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Wilson v. Co.

May 1, 1985



Hunter, Garth and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen


VAN DUSEN, Senior Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Stephen Roger Wilson, brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) in federal district court against defendants,*fn1 who are prison officials at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCIP). Plaintiff alleged that defendants denied him the free exercise of religion and the right to equal protection by their enforcement of a prisoner grooming regulation against him. Plaintiff, a Rastafarian, contended that the regulation conflicts with a tenet of his religion that proscribes members from touching their hair with sharp objects. Moreover, plaintiff contended that the regulation has been enforced discriminatorily. The district court held that defendants did deny plaintiff his freedom of religion and enjoined them from further enforcement of the grooming regulation against him. The court, however, reached no conclusion as to the equal protection claim. Finally, the court denied plaintiff's request for monetary damages, holding that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions.

Both parties filed timely appeals of the district court's judgment. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982). For the reasons stated in this opinion, we will vacate the judgment of the district court and direct the entry of judgment for defendants.

I Facts

Plaintiff is a member of the Rastafarian religion. Rastafarians abide by the dictates of the Old Testament which forbid sharp objects from touching the hair on their bodies. As a Rastafarian, plaintiff does not wish to cut the hair on his head.

Upon entering the Pennsylvania prison system, plaintiff was processed at the Western Diagnostic and Classification Clinic at SCIP. While in the clinic on August 17, 1982, defendant George Schillinger, a corrections officer at SCIP, ordered plaintiff to get his hair cut. Schillinger gave the order pursuant to Administrative Directive 807 of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Correction (promulgated in 1972), which restricts male inmates from having hair that falls below the top of the collar in length and beards or goatees that are longer than three inches.*fn2 Plaintiff did not comply, explaining that it was contrary to his religious beliefs to cut his hair. As a result, Schillinger filed a misconduct report against plaintiff. The report, which cited plaintiff for "failure to obey an order" and "failure to follow the safety and sanitation regulations," was approved by defendant E. J. Locher and delivered to plaintiff by defendant C. J. Simpson, both of whom were corrections officers at SCIP.

On August 19, 1982, SCIP held a misconduct hearing before defendants Captain Lawrence Tohey, Joseph Morrash, and Leroy Sattler. At the hearing plaintiff again explained that his refusal to cut his hair was based on his religious beliefs. The committee nevertheless sentenced plaintiff to thirty days in "A range," a punitive segregation unit.

Plaintiff appealed his sentence to the Program Review Committee (PRC) of the prison. The PRC, which consisted of defendants Margaret Moore, James Wigton, and Lawrence Weyandt, heard plaintiff's appeal on September 9, 1982. At the hearing, the committee advised plaintiff of the procedure to follow in obtaining a religious exemption. During the hearing, Ms. Moore acknowledged the existence of the Rastafarian religion and of its tenet forbidding members to cut their hair. Nevertheless, the PRC affirmed the decision of the misconduct hearing committee and ordered that plaintiff be returned to punitive segregation to complete his sentence. Plaintiff stated his intention to pursue the matter further in federal court.

While serving his sentence, plaintiff appealed the decision of the PRC to defendant George Petsock, the superintendent of SCIP. Because plaintiff's appeal of the PRC's decision was based on a request for a religious exemption, rather than a challenge to the finding that he violated Directive 807, Superintendent Petsock declined to alter plaintiff's punishment.

In contract to their treatment of plaintiff for his refusal to cut his hair, prison officials at SCIP did not enforce Directive 807 against at least one inmate, who adheres to an American Indian religion.*fn3 Defendant Wigton testified that he did not enforce the grooming regulation against American Indians because he believed they had been granted an exemption by the Bureau of Correction. Wigton testified at a supplemental hearing that his brief was incorrect and that no such exemption from Directive 807 has been granted to American Indians or any other religious group.*fn4

Shortly after plaintiff served his disciplinary sentence at SCIP, his classification process was completed and he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon (SCIH).

Plaintiff has remained at SCIH except for the brief periods in which he was returned to SCIP for the district court proceedings in this case that were conducted in Pittsburgh. Plaintiff testified that Directive 807 has not been enforced against many of his fellow inmates at SCIH, although it is being enforced against him. Moreover, plaintiff asserts that, on his several brief return trips to SCIP, he has seen many inmates whose hair is longer than permitted and who have not been placed in punitive segregation. According to defendant Wigton, some violators of Directive 807 at SCIP now receive alternative forms of punishment if there is no available space in the punitive segregation units at the prison. Hearing at 38-39, Wilson v. Schillinger, No. 82-1801 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 26, 1983) (testimony of Wigton).

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff Wilson submitted his complaint in this action on August 26, 1982, in the Western District of Pennsylvania. On August 30, a United States Magistrate granted plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The case was referred to the magistrate for preliminary findings of fact and a recommendation for disposition. The magistrate conducted an evidentiary hearing on April 25, 1983. Following the discovery by two of defendants' witnesses that they had given erroneous information at that hearing, a supplemental hearing was held on September 26, 1983.

The magistrate subsequently filed his report and recommendation, which concluded that defendants had denied plaintiff the freedom to exercise his religion. Wilson v. Schillinger, No. 82-1801 (W.D.Pa. Oct. 14, 1983) (Magistrate's Report and Recommendation and Proposed Findings of Fact and Proposed Conclusions of Law) (hereinafter Wilson, No. 82-1801) Magistrate's incorporated report)). The magistrate recommended that defendants be enjoined from enforcing Directive 807 against plaintiff, but that plaintiff be denied his request for money damages because defendants were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. On November 30, 1983, the district court filed an order adopting the magistrate's report and recommendation as amended in an accompanying memorandum opinion. Wilson v. Schillinger, No. 82-1801 (W.D.Pa. Nov. 30, 1983) (Memorandum Opinion and Order) (hereinafter Wilson, No. 82-1801).*fn5

III. Plaintiff's Free Exercise Claim

Plaintiff's first alleged deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn6 is that defendants have denied him the freedom to exercise his religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment and applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. By being required to cut his hair, plaintiff alleges, he was forced to act contrary to his Rastafarian religious beliefs.

As an initial matter, this court has set forth two threshold requirements that must be satisfied before particular beliefs, which are alleged to be religious, are accorded First Amendment protection. A court must determine that the avowed beliefs are "(1) sincerely held, and (2) religious in nature, in the claimant's scheme of things." Africa v. Com. of Pa., 662 F.2d 1025, 1029-30 (3d Cir. 1981). Defendants have not alleged that plaintiff's beliefs do not satisfy these two requirements, and the district court has specifically found that plaintiff's beliefs are sincerely held and religious in nature. Wilson, No. 82-1801, at 2; Record at A-39. We therefore defer to the district court's findings on this issue and proceed to determine the extent of First Amendment protection to which plaintiff is entitled.

It is well established that inmates do not forfeit all of their constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545, 60 L. Ed. 2d 447, 99 S. Ct. 1861 (1979). Nevertheless, prisoners' constitutional rights are subject to limitations and restrictions that would be intolerable if imposed against the general public. Id. at 546. Specifically, prisoners' exercise of First Amendment freedoms may be curtailed when, in the informed judgment of prison officials, such exercise poses "the likelihood of disruption to prison order or stability, or otherwise interferes with the legitimate penological objectives of the prison environment." Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 132, 53 L. Ed. 2d 629, 97 S. Ct. 2532 (1977).

This court has considered challenges to prison regulations that allegedly interfere with inmates' First Amendment rights. In St. Claire v. Cuyler, 634 F.2d 109 (3d Cir. 1980), the court outlined the burden of proof in such cases as follows:

"The state needs only to produce evidence that to permit the exercise of first amendment rights would create a potential danger to institutional security. This evidence may consist of expert testimony from the responsible officials, proved they testify to opinions that are 'held "sincerely" and [are] arguably correct.'. . . Once the state has met its burden of going forward with the evidence, the courts must defer to the expert judgment of the prison officials unless the prisoner proves by 'substantial evidence . . ...

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