INCUMAA v. STERLING, NO. 14-6411

Decided: July 1, 2015

The Fourth Circuit held that Plaintiff’s twenty-year solitary confinement amounted to atypical and significant hardship in relation to the general population and implicated a liberty interest in avoiding security detention. In holding so, the Court reversed the district court’s judgment in part, and remanded it in part.

Plaintiff, Lumumba Incumma, is a member of a religious group known as the “Five Percenters.” In 1988, Plaintiff began serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in a prison operated by the South Carolina Department of Corrections. After participating in a prison riot in 1995, he was placed in solitary confinement and has remained there for the past twenty years.

Plaintiff challenged his confinement on the grounds that the confinement violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and also that the confinement violates his right to procedural due process. RLUIPA is a federal law that prohibits states from imposing a substantial burden on an inmate’s religious exercise unless that burden furthers compelling ends in the least restrictive way. Plaintiff argued that the prison would release him from solitary only if he renounced his Five Percenters beliefs. However, the Court found that the prison was not requiring Plaintiff to renounce his beliefs and he failed to demonstrate the Department’s policy imposed a substantial burden on his religion. Furthermore, his participation in the riot was the cause of his solitary confinement, not his religious beliefs. Consequently, the Court affirmed the portion of the district court’s ruling discarding Plaintiff’s RLUIPA claim as being insufficient to go before a jury.

As far as the due process claim, the Court concluded that Plaintiff had a liberty interest in avoiding solitary confinement. Furthermore, Plaintiff demonstrated a triable dispute on his procedural due process claim because the record supports his assertion that the Department’s review process is inadequate and fails to honor the basic values of procedural due process.

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings.

Full Opinion

Meredith Weisler

 

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