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Kyles v. Atkinson

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division

August 26, 2014

Basil Jacob Kyles, Plaintiff,
Kenny Atkinson and Alex A. Chartier, Defendants.


MICHELLE CHILDS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Basil Jacob Kyles ("Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), [1] alleging violations by Defendants Kenny Atkinson, Warden of the Federal Correctional Institution at Edgefield, South Carolina, ("FCI Edgefield") and Alex A. Chartier, the Supervisory Chaplain of FCI Edgefield, (collectively "Defendants") of his First Amendment rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") due to denial of the opportunity to properly worship under the tenets of his faith. (ECF No. 1.) This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 23).[2]

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02, the matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald for pre-trial handling. On May 21, 2014, the magistrate judge issued a Report of the Magistrate Judge ("Report"), recommending the court grant Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 37.) This review considers Plaintiff's Objections to Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge ("Objections"), filed June 2, 2014. (ECF No. 39.) For the reasons set forth herein, the court ACCEPTS the magistrate judge's Report. The court thereby GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 1.)


The court concludes upon its own careful review of the record that the factual and procedural summation in the magistrate judge's Report is accurate, and the court adopts this summary as its own. However, a recitation of the relevant facts and procedural history is warranted.

Plaintiff is incarcerated at FCI Edgefield, serving a 262-month term of imprisonment. (ECF Nos. 44 at 1, 37 at 2.) Plaintiff alleges Defendants have violated his First Amendment rights and the RFRA by denying him the opportunity to properly worship as a Hebrew Messianic Yisraelite. (ECF No. 1-1 at 2-3.) Plaintiff seeks $250, 000 in damages from each defendant. ( Id. at 13.)

Due to limited time and resources available at FCI Edgefield, the Religious Services Department determined worship services and other religious accommodations for Hebrew Messianic Yisraelites would be provided under the umbrella of Judaism, as the faiths are similar. (ECF No. 37 at 3.) As such, Plaintiff was offered the opportunity to join those of the Jewish faith in services welcoming in the Sabbath on Friday evenings. ( Id. ) Plaintiff declined to join in these services, and was informed he could perform his religious observance as an individual practitioner, which would allow him to receive books and other religious items and to practice religious observances without interference. ( Id. )

After Plaintiff made his initial requests for accommodation of his faith, the Hebrew Messianic Yisraelite group at FCI Edgefield grew, and the Religious Services Department reserved a space for the group to conduct services in the chapel area from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays. ( Id. ) Beginning January 2013, FCI Edgefield provided the Yisraelite group space in the chapel area to conduct a separate Sabbath service on Friday evenings. ( Id. at 3-4.)

Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies regarding his claims prior to filing his Complaint on August 19, 2013. (ECF 23 at 3; see also ECF No. 1-2.) Plaintiff disputes that the Hebrew Messianic Yisraelite and Jewish faiths are similar. (ECF No. 30 at 3.) He contends that Defendants substantially burdened the exercise of his religion by only allowing him to bring in the Sabbath in a combined service with the Jewish inmates (ECF No. 30 at 6) and to practice this service alone would also violate Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. (ECF No. 39 at 3.) Plaintiff further argues that providing a separate place for Yisraelite worship on Saturday afternoon, rather than Friday evening, violated his rights. (ECF No. 1-1 at 9.) Plaintiff also disputes Defendants' claim that he was the sole Hebrew Messianic Yisraelite at the time of his initial requests for accommodation. ( Id. at 8.)

On November 19, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, For Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion on January 6, 2014. (ECF No. 30.)

The magistrate judge issued the Report on May 21, 2014, recommending Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. (ECF No. 37.) The Report concluded that Plaintiff's claims under the First Amendment and the RFRA failed, as Plaintiff had not shown that Defendants substantially burdened the exercise of his religion. ( Id. at 6.) As the magistrate judge explained, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a plaintiff can establish a claim if he shows (1) that he has a sincerely held religious belief and (2) that the defendant's actions substantially burdened the plaintiff's religious expression. ( Id. at 5-6 (citing Blue v. Jabe, 996 F.Supp. 499, 502 (E.D. Va. 1996)).) Further, the RFRA "prohibits [g]overnment from substantially burden[ing]' a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless the government can demonstrate the burden (1) is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.'" ( Id. at 6 (quoting City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 515-16 (1997).) The magistrate judge found that as Plaintiff was offered multiple options to practice his religion and could provide no evidence as to how he was burdened other than his own conclusions, he could not make a showing that Defendants had placed a substantial burden on the exercise of his religion. ( Id. at 6-9.)

Further, the magistrate judge found that even if Plaintiff could make a showing that Defendants had substantially burdened the exercise of his religion, summary judgment would still be appropriate under Tuner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). (ECF No. 37 at 9.) In Turner, the Supreme Court held that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner, 482 U.S. at 89. To determine the reasonableness of a challenged prison regulation, the Turner Court outlined four factors to consider: (1) there must be a valid, rational connection between the regulation and the legitimate government interest put forth to justify it, (2) if there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prisoners, (3) what impact accommodation of the asserted right will have on guards, other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources, and (4) whether there are alternatives available that fully accommodate the prisoner's rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests. Id. at 89-90.

The Report concluded that Plaintiff's claim fails under this four factor test. (ECF No. 37 at 9-11.) The Federal Bureau of Prisons Program Statement 5360.09, Religious Beliefs and Practices, provides inmates of all faiths reasonable and equitable opportunities to practice their religions within the constraints of budgetary and security concerns. ( Id. at 10.) The magistrate judge found controlling prison costs to be a compelling government interest. ( Id. ) As FCI Edgefield has three chaplains to serve approximately 1, 800 inmates, the magistrate judge found it would be impractical to provide time and space for separate religious services when a similar faith group had time and space already scheduled. ( Id. ) Further, the magistrate judge found Plaintiff was afforded multiple alternative options to practice his religion, and that Defendants made additional accommodations for the Hebrew Messianic Yisraelite as the group grew in size, indicating the Defendants utilized the least restrictive means to accommodate Plaintiff. ( Id. at 10-11.)

The Report further concluded that Defendant Atkinson is entitled to summary judgment on the basis of supervisory liability, as Plaintiff could not make a showing that "(1) the supervisor had actual or constructive knowledge that a subordinate was engaged in conduct that posed a pervasive and unreasonable risk' of constitutional injury to people like the plaintiff, (2) the supervisor's response was so inadequate as to constitute deliberate indifference or tacit authorization of the subordinate's conduct; and (3) there is an affirmative causal link' between the supervisor's inaction and the plaintiff's constitutional injury." ( Id. at 12.) Finally, the Report concluded Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, as Plaintiff could not establish the threshold finding that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of "an actual constitutional right" to defeat the immunity protecting government officials performing discretionary functions from civil damage ...

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