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Amaker v. Fisher

June 23, 2010

ANTHONY D. AMAKER, 89-T-2815, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN S. FISHER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

In accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to have the undersigned conduct all further proceedings in this case, including entry of final judgment. Dkt. #72.

Plaintiff, an inmate of the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), commenced this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, as well as compensative and punitive damages for a series of deprivations allegedly inflicted upon him in retaliation for his complaint that DOCS' employees were violating his right to religious practice as protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). Dkt. #47. Plaintiff specifically complains that DOCS' employees have denied him privileges and appropriate medical care, fabricated misbehavior reports and transferred him in retaliation for the Court's issuance of a preliminary injunction in a prior action commenced by plaintiff.*fn1 Dkt. #47. Plaintiff also complains that DOCS' employees discriminate against him (and other followers of the Nation of Islam), and subject them to disparate treatment (as compared to Christians), because of their religious beliefs. Dkt. #47. As relevant to the instant motion, plaintiff challenges DOCS' revised policy regarding the amount of personal property an inmate is permitted to possess upon transfer to another facility as a burden upon his constitutional right to practice his religion, in that followers of the Nation of Islam are required to read many books, and upon his ability to access the Court and seek redress of grievances, as he has multiple lawsuits*fn2 currently pending and his legal papers with respect to those actions exceed the newly imposed limit. Dkt. #47.

Currently before the Court is plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from enforcing a policy limiting the volume of inmates' legal work product upon transfer to another correctional facility. Dkt. #77. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction is denied.

BACKGROUND

The possession of personal property by inmates is governed by DOCS' Directive 4913. Dkt. #81, ¶ 4. That policy previously provided that DOCS' would transfer four standard department draft bags ("draft bags"), of personal property, along with either a type writer or a musical instrument, to a new facility and that any additional property could be transferred at the inmate's expense. Dkt. #81, ¶ 6. A draft bag measures approximately 23" x 40" and has a capacity designation of 100 pounds. Dkt. #81, ¶ 6.

DOCS' Directive 4913 was revised effective October 23, 2008. Dkt. #81, p.8. The revised policy limits the amount of property that an inmate may possess to four draft bags, plus one additional draft bag of legal materials pertaining to active legal matters, plus a typewriter, musical instrument and television (if the television is properly permitted and otherwise allowed at the facility). Dkt. #81, ¶ 7. Upon transfer to a new facility, DOCS will transfer four draft bags and either a typewriter or musical instrument. Dkt. #81, ¶ 7. The inmate is permitted to transfer the additional draft bag with legal materials as well as a television (if the television is properly permitted and otherwise allowed at the facility), and either a typewriter or musical instrument (if he possesses both), at the inmate's expense. Dkt. #81, ¶ 7. Inmates may chose to ship excess personal property at their expense to a private address; have it removed from the facility by a visitor; donate it to a charitable organization; or have it destroyed. Dkt. #81, p.13.

By Memorandum issued October 23, 2008, Commissioner Fischer declared that all inmates taken into custody on or after January 1, 2009, were immediately subject to the revised policy. Dkt. #81, p.17. Inmates in the system prior to January 1, 2009, were given until July 1, 2010 to come into full compliance with the property limitations with graduated reductions in the amount of personal property permitted upon transfer during the period between January 1, 2009 and July 1, 2010. Dkt. #81, ¶ 13 & p.20. However, any inmate receiving more than 60 days of Special Housing Unit ("SHU"), as of July 1, 2009 was required to comply with the revised policy immediately. Dkt. #81, p.19. In addition, any inmate transferred from SHU to any other facility as of July 1, 2009, was required to comply with the revised policy immediately. Dkt. #81, p.19.

Commissioner Fischer's memorandum to the inmate population regarding Directive 4913 explains that

The accumulation of excessive inmate personal property has a significant and wide ranging impact on the operation of the entire agency. Examples include, but are not limited to:

* The time consuming and labor intensive process of packing, searching and storing.

* Fire and safety hazards within inmate living quarters related to the accumulation of excessive "fire load" items.

* Sanitation and hygiene issues associated with the long-term storage of unused food items, clothing and paper.

* Increased risk of loss, theft and pilferage, and the resulting lost property claims ...


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