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Lee v. Wenderlich

September 21, 2006

THOMAS L. LEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
S. WENDERLICH, C. WOUGHTER, DAVID P. HALLENBECK AND IMAN MAMOUN EL-HASSAN, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siragusa, J.

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This prisoner civil rights case, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2003), is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendants' motion is granted in part, and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a Muslim inmate who is currently incarcerated at Woodbourne Correctional Facility. Plaintiff alleges that when he was incarcerated at the Elmira Correctional Facility ("Elmira"), defendants violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). (Compl. at 1-6.) Prior to the celebration of the month of Ramadan in 2004, plaintiff was informed by defendants of the rules and regulations applicable to celebrants of that Muslim holiday. One of the rules stated:

If you intentionally miss (3) call-outs during Ramadan, we will presume that you wish not to participate, and therefore, your name will be taken off the list. (Hallenbeck Declaration (# 25), at 10.) On October 26, 2004, plaintiff was notified that his name was removed from the Ramadan service list after missing three call-outs. (Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Lee Affidavit (# 20) at 4.) On October 30, 2004, plaintiff filed an inmate grievance complaint challenging the actions of Acting Deputy Superintendent of Security S. Wenderlich ("Wenderlich"), Deputy Superintendent of Programs C. Woughter ("Woughter"), Assistant Deputy Superintendent of Programs David P. Hallenbeck ("Hallenbeck") and Muslim Chaplain Imam Mamoun El-Hassan ("Imam"): The complaint arise [sic] challenging the actions of Acting Dep. Security, Mederlich [sic], Dep. Sup. Programs C. Woughter, Assist., Dep. of Programs Hallenbeck, and Imam El-hassan. [sic] The subject is a devout muslim [sic] of thirty years. Registered and aproved [sic] to participate in "Ramadan." Thereafter, Lee had been allowed into the mosque at appox. 8:15 p.m., to shower and pray the "tarawith prayer," Because [sic] Lee is a cook for ramadan. [sic] Now on October 26 and 27th [sic], I was denied acess [sic] into the masjid at night for the tarawith paryer [sic].

As Lee was coming for [sic] the kitchen after cooking the meal. [sic] I was told that my name had been removed from the ramdan [sic] list because I had missed "three days" from [sic] coming to the mosque. I told the assigned officers that there must be some kind of mistake, [sic] I was then told to return to my housing area I then complyed [sic]. Again on October 28th[,] Lee took a day off from the dutys [sic] in the kitchen, and went to recreation for one hour and then proceeded to the mosque, and was once again told that my name had been taken off the ramadan [sic] list because I had missed three days[.] I then was told to return to my cell. As a result I was denied the right to partake in ramadan [sic] (prayer) and was denied the evening meal.

As well as the benefit of the spiritual educational goal. [sic]

The actions of the above mentioned employees and Imam El-Hassan; [sic] removing inmate from the ramadan [sic] list for missing "three days" is in violation of ones [sic] First Amendment right under the United States Constitution and Correction Law 601 Moreover, [sic] tese [sic] violate (RLUIPA). (Inmate Grievance Complaint attached to Compl. at 9.) The Inmate Grievance Complaint also requested the following actions:

Requests that a full hearing be conducted and that those responsible answer this grievance supporting there [sic] position[.] That my name and all others similarly situated be placed by on the ramadan [sic] list[.] (Id.) On November 5, 2004, plaintiff received a response from Hallenbeck:

Your name was removed from the list because of excessive unexcused absences. If you have a legitimate reason for any of your absences, please contact me with a full explanation. (Id. at 23.) Plaintiff did not respond to Hallenbeck's letter. On December 9, 2004, plaintiff received a response from the grievance clerk denying his complaint. Specifically, the response noted:

The Committee can not recommend grievant's action requested due to the response being responded to approximately 27-days later; due to the Imam being on vacation during the 27-days for response.

(Id. at 11.) The Grievance Committee's decision was upheld by the Superintendent on November 3, 2004. On December 22, 2004, plaintiff appealed the Superintendent's decision to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). See Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 682 (2d Cir. 2004) (reviewing DOCS grievance procedure under N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 7, § 701.7(c)(4)). On January 12, 2005, plaintiff's appeal request was unanimously denied by CORC, which stated:

Contrary to the grievant's assertions, CORC has not been presented with sufficient evidence to substantiate any malfeasance by staff. (Inmate Grievance Complaint attached to Compl. at 13.) Plaintiff asserts that as a result of defendants' actions, he was denied his right to participate in Ramadan service for twenty-three days. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment as to defendants Imam and Woughter. Defendants oppose plaintiff's motion and cross-move for summary judgment as to plaintiff's claims against all defendants.

STANDARDS OF LAW

Summary Judgment Standard

The standards for deciding a summary judgment motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 are well established. Summary judgment shall be granted if the pleadings and supplemental evidentiary materials "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Under the rule, the burden is on the moving party to inform the Court of the basis for the motion and to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has carried that burden, the non-movant "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, "the non-moving party must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (alteration in original)). At the summary judgment stage, when perusing the record to determine whether a rational fact-finder could find for the non-movant, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant. See Murray v. National Broadcasting Co., 844 F.2d 988, 992 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 955 (1988). In their Notice of Cross-Motion (# 23) filed on March 23, 2006, defendants informed plaintiff of the need to respond to their motion pursuant to Irby v. New York City Transit Authority, 262 F.3d 412 (2d Cir. 2001), and of the need to file a separate statement of facts, pursuant to Local Rule of Civil Procedure 56.1. Pl.'s Notice of Motion (# 23), at 1-2. Moreover, because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court reads his pleadings "liberally and interpret[s] them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir.1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However, the application of this different standard does not relieve plaintiff of his duty to meet the requirements necessary to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Lee v. Coughlin, 902 F.Supp. 424, 429 (S.D.N.Y.1995).

Section 1983

Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In order to state a claim under § 1983, plaintiff must allege (1) that the challenged conduct was attributable at least in part to a person acting under color of state law, and (2) that such conduct deprived plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Dwares v. City of New York, 985 F.2d 94, 98 (2d Cir. 1993).

First Amendment Standard

Prisoners have a constitutional right to participate in congregate religious services. Young v. Coughlin, 866 F.2d 567, 570 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 492 U.S. 909 (1989). Yet, a prisoner's right to practice his religion is not absolute. See Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 574 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 951 (1990). Constitutional protections extend to prisoners insofar as the inmates must be given "reasonable opportunities . . . to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendment[s]." Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 n.2 (1972).

The standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), for assessing a claim that prison officials impermissibly infringed on an inmate's free exercise of religion, requires the Court to consider whether the officials' conduct "is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. at 89; O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 353 (1987). Specifically, four factors must be considered:

(1) whether there is a rational relationship between the regulation and the legitimate government interests asserted; (2) whether the inmates have alternative means to exercise the right; (3) the impact that accommodation of the right will have on the prison system; and (4) whether ready alternatives exist which accommodate the right and satisfy the governmental interest. Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 993 F.2d 306, 308-09 (2d Cir. 1993) (quoting Benjamin, 905 F.2d at 574).

Procedural Due Process Standard

A procedural due process analysis proceeds with two questions. "The first asks whether there exists a liberty or property interest which has been interfered with by the State; the second examines whether the procedures attendant upon that deprivation were constitutionally sufficient." Kentucky Dep't of Corrs. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989) (citations omitted). The Supreme Court held six years later, in Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472 (1995), that, Following Wolff,*fn1 we recognize that States may under certain circumstances create liberty interests which are protected by the Due Process Clause.. But these interests will be generally limited to freedom from restraint which, while not exceeding the sentence in such an unexpected manner as to give rise to protection by the Due Process Clause of its own force, .nonetheless imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.

Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-84 (citations omitted).

Equal Protection Standard

The equal protection clause directs state actors to treat similarly situated people alike. See Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). To prove an equal protection violation, claimants must prove purposeful discrimination, see McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 292 (1987), directed at an identifiable ...


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