Couch v. Jabe

Decision Date22 September 2006
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 7:05cv00642.
Citation479 F.Supp.2d 569
PartiesWilliam R. COUCH, Plaintiff v. John JABE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia

William R. Couch, Oakwood, VA, Pro se.

William W. Muse, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SARGENT, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, William R. Couch, an inmate at Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Buchanan County, Virginia, ("Keen Mountain"), filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq., against numerous Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Corrections, ("VDOC"), employees in both their individual and official capacities.1 Jurisdiction over this matter is based upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. The case is before the undersigned magistrate judge by consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 636(c)(1).

In his complaint, (Docket Item No. 1), and in his amended complaint, (Docket Item No. 21), Couch alleges that the defendants violated his right to freedom of religious expression in violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA, and that the defendants violated his right to equal protection and due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The case is now before the court on the defendants' motion for summary judgment, (Docket Item No. 13).

Based on my review of the evidence provided and the written arguments and representations of the parties, and for the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.

I. Facts and Analysis
A. Statutes of Limitations and PLRA Issues

In his complaint and amended complaint, Couch makes the following claims:

1. During Ramadan 2002:

a. the defendants denied him of adequate nutrition and calories; and

b. the defendants deprived him of all hot meals during a quarterly lockdown period which coincided with part of Ramadan.

2. During Ramadan 2003:

a. the defendants deprived him of adequate nutrition and calories;

b. the defendants deprived him of all hot meals during a quarterly lockdown period which coincided with part of Ramadan c. the defendants deprived him of the Eid ul Fitr meal; and

d. the defendants deprived him of the Eid ul Fitr prayer service.

3. During Ramadan 2004:

a. the defendants deprived him of all hot meals during a quarterly lockdown period which coincided with part of Ramadan; and

b. the defendants deprived him of the Eid ul Fitr prayer service.

4. During Ramadan 2005:

a. the defendants deprived him of adequate nutrition and calories;

b. the defendants deprived him of the Eid ul Fitr meal; and

c. the defendants deprived him of the Eid ul Fitr prayer service.

Before addressing the defendants' summary judgment motion, however, I note that a couple of Couch's claims do not appear viable under the appropriate statutes of limitations periods. Also, it appears that Couch has not properly exhausted his administrative remedies with regard to each of his claims. Therefore, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(h)(3), I will first address these issues. I will address each of Couch's claims relating to the condition of the food during Ramadan,. before turning to Couch's claims regarding the Eid ul Fitr observances. Regarding the exhaustion issue, it is important to note that the defendants have not raised this as a basis for their summary judgment motion. That being the case, the court will determine only if Couch has properly pleaded exhaustion of his administrative remedies. The court's analysis on this issue is based on Couch's representation that he attached copies of all documentation demonstrating exhaustion to his complaint. The defendants have provided no evidence challenging any of the documentation provided to the court by Couch.

I. Inadequate Nutrition and Calories and Lack of Hot Meals

Couch, a Sunni Muslim,2 alleges in his complaint and amended complaint that the defendants deprived him of adequate nutrition and calories during Ramadan3 2002, 2003 and 2005. Couch further alleges that the defendants deprived him of all hot meals during regularly scheduled lockdowns which coincided with, part of Ramadan 2002, 2003 and 2004.

i. Statutes of Limitations

a. Claims Brought Under § 1983

Although no specific federal statute of limitations applies to § 1983 actions, the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 279-80, 105 S.Ct. 1938, 85 L.Ed.2d 254 (1985), held that for statute of limitations purposes, all § 1983 actions would be characterized as tort actions for the recovery of damages for personal injuries and held that the state statute of limitation for personal injury applies to all § 1983 claims. The Commonwealth of Virginia has a two-year statute of limitations period for personal injury actions which applies in § 1983 actions. See VA CODE ANN. § 8.01-243(A); Lewis v. Richmond City Police Dep't, 947 F.2d 733, 735 (4th Cir.1991). That being, the case, Couch must show that he filed his complaint within the applicable two-year statute of limitations period for all of his claims brought under § 1983.

In his complaint and amended complaint, Couch alleges that the defendants deprived him of all hot meals during part of Ramadan 2002, 2603 and 2004 and that they supplied him inadequate nutrition and calories during Ramadan 2002, 2003 and 2005. The pleadings do not reflect the exact dates that Keen Mountain observed Ramadan during 2002. However, because Couch's complaint was filed on October 17, 2005, it is clear that any claims arising in 2002 are barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations for claims brought under § 1983. For this reason, I must dismiss Couch's claims brought under § 1983 for alleged deprivations occurring in 2002. Ramadan of 2003 was observed at Keen Mountain from October 26, 2003, through November 24, 2003. Thus, Couch's complaint, filed October 17, 2005, was within the two-year limitations period applicable to § 1983 claims. Finally, because Couch's remaining claims of inadequate nutrition and calories and the lack of hot meals relate to Ramadan of 2004 and 2005, it is clear that those claims fall with in the two-year limitations period for § 1983 claims.

b. Claims Brought Under RLUIPA

RLUIPA does not contain its own statute of limitations period. However, in 1990, Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1658, which provides a four-year statute of limitations period for federal civil actions "arising under an Act of Congress enacted after [December 1, 1990]." Specifically, § 1658(a) states, as follows:

Except as otherwise provided by law, a civil action arising under an Act of Congress enacted after the date of the enactment of this section may not be commenced later than 4 years after the cause of action accrues.

28 U.S.C.A. § 1658(a) (West 1994 & Supp. 2006). Section 1658 was enacted on December 1, 1990. Thus, according to the terms of the statute, any federal civil action arising under an Act of Congress enacted after December 1, 1990, is subject to the four-year statute of limitations period contained therein.

There was some debate among the circuits, the Fourth Circuit not being one, as to when a state's statute of limitations period for personal injury actions or this federal "catch all" statute of limitations period would apply. For instance, in Zubi v. AT&T Corp., 219 F.3d 220 (3d Cir.2000), a case dealing with a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the Third Circuit held that the state's two-year statute, of limitations period applied rather than the four-year catch all because the four-year catch all applied only when Congress established a new cause of action without reference to preexisting law. Likewise, in Madison v. IBP, Inc., 257 F.3d 780 (8th Cir.2001), again a case involving a § 1981 claim, the Eighth Circuit held, based on the reasoning set forth in Zubi, that because § 1981 did not have its own limitations period, courts should employ the statute of limitation provided by the state's law for personal injury cases. It does not appear that the Fourth Circuit has addressed this issue. In any event, the United States Supreme Court decided this issue once and for all in Jones v. R.R, Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 124 S.Ct. 1836, 158 L.Ed.2d 645 (2004). In Jones, the Court abrogated the holdings in Zubi and Madison by holding that a cause of action "aris[es] under an Act of Congress enacted" after December 1, 1990, and is, therefore, governed by the federal four-year catch all statute of limitations, if the plaintiff' s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment. 541 U.S. at 382, 124 S.Ct. 1836. In Jones, the Court held that, in the context of a § 1981 claim, the plaintiffs' hostile work environment, wrongful termination and failure to transfer claims arose under the amendment to § 1981 contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. See 541 U.S. at 383, 124 S.Ct. 1836. Therefore, the Court held that these claims were governed by the four-year catch all statute of limitations period for claims arising under an Act of Congress enacted after December 1, 1990, because their causes of action were made possible by the Act when the claims alleged violations of the amended statute, and did not allege a violation of the pre-1990 version of § 1981. See 541 U.S. at 383, 124 S.Ct. 1836.

While I can find no court that has addressed this statute of limitations issue in the context of a claim brought under RLUIPA, it appears that the reasoning should be the same as that employed by the Court in Jones. RLUIPA was enacted in September 2000. There is no doubt that RLUIPA created a new right of action which Couch seeks to invoke in his complaint and amended complaint. Thus, I find that the four-year statute of limitations under §...

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