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May v. Donneli

August 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece U.S. Magistrate Judge


Pro se Plaintiff Charles May brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was denied the opportunity to eat blessed food for seven days with his fellow Nation of Islam members during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Dkt. No. 51, Am. Compl. at ¶ 1. In addition, Plaintiff asserts claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, and New York State Corrections Law § 610. Id. at ¶ 37. Defendants move for Partial Summary Judgment, to which Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition. Dkt. Nos. 57-58. Defendants contend that Plaintiff is (1) barred from bringing an action for mental or emotional injury under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he failed to allege the required showing of physical injury pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e); and (2) estopped from bringing a pendent state law claim pursuant to N.Y. CORR.LAW § 24. Dkt. No. 57-5, Defs.' Mem. of Law at pp. 2-4. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that the Defendants' Motion be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


The following material facts are not, for purposes of this Motion, in dispute. Plaintiff alleges that in August 2005, approximately one month prior to the Islamic celebration of Ramadan, he was signed up as a member of the Nation of Islam in order to allow him to participate in Ramadan related activities. Dkt. No. 58, Pl.'s 7.1 Statement at p. 2. According to Plaintiff, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslims are unable to eat during mess hall hours because they are required to fast during that time; the fast is then broken at night by eating blessed food. Am. Compl. at ¶ 16.*fn1 On October 5, 2005, Plaintiff fasted and then ate blessed food with his fellow Nation of Islam members. Id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff alleges that on October 6, 2005, he was informed by Defendant Sergeant Jones, in the presence of Defendant Corrections Officer ("C.O.") Mathew, that the administration had him listed as a Sunni Muslim and he would therefore have to eat with them until the administration straightened things out. Id. Though Plaintiff was willing to eat with the Sunni Muslims temporarily, he alleges that when he attempted to enter the Masjid*fn2 on October 6th, he was denied access by C.O. Mathew because he was not on the list. Id. at ¶ 35. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sergeant Jones maliciously failed to put him on the Sunni Muslim list. Id. at ¶ 34. Ultimately, Plaintiff was unable to eat with either Muslim sect for seven days until October 13, 2005, when he was permitted to eat with the Sunni Muslims. Id. at ¶ 19. During those seven days, Plaintiff observed the fasting strictures of Ramadan, but was unable to properly break his fast, thus resulting in a seven day fast. After informing Defendant Superintendent Donneli of the matter, Plaintiff was immediately placed with the Nation of Islam on October 18, 2005. Id. at ¶ 20.

Though Plaintiff refrained from eating for seven days, he alleges no physical injury other than that he "lost a few pounds," was feeling lightheaded because of a possible increase in blood pressure, and suffered mental and emotional distress. Dkt. No. 58, Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. (hereinafter "Pl.'s Resp.") at p. 2. In fact, Plaintiff stated candidly during his deposition that he did not suffer any physical injury. Dkt. No. 57-4, David L. Cochran, Esq., Affirm., dated Oct. 15, 2008, Ex. A, Pl.'s Dep., dated Jan. 22, 2008 (hereinafter "Pl.'s Dep.") at p. 2.

Plaintiff alleges a second violation of his constitutional right to freely exercise his religion when Defendants denied him the opportunity to have family visits during the Muslim festival of Eid-UlAdha. Am. Compl. at ¶ 22.

As a result of the aforementioned factual allegations Plaintiff claims he suffered emotional, mental, and physical distress, and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages for his alleged injuries. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 25 & 26.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is required "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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." FED.R.CIV. P. 56(c). In order for an issue of material fact to exist, it must relate to a disputed matter that "might affect the outcome of the suit," and the evidence is such that a "reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden to demonstrate that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and therefore, they are entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and allege specific facts that present a genuine issue for trial. FED.R.CIV. P. 56(e). To that end, the non-movant cannot rest on "mere allegations or denials." Id.

When evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the court will draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Moreover, when a party is proceeding pro se, the court must "read [his or her] supporting papers liberally, and . . . interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994) (cited in Soto v. Walker, 44 F.3d 169, 173 (2d Cir. 1995)). Nevertheless, a party's "bald assertion," unsupported by evidence, is insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. See Carey v. Crescenzi, 923 F.2d 18, 21 (2d Cir. 1991).

B. Physical Injury Requirement

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), codified in part at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), states that "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury." The purpose of this physical injury requirement is to discourage frivolous suits commenced by inmates. See Cox v. Malone, 199 F. Supp. 2d 135, 139-140 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("Section 1997e(e) [. . .] is a substantive limitation on the type of actions that can be brought by prisoners. Its purpose is to weed out frivolous claims where only emotional injuries are alleged.") (emphasis in original). The Second ...

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