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MUHAMMAD v. WARITHU-DEEN UMAR

April 18, 2000

ANDRE D. MUHAMMAD, 91A9944, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
IMAM WARITHU-DEEN UMAR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arcara, District Judge.

  ORDER

The above-referenced case was referred to Magistrate Judge Carol E. Heckman pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), on May 22, 1998. On March 21, 2000, Magistrate Judge Heckman filed a Report and Recommendation, recommending that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be denied and defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted.

The Court has carefully reviewed the Report and Recommendation, the record in this case, and the pleadings and materials submitted by the parties. No objections having been timely filed, it is hereby

ORDERED, that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and for the reasons set forth in Magistrate Judge Heckman's Report and Recommendation, Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied and defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. The Clerk of Court is hereby ordered to enter judgment in favor of defendants and to take all steps necessary to close the case.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

This case was referred to the undersigned by the Hon. Richard J. Arcara, to hear and report, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). All parties have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, plaintiffs' motion should be denied, and defendants' motion should be granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are not disputed.*fn1 Plaintiffs commenced this action on December 6, 1993. At the time, the plaintiffs were inmates in the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), and members of the Nation of Islam ("NOI"). Defendant Warithu-Deen Umar is DOCS' Ministerial Program Coordinator. Defendant Abdul Najeeuallah is a Muslin Chaplin (or "Imam") employed by DOCS. Defendant J.L. Mowery is a Rabbi employed by DOCS.

Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based on alleged violations of their constitutional rights to free exercise of their religious beliefs. Specifically, in their Second Amended Complaint*fn2 plaintiffs claim that they have been denied access to DOCS' kosher food program for observance of NOI dietary laws, access to a classroom (or "mosque") for Islamic classes, and inclusion of NOI materials in prison radio and video religious programming. In the prayer for relief, plaintiffs seek an order directing defendants to provide these (and other) services, directing DOCS to hire an NOI member (specifically, plaintiff Andre D. Muhammad) as and inmate clerk to conduct NOI affairs, and awarding plaintiff Andre D. Muhammad $250,000 in compensatory damages. See Second Amended Complaint, Item 26, pp 8-9; see also Muhammad v. Coughlin, 1998 WL 950984 (W.D.N.Y. November 13, 1998).

On January 5, 1995, subsequent to the commencement of this action, a Stipulation and Order was entered by Hon. Loretta A. Preska, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, in the case of Muhammad v. Coughlin, No. 91-CIV-6333 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (attached as Ex. B to Item 63), settling a class action suit brought by NOI inmates which addressed claims similar to those brought by the plaintiffs in this case. The Stipulation and Order identifies the class as "all persons who have been, are, or will be incarcerated in a correctional facility administered by the State of New York or its agencies or instrumentalities, and who are or become members of the Nation of Islam faith . . .," and provides that "[a]ll of the terms of [the] Stipulation and Order, and all references to the plaintiffs, shall apply to all members of the plaintiff class unless otherwise stated" (id., ¶ 1(A)(c)).

On October 15, 1999, plaintiff Andre D. Muhammad moved for summary judgment on the ground "that plaintiff and class will succeed on the merits" (Item 57, Muhammad Affirmation, p. 2). On December 28, 1999, defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment (Item 60), based on the following grounds:

1. Plaintiffs' claims in this case are precluded by the terms of Judge Preska's settlement order in the Southern District litigation.
2. Failure to demonstrate a constitutional violation based on DOCS' policy of denying NOI followers the same kosher diet provided to Jewish inmates.
3. Lack of protected liberty interest in a particular job assignment.
4. Lack of personal involvement by the remaining defendants (Umar, Najeeuallah, and Mowery).

5. Qualified immunity.

Each of these grounds is discussed in turn below.

DISCUSSION

1. Preclusive Effect of Southern District Settlement.

Defendants contend that the stipulated settlement order signed by Judge Preska in the Southern District class action Muhammad v. Coughlin precludes plaintiffs' from relitigating the same issues in this case. I agree. Class actions are predicated on the notion that the interests of all class members are fully represented through the class representatives and through class counsel. It is as if each sues individually in a consolidated action. All party-members, including absent members and future members, are equally bound by the strictures of the class action judgment. See, e.g., County of Suffolk v. Long Island Lighting Co., 14 F. Supp.2d 260, 266 (E.D.N.Y. 1998); In re Joint Eastern & Southern Districts Asbestos Litigation, 878 F. Supp. 473 (E.D.N.Y. 1995); In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation, 597 F. Supp. ...


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