts to have Native American worship services instituted at NBCI went unanswered, he filed an Administrative Remedy Complaint ("ARP") in May of 2011. Warden Shearin indicated that due to NBCI's design, no outside space was available to accommodate Native American Services and Trice's request was dismissed. ECF 1, p. 5. Trice appealed the denial of his administrative remedy through an appeal to the Inmate Grievance Office ("IGO"). Ten days prior to his IGO hearing, plaintiff was transferred to Western Correctional Institution ("WCI"), a facility that offers a Native American worship service. Plaintiff indicates that his transfer was an effort to moot his claim. Id., p. 6. Nonetheless, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not find the claim mooted, but found in favor of NBCI, holding that there was no outside space available to conduct Native American ceremonial worship. Id.
On January 4, 2013, plaintiff was transferred back to NBCI. Plaintiff renewed his request for outdoor Native American worship. Plaintiff states he requested use of the handball court weekly based on Chaplain Lamp's testimony at the IGO hearing that the court was available for ceremonial purposes. Lamp took no action other than to tell plaintiff to contact him later. Id., p. 7. Plaintiff filed a new ARP on May 29, 2013, regarding his desire for Native American worship service. The ARP and his appeals were dismissed as repetitive. Id., p. 7.
Defendants offer that plaintiff requested Native American congregate services on a "grassy area, free of traffic and interference, for prayer circle purposes." ECF 18, Ex., 1, p. 12 & 18. Due to the architectural structure of NBCI, no grass area, which is not up against a housing unit or security fence, and no place free from interference with the security of the institution was identified. Id., p. 12. Defendants note that after a hearing the ALJ decided that plaintiff's First Amendment rights were not violated as NBCI had no area that would not be a high security risk and Trice had been moved to WCI, where he could attend Native American ceremonies. Id., Ex. 2, p. 110.
Defendants further indicate that NBCI consists of four housing units: Unit 1 - the primary segregation unit; Unit 2 - the Multi-Classification Unit for inmates classified as Maximum II, those requiring special programming or mental health attention, or inmates coming off segregation who staff believe would have difficulty adjusting to a less structured environment; and Housing Units 3 and 4, which are general population units. Id., Ex. 2. Maximum II inmates are those who have been involved in a serious assault in the past five years, have escaped from secure confinement housing, have been involved in an incident resulting in death, have committed a sexual assault while incarcerated, or engaged in verified behavior detrimental to operation or security of a DOC facility, including gang activity, within the past five years. Id., Ex. 1, p. 43.
Trice was confined on Housing Unit 2 at NBCI after leaving administrative segregation on April 28, 2014. Chaplain Lamp avers that inmates confined to Housing Unit 2 are on modified housing status and are limited in their congregate interactions with other inmates until staff can complete the screening process to determine whether the inmate can participate in congregate services. Id., Ex. 3; Ex. 4. Inmates within Housing Unit 2 are permitted to worship within their cell or housing unit and have access to a chaplain or spiritual leader. Id.
Defendants indicate that Native American services began at NBCI on May 27, 2014. A Native American volunteer group called the Iron House Council assists and guides the services, which include outside congregate services. Id., Ex. 3. The Native American services are available to general population inmates housed in NBCI Housing Units 3 & 4. Defendants indicate that NBCI is in the process of determining which inmates in Housing Unit 2 may participate in the Native American congregate services. Id.
Standard of Review
A. Motion to Dismiss
The purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted does not require defendant to establish "beyond doubt" that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561-62 (2007). Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. Id. at 562. The court need not, however, accept unsupported legal allegations, see Revene v. Charles County Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989), legal conclusions couched as factual ...