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Thomas v. Corbett

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

April 29, 2014

Gregory Thomas, Petitioner
Tom Corbett et al., Governor of Pennsylvania, John E. Wetzel, et al., Secretary of Corrections, Shirley R. Moore Smeal, Deputy Secretary of Corrections, His Policy Executive Board Makers Sued in Their Individual Capacities and Official Capacities, Respondents

Submitted December 20, 2013

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Gregory Thomas, Pro se.

Debra Sue Rand, Assistant Counsel, Mechanicsburg, for respondents.



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Petitioner Gregory Thomas (Thomas) filed a complaint (Complaint) against Governor Tom Corbett, Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel, and Deputy Secretary of Corrections Shirley R. Moore Smeal (collectively DOC).[1] In his Complaint, Thomas seeks declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to DOC policies that he claims infringe on various constitutional rights arising under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).[2] DOC filed preliminary objections to the Complaint, challenging the legal sufficiency of his claims. We now overrule, in part, and sustain, in part, DOC's preliminary objections.


1. Conjugal Visits Policy

Thomas raises several claims in the Complaint relating to DOC's conjugal visit policy, which precludes conjugal visits for all inmates. Thomas avers that his religion requires him to marry and, in fact, to have multiple wives. Thomas avers that DOC's policy concerning visits from spouses precludes him from enjoying conjugal visits with his wives. Thomas avers that this policy has a detrimental effect on the status of his marriages, because his wives are threatening to divorce him under Islamic religious rules if they are unable to have intercourse with him. Based upon these averments, Thomas asserts that the

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policy constitutes an unconstitutional infringement on his rights under the First Amendment to practice his religion.

Thomas also avers that DOC's refusal to permit conjugal visits is discriminatory and violates equal protection, because the general homosexual prison population is able to engage in sexual conduct with one another, but heterosexual males may not have sex. Thomas also avers that the presence of female correctional officers causes him emotional stress, which he characterizes as punishment and, apparently, claims constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Thomas also claims that the conjugal visit policy violates RLUIPA.

2. Prayer Oil Policy

Thomas also challenges DOC's " revised" policy, which prohibits him from obtaining and using oil that he avers is required by his religion to engage in prayer activities. Thomas avers that he believes that the oil is necessary, because without it " the jinn is all around," [3] which, he claims, prevents his prayers from being answered. Thomas contends that the policy unconstitutionally prohibits his right to practice his religion and violates his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as his equal protection rights. Thomas does not specifically raise RLUIPA with regard to this policy, but in his request for relief he appears to seek relief regarding this policy based also on RLUIPA.

3. Phone Policy

DOC's phone policy prevents two inmates from having the same phone contact number on their phone list. Thomas avers that this policy cuts off his ability to communicate with his family and friends. Thomas suggests that a number of inmates, like him, are from Philadelphia and have the same friends and family. Thomas asserts that the policy violates his First Amendment rights.

4. Commissary Policy

Thomas also objects to DOC's regulation concerning inmates' rights to purchase items from outside sources, 37 Pa. Code § 94.3. Thomas appears to aver that the regulation permits him to purchase items from sources other than the institution's commissary only if an item is not listed on the master commissary list. Thomas specifically avers that his family may not purchase sneakers for him from a source for sneakers that would be less expensive than the sneakers available through the commissary. Thomas avers that he cannot afford to pay the price of some items on the commissary list and that this constitutes discrimination against him based on his impoverished status. Thomas also contends that the policy violates his equal protection rights.

5. Relief Sought

Thomas seeks declaratory relief in the nature of an order declaring that the foregoing DOC policies violate his constitutional rights and his statutory rights under the RLUIPA. Thomas seeks injunctive relief to prevent DOC from applying the challenged policies and asks that DOC desist from applying ...

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