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Decker v. Hogan

September 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Michael L. Decker commenced this action pro se seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff is a civil detainee under Article 10 of the New York Mental Health Law, and has been confined at the Central New York Psychiatric Center ("CNYPC") since August, 2008. Plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of three aspects of the Sexual Offender Treatment Program ("SOTP") administered by the New York State Office of Mental Health ("OMH") at CNYPC. Plaintiff claims that the SOTP utilizes treatment programs which are faith-based, and that the requirement that he participate in those programs violates his rights under the First Amendment. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff also claims that SOTP-required polygraph and penile plethysmography ("PPG")*fn1 examinations are unconstitutional. Id. at 3-4. According to plaintiff, successful completion of the SOTP is a condition of his release from CNYPC. Id. at 3-4. Named as defendants are Michael Hogan, Commissioner of OMH, and Donald Sawyer, Executive Director of CNYPC. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.*fn2

In addition to his complaint, plaintiff filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from mandating participation in faith-based programs and from requiring polygraph or PPG examinations as a part of the SOTP. Dkt. No. 3-2 at 1-2.

By Order of this Court filed March 26, 2009, plaintiff was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the U.S. Marshal was directed to effect service of process on the defendants. Dkt. No. 5. Plaintiff's request for the issuance of a temporary restraining order was denied. Defendants were directed to file a response to the preliminary injunction motion. Id. at 2-3.

Defendants have responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief. Dkt. No. 8. Defendants also filed a "cross-motion" seeking dismissal of the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn3

These motions are before the Court for consideration.*fn4

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal motion, "the court must accept the material facts alleged in the complaint as true, and construe all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Hernandez v. Coughlin, 18 F.3d 133, 136 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 836 (1994).*fn5 The plaintiff must satisfy "a flexible 'plausibility standard,' which obliges a pleader to amplify a claim with some factual allegations in those contexts where such amplification is needed to render the claim plausible." Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 157-58 (2d Cir. 2007) (italics in original). "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007).

The burden undertaken by the moving party is substantial, as the question presented by the motion to dismiss is not whether the non-moving party is likely ultimately to prevail, "but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995) (other citations omitted). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead enough facts to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In the event of a perceived deficiency in a pro se plaintiff's complaint, a court should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once if there is any indication that a valid claim might be stated. Branum v. Clark, 927 F.2d 698, 704-05 (2d Cir. 1991); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) ("The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.").

III. First Amendment Claims

Plaintiff identifies himself as an atheist.*fn6 Since his placement at CNYPC, plaintiff has been assigned to the SOTP. Participation in the SOTP has "subjected [plaintiff] to religious practices and rituals." Dkt. No. 1 at 2. The "Good Lives Model and Boundaries Programs" teach the participants that they must "believe in something denoted as spirituality." Id. at 3. In addition, the SOTP includes Dialectic Behavior Therapy, which teaches "the rituals and practices" of Buddhism. Id. The SOTP also utilizes several "Hazeldon products which incorporate Christian beliefs and practices." Id. These programs include "From the Inside Out," "Growing Up Male," "Problem Solving" and "Anger Management."*fn7

The First Amendment, made applicable to states by the Fourteenth Amendment, states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." U.S. Const. amend. I. The First Amendment embraces two fundamental concepts: "freedom to believe and freedom to act" on one's beliefs. Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303 (1940). The First Amendment's Establishment Clause prohibits government from officially preferring one religious denomination over another. Thus, "[t]he clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982); Skoros v. City of New York, 437 F.3d 1, 16 (2d Cir. 2006). The First Amendment also protects individuals against "government compulsion either to do or refrain from doing an act forbidden or required by one's religion, or to affirm or disavow a belief forbidden or required by one's religion." Mozert v. Hawkins County Bd. of Educ., 827 F.2d 1058, 1066 (2d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1066 (1988).

Defendants urge dismissal of plaintiff's First Amendment claims, arguing that he has failed to state a cognizable claim under either the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause. Dkt. No. 8-2 at 7-9. Defendants contend that the state law pursuant to which plaintiff is confined "was clearly enacted for secular purposes" and that the purposes of the SOTP "are clearly secular as well." Id. at 7-8. With respect to the particular treatment programs complained of by plaintiff, defendants maintain that dismissal is warranted because there is "no proof" that the programs "either advance or inhibit religion;" there is "no evidence" ...

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