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Shelley v. Stirling

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

July 29, 2019

Bronson Shelley, Plaintiff,
v.
Bray P. Stirling and J. Michael Brown, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Bronson Shelley, (“Plaintiff”), brings this action raising claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. On October 9, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 21). Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the Defendants' Motion. (ECF No. 23). On October 30, 2018, Plaintiff responded. (ECF No. 25). In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(c) (D.S.C.), the case was referred to the Magistrate Judge.

         The Magistrate Judge assigned to this action[1] prepared a thorough Report and Recommendation (“Report”) and opines that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part.[2] (ECF No. 31). The Magistrate opines that Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities fail. Id. Further, the Magistrate opines that dismissal for failure to exhaust is inappropriate. Id. As for Defendants' argument that Plaintiff fails to state a claim, the Magistrate opines dismissal at this stage is not appropriate. Id. Lastly, the Magistrate opines a preliminary injunction is not appropriate at this time. Id. The Report sets forth, in detail, the relevant facts and standards of law on this matter, and this Court incorporates those facts and standards without a recitation.

         The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which specific objections are made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, a district court is only required to conduct a de novo review of the specific portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report to which an objection is made. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b); Carniewski v. W. Virginia Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 974 F.2d 1330 (4th Cir. 1992). In the absence of specific objections to portions of the Report of the Magistrate, this Court is not required to give an explanation for adopting the recommendation. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199 (4th Cir. 1983).

         Plaintiff filed objections to the Report on April 3, 2019. (ECF No. 43). On March 25, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel Discovery (ECF No. 37) and a Motion to Quash Subpoena (ECF No. 46) on April 18, 2019. On July 3, 2019, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order (ECF No. 48), and Defendants filed a Response in Opposition on July 17, 2019 (ECF No. 49). Thus, this matter is ripe for review.

         II. DISCUSSION

         After detailed consideration of the Report, the pleadings and motions, and the objections, the Court modifies the Report (ECF No. 31) in part as set forth below. Additionally, the Court adopts those portions of the Report (ECF No. 31) which are not inconsistent with this Order.

         The Report recites the factual and procedural background giving rise to this action in detail, which is incorporated by reference. Briefly, Plaintiff claims that starting in August of 2016, he filed multiple requests for recognition of “Hebrew Israelites” faith group. Specifically, in accordance with his faith group, “Hebrew Israelites, ” Plaintiff seeks to be allowed to eat kosher and vegan diets, to grow hair in locks, braids, or afro-styles, and to grow long beards with no limitations on hair length. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants delayed the faith recognition process. Plaintiff claims violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA.

         Plaintiff asserts the claims against Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff seeks injunctive and monetary relief.

         A. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants for monetary damages in their official capacities are dismissed.

         As the Magistrate correctly opines, Plaintiff's claims for monetary damages against Defendants in their official capacities fail. “Under the Eleventh Amendment, ‘a State cannot be sued directly in its own name regardless of the relief sought,' absent consent or permissible congressional abrogation. For the purposes of the Eleventh Amendment, a state official acting in his official capacity is protected from a damages action by the same immunity.” Ballenger v. Owens, 352 F.3d 842, 844-45 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). A suit against a state defendant in his official capacity is construed as a suit against the office itself, and so sovereign immunity precludes such a suit for damages. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).[3]

         Plaintiff objects to the portion of the Report discussing claims against Defendants in their official capacities. Plaintiff argues he can recover damages against Defendants in their official capacities because “some courts have held that damages are included in the phrase ‘appropriate relief.'” (ECFR No. 43 p. 2). Plaintiff argues “[t]he basic idea of RLUIPA is that states waive their sovereign immunity by accepting federal funds. This Court held that states do waive their sovereign immunity from RLUIPA damages claims by accepting federal money.”

         In support, Plaintiff cites Smith v. Allen, 502 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2007), abrogated by Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 (2011); however, Plaintiff fails to note that Smith was subsequently abrogated by Sossamon v. Texas. In Sossamon, the United States Supreme Court abrogated Smith v. Allen by finding that Congress, by using the phrase “appropriate relief” against government in the RLUIPA, ...


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