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Smith v. Artus

September 30, 2010

AUREL SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DALE ARTUS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

In this pro se civil rights action, plaintiff Aurel Smith claims that defendants violated his First Amendment right to freely practice his chosen religion and the First Amendment Establishment Clause, as well as his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA"). Dkt. Nos. 6, 38. Plaintiff also claims that defendants have violated his right to Equal Protection in connection with the right to practice his chosen religion. Id. Finally, plaintiff alleges that defendants' conduct violated state law, regulations and Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS") Directives. Id.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The facts in this case, unless otherwise noted, are undisputed.*fn1

A. Plaintiff's Religious Beliefs

Plaintiff is in faith a Muslim, an adherent of the Religion of Islaam, and belongs to the Sunni branch of Islaam. Dkt. No. 93 at 2, ¶ 6. His religion requires that he pray five times a day, at definitive time-frames occurring at particular phases of the day. Id. ¶ 6. The prayer is a formal prayer known as As-Salaah, also known as Salaah, Salaat, Salah, and Salat.*fn2 Salaah requires specific recitations as well as physical acts. Id. ¶ 7. As a Muslim, plaintiff is required to pray the Salaah, preferably in congregation, with two Salaah being the minimum number of the five that must be prayed in congregation. Id. ¶ 9. While group prayer is preferable to individual prayer, even if he is alone, plaintiff is required to pray the Salaah individually wherever he is at the times prescribed for the prayer. Id. Plaintiff is also required to attend Jumu'ah (sermon and prayer) every Friday after noon time, at approximately 12:30 p.m., which must be in a congregate setting. Id. ¶ 10. While Jumu'ah takes the place of the midday Salaah, the midday Salaah may not replace Jumu'ah. Id. It is sinful to omit Jumu'ah in preference to simply praying the midday Salaah. Id.

B. The Events Forming the Basis of this Action

1. Clinton Correctional Facility (Prayer in Recreation Yard)

Plaintiff was housed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") from December 2002 until September 2005. Dkt. No. 93 at 3, ¶ 11. While there, he prayed his Salaah in the recreation yard when the recreation period overlapped a prescribed prayer time. Id. Plaintiff was housed at Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") from September 2005 until September 2007. Id. ¶ 12. At Clinton, plaintiff alleges that he was denied the right to perform his Salaah in the recreation yard because defendants had in place, and enforced, "a facility-level policy prohibiting Muslim prisoners" from doing so, even though the daily recreation period coincided with Muslim mandated prayer times. Dkt. No. 6 ("Am.Compl.") ¶ 6. Plaintiff also alleges that he was threatened with disciplinary sanctions under DOCS Rule #106.10 (refusing a direct order) if he chose to disobey the facility level policy which prohibited Muslim prayer in the recreation yard. Id. The prohibition against Muslim prayer in the recreation yard applied regardless of whether a Muslim inmate wished to pray individually or in a group. Id. ¶ 7.

In March 2007, plaintiff wrote to defendants Artus and Turner, as well as to S. Racette, Deputy Superintendent of Security, requesting that Muslim inmates at Clinton be allowed to either individually, or in a group not to exceed six persons, perform their Salaah at the religiously prescribed times while in the recreation yard on the sectional recreation courts to which they are either a member or a guest of a member. Am.Compl. ¶ 8; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 3 (Ex. A). When plaintiff did not receive a response to his March 2007 letter, on April 16, 2007, he resubmitted his requests to Artus, Turner, and Racette. Id. ¶ 9; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 5 (Ex. B).

As of May 2007, plaintiff had not received a response to either his March or April 2007 letters. Am.Compl. ¶ 10. On May 2, 2007, plaintiff met with Sgt. Douglas (the facility Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ["IGRC"] Supervisor) and Correctional Officer Bombard, and requested information on Clinton's policy regarding the ability (or lack thereof) of Muslim inmates to perform Salaah in the recreation yard. Am.Compl. ¶ 10. Plaintiff also asked how the Clinton policy compared to the policy at other state correctional facilities. Id. At this meeting, plaintiff was advised that Muslim prisoners may pray their Salaah "on their sectioned recreation courts to which they are either members or guest thereof." Id. After plaintiff met with Douglas and Bombard, and in light of their statements at the meeting, plaintiff and other Muslim inmates thereafter performed Salaah on their sectioned recreation courts without incident. Id. ¶ 11. In mid-June 2007, when defendants (and other administrative personnel) observed plaintiff and other Muslim inmates individually performing their Salaah, plaintiff was told that he could not perform Salaah in the recreation yard and was threatened with disciplinary action under DOCS Rule # 106.10 for refusing a direct order if he did so. Id.

In June 2007, plaintiff filed a grievance complaining that the policy prohibiting performance of Salaah in the recreation yard was arbitrary and in violation of New York State Corrections Law, especially when performance of Salaah did not create any sort of disturbance to the safety or security of the facility. Am.Compl. ¶ 12; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 59 (Ex. G).

Plaintiff also asked that he no longer be threatened with disciplinary action against him for praying Salaah in the recreation yard. Am.Compl. ¶ 12. Also in June 2007, plaintiff wrote to Brian Fischer, Commissioner of DOCS, and Anthony Annucci, Deputy Commissioner/Counsel of DOCS, regarding the alleged violation of plaintiff's right to freely practice his religion at Clinton. Id. ¶ 13; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 48-57 (Exs. E, F). John H. Nuttall, Deputy Commissioner of Program Services for DOCS, responded to plaintiff's letter on behalf of Commissioner Fischer, stating that "per the Department of Correction Services Directive #4202, Religious Programs and Practices, K. Prayer or Devotions, the Superintendent determines the areas where religious worship may occur." Dkt. No. 6-1 at 52. Anthony Annucci also responded to plaintiff's letter, advising plaintiff that the issues raised by plaintiff were outside the jurisdiction of his Office and telling plaintiff that issues raised would be more properly addressed within the context of the Inmate Grievance Program at his facility. Dkt. No. 6-1 at 57. In June 2007, plaintiff, acting in his position as an Inmate Liaison Committee ("ILC") representative, placed on the ILCSuperintendent's meeting agenda the issue of Clinton's policy of refusing to allow Muslim inmates to pray Salaah in the recreation yard when the required time to pray Salaah coincided with the allotted recreation period. Am.Compl. ¶ 14; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 62 (Ex. H).

On July 4, 2007, plaintiff filed a grievance challenging the Clinton policy which prohibited praying Salaah in the recreation yard and Clinton's failure to otherwise accommodate Muslim inmates' need to pray Salaah at designated times. Am.Compl. ¶ 15. On July 10, 2007, the IGRC denied plaintiff's grievance, advising plaintiff that demonstrative prayer was only permitted in the inmate's cell and in designated religious areas as determined by the Superintendent. Dkt. No. 6-1 at 66 (Ex. J). Plaintiff appealed the July 10, 2007, decision to defendant Artus. Id. On July 26, 2007, defendant Artus denied plaintiff's appeal, stating that "individual demonstrative prayer by inmates will only be allowed in the privacy of their own living quarters or in designated religious areas whenever feasible, and that congregate or group prayer may only occur in designated religious areas during a religious service. Therefore, per Department Policy, no demonstrative prayer will be allowed in the North Yard." Am.Compl. ¶ 17, Dkt. No. 6-1 at 70 (Ex. K). Plaintiff appealed defendant Artus's decision to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"), which unanimously denied plaintiff's appeal on September 12, 2007, "as without merit." Am.Compl. ¶ 18; see also Dkt. No. 6-1 at 71 (Ex. K).

2. Upstate Correctional Facility (Congregate Religious Services)

On November 6, 2007, plaintiff was transferred from Clinton to Upstate Correctional Facility ("Upstate"). Dkt. No. 27, Supplemental Complaint ("Supp.Compl.") ¶ 44. Upstate is a double-celled Special Housing Unit ("SHU") facility. Supp.Compl. ¶ 45. Plaintiff was transferred to Upstate as a result of being found guilty of a disciplinary infraction and sentenced to a term of fourteen months in SHU. Id. On December 26, 2007, the sentence was modified on appeal to six months in SHU. Id. Plaintiff's sentence was later reduced by Upstate's Disciplinary Review Committee based upon plaintiff's "positive adjustment." Id.; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 1.

When plaintiff arrived at Upstate, he wrote to the Chaplain's Office at Upstate requesting an interview with a Chaplain and information regarding religious services at Upstate.

Supp.Compl. ¶ 46. Plaintiff learned that Upstate did not have a Chaplain designated to serve plaintiff's religion, Islam, nor did Upstate have religious materials, such as books and pamphlets, available on Islam. Id. Upstate did have weekly congregate religious services for general population Muslim inmates, namely Jumu'ah services on Friday afternoons. Id. ¶ 47. Plaintiff requested a copy of DOCS form # 2175, a Request to Attend Scheduled Religious Services by Keeplocked Inmates, but the form was not available in his housing unit. Id. ¶ 47. Plaintiff filed a grievance complaining that form # 2175 was not available in the prisoner housing units. Id.; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 2. Upstate's IGRC denied the grievance, stating that "attendance at congregate religious services by a SHU inmate is not permitted . . . As such, there is no need for FORM # 2175 to be available to SHU inmates." Dkt. No. 38-1 at 3. Plaintiff claims that the IGRC decision is "inconsistent with Directive # 4202, J, which provides that disciplinary cell- confined prisoners may request (via Form # 2175) to attend weekly congregate religious services." Supp.Compl. ¶ 48. Plaintiff appealed from the IGRC decision; defendant Wood affirmed the decision for the same reasons set forth by the IGRC. Id. ¶ 49; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 4.

On December 24, 2007, plaintiff wrote to defendant Leonard, and other DOCS' officials, asking if there was any way that plaintiff would be allowed to attend congregate religious services. Supp.Compl. ¶ 50; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 5-8. On February 6, 2008, defendant Leonard's office responded to plaintiff's December 24, 2007 letter, advising plaintiff the "per SHU Directive" plaintiff should direct his request to attend congregate religious services to the Deputy Superintendent of Security. Supp.Compl. ¶ 60; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 19. On February 9, 2008, plaintiff wrote to the Deputy Superintendent of Security at Upstate requesting permission to attend congregate religious services. Supp.Compl. ¶ 61; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 21. On February 14, 2008, Captain Lacey replied to plaintiff on behalf of the Deputy Superintendent of Security, advising that, per Departmental guidelines, SHU inmates could not attend congregate religious services. Supp.Compl. ¶ 62; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 22. On January 15, 2008, defendant Bezio also responded to plaintiff's December 24, 2007 letter, advising plaintiff that pursuant to DOCS Directive 4933, SHU inmates are not allowed to attend congregate religious services. Supp.Compl. ¶ 53; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 10.

On January 15, 2008, plaintiff wrote to the IGRC requesting the status of a grievance that he had filed regarding his inability to attend congregate religious services because he was confined in SHU. Supp.Compl. ¶ 52; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 9. By Memorandum dated January 17, 2008, the IGRC informed plaintiff that his grievance complaining that he was barred from attending congregate religious services had not been received, but advised plaintiff that he could resubmit the grievance. Supp.Compl. ¶ 54; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 11. Plaintiff resubmitted his grievance on January 18, 2008. Supp.Compl. ¶ 55; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 12-13. In his grievance (# UST-34109-08), plaintiff stated that he was a Muslim inmate incarcerated in SHU and wished to attend weekly Jumu'ah services at Upstate, arguing that the blanket prohibition against all SHU inmates attending congregate religious services violated his constitutional and statutory rights to freely exercise his religion. Dkt. No. 38-1 at 12. Plaintiff requested that he be given permission to attend weekly Jumu'ah services. Id. The IGRC denied plaintiff's January 18, 2008, grievance. Supp.Compl. ¶ 56; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 14. Defendant Superintendent Woods affirmed the IGRC decision on appeal, stating that (1) SHU Directive 4933 prohibits inmates housed in SHU from attending congregate religious services but allows SHU inmates to possess religious materials in their cell, participate in special meals associated with religious holidays, and have access to facility Chaplains; (2) Directive 4202 (Religious Programs and Practices) provides that (a) to the extent possible and consistent with safety and security of the facility, authorized inmates should be allowed to attend congregate religious services and (b) SHU inmates are allowed to have various religious books and items in their cell. Supp.Compl. ¶ 57; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 15. Plaintiff appealed the denial of his grievance to CORC; on March 19, 2008, (after plaintiff had been transferred to Great Meadow) CORC affirmed defendant Superintendent Wood's decision denying plaintiff's grievance # UST-34109-08. Supp.Compl. ¶¶ 59, 63; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 16-18 and 23.

While at Upstate, plaintiff was subject to the behavioral tracking system known as the Progressive Inmate Movement System ("PIMS") under which an inmate is rewarded for positive behavioral adjustment. Supp.Compl. ¶ 82. There are three levels in PIMS; a level III inmate has greater freedom of movement without restraint than a level I inmate. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. Because of his positive adjustment at Upstate, plaintiff progressed to from a level I inmate to a level III inmate under PIMS. Id. ¶ 83. CORC also reduced the length of plaintiff's SHU sentence. Id.

3. Great Meadow Correctional Facility (Prayer in Recreation Yard)

Plaintiff was transferred out of Upstate on February 22, 2008, and arrived at Great Meadow on February 25, 2008. Supp.Compl. ¶ 64. While at Great Meadow, plaintiff was not allowed to pray Salaah in the recreation yard and was not provided with a "religiously acceptable alternative" to accommodate his need to pray Salaah at the prescribed time. Supp.Compl. ¶ 65. Plaintiff filed a grievance (#GM-45,381-08) on March 25, 2008, claiming that he was being denied his right to freely exercise his religion because he was prohibited from performing his daily prayer in the recreation yard and told that if he did perform demonstrative prayer, he would receive a misbehavior report. Supp.Compl. ¶ 66; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 24-26. Plaintiff asked that "the facility Superintendent and Muslim, Imam (Elmi) establish an appropriate place for [plaintiff] to perform [his] daily prayer when [he is] not able to perform them while in [his] living quarters." Dkt. No. 38-1 at 24. The IGRC at Great Meadow recommended that the facility superintendent look into the feasibility of allowing the performance of Islamic daily prayer in an appropriate area at the prescribed times when prayer cannot be performed in the living quarters. Dkt. No. 38-1 at 27. On appeal, Superintendent Rock denied plaintiff's grievance. Supp.Compl. ¶ 68. Plaintiff appealed defendant Rock's decision to CORC. Supp.Compl. ¶ 69; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 29-32. On May 28, 2008, CORC upheld defendant Rock's decision which denied grievance #GM-45,381- 08. Supp.Compl. ¶ 71.

On May 6, 2008, defendant LaPolt, Deputy Superintendent of Programs at Great Meadow, advised plaintiff that since he could pray in a non-demonstrative manner in the recreation yard, plaintiff was able to meet his religious obligations and did not need religious accommodation. Supp.Compl. ¶ 70; see also Dkt. No. 38-1 at 94. Plaintiff wrote to Great Meadow Chaplain, Imam Elmy, seeking guidance on whether non-demonstrative prayer would fulfill plaintiff's obligation to perform Salaah and whether Imam Elmy told defendants LaPolt and Rock that the non-demonstrative prayer would suffice. Supp.Compl. ¶ 72. On June 17, 2008, plaintiff met with Imam Elmy, who advised plaintiff that he did not give defendants LaPolt and Rock authorization to advise plaintiff that the non-demonstrative prayer would meet plaintiff's religious obligation to pray Salaah and also told plaintiff that the non-demonstrative prayer would not suffice to meet plaintiff's religious obligation to pray Salaah. Id. ¶ 73.

4. DOCS Policies Regarding Inmate Religious Practices

The sections of the DOCS Directives relevant to the pending motions follow. New York State DOCS Directive 4202(K) reads as follows:

1. Individual demonstrative prayer by inmates will only be allowed in the privacy of their own living quarters and in designated religious areas whenever feasible as determined by the Superintendent.

2. Congregate or group prayer may only occur in a designated religious area during a religious service or at other times authorized by the Superintendent.

Dkt. No. 87-2 (Ex. E).

New York State DOCS Directive 4933 § 304.9, which applies only to SHU inmates, provides:

(a) Counseling by a member of the facility's ministerial services staff will be provided upon written request of an inmate.

(b) The facility senior chaplain or a designated member of the ministerial services staff will be required to make a minimum of one round per week in SHU.

(c) No inmate religious advisor or assistant will be permitted to visit SHU.

(d) Attendance at congregate religious services will not be permitted. Dkt. 87-2 (Ex. H).

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by filing a complaint on October 29, 2007. Dkt. No. 1. On November 5, 2007, plaintiff filed an amended complaint as of right pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a).*fn3 Am.Compl. The amended complaint alleged that defendants Artus and Turner denied plaintiff the right to perform his Salaah in the recreation yard at Clinton. Id. The amended complaint requested monetary damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Id. Defendants Artus and Turner filed an answer to the amended complaint. Dkt. No. 18. Plaintiff thereafter filed a supplemental complaint adding new defendants to this action, namely Fischer, Perlman, Leonard, Bezio, Woods, Rock, and LaPolt. Supp.Compl. In the supplemental complaint, plaintiff claimed that defendants refused to allow plaintiff to attend congregate religious services (Jumu'ah) while he was confined in the SHU at Upstate and denied plaintiff the right to perform his Salaah in the recreation yard at Great Meadow. Id. The supplemental complaint requested monetary relief. Id. Defendants Fischer, Perlman, Leonard, Bezio, Woods, Rock, and LaPolt filed an answer to the supplemental complaint. Dkt. No. 50. Construed liberally, plaintiff's amended complaint and supplemental complaint together allege that defendants violated his rights under (1) the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; (2) the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; (3) the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause; (4) RLUIPA; (5) RFRA; and (6) various state laws, regulations, and administrative policies.

Presently before the court are two dispositive motions. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56. Dkt. No. 87. In support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants argue that (1) plaintiff cannot establish that he was denied the right to freely practice his religion in violation of the First Amendment; (2) plaintiff's First Amendment Establishment Clause claim fails as a matter of law; (3) plaintiff has not been denied his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (4) plaintiff's claims under RLUIPA fail as a matter of law; (5) defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (6) plaintiff cannot demonstrate that defendants Fischer, Leonard, and Perlman were personally involved in any of the alleged constitutional or statutory violations; (7) plaintiff's RFRA claims should be dismissed because RFRA has been declared unconstitutional; (8) plaintiff's claims that defendants violated New York state law or regulations should be dismissed as not actionable under Section 1983; and (9) some of plaintiff's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief should be dismissed as moot. Dkt. No. 87-4. As part of their motion, defendants have submitted (1) the transcript of plaintiff's deposition testimony; (2) a declaration from each defendant; (3) DOCS Directives 4202 and 4933; (4) various interdepartmental correspondence addressed to plaintiff; and (5) the Central Office Review Committee decision denying plaintiff's grievance number CL-55183-07. Dkt. No. 87-2.

Plaintiff has submitted a response in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 91. As part of that response, plaintiff indicates that he wishes to withdraw all of his claims asserted under (1) the First Amendment Establishment Clause; (2) the Equal Protection Clause; (3) RFRA; and (4) all state law claims. Id. ¶ 6. Plaintiff indicates that he only wishes to pursue his claims brought pursuant to the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff has also filed a motion for partial summary judgment pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56 which seeks summary judgment on his remaining claims. Dkt. No. 93. Defendants have filed a reply to plaintiff's response. Dkt. No. 90. Defendants also oppose plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 94, 102. Plaintiff has replied to defendants' opposition to his motion. Dkt. Nos. 97, 104.

Plaintiff also submitted two motions for injunctive relief. Dkt. Nos. 105, 109. Defendants oppose the first motion. Dkt. No. 106. Plaintiff replied to defendants' opposition. Dkt. No. 107.

III. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment may be granted when the moving party carries its burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56; Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). "Ambiguities or inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion." Project Release v. Prevost, 722 F.2d 960, 968 (2d Cir. 1983) (citing Adickes v. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). However, when the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). At that point, the nonmoving party must move forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

IV. CLAIMS WITHDRAWN BY PLAINTIFF

In his response to defendants' motion, plaintiff expressed his intention to withdraw all of his claims brought under (1) the First Amendment Establishment Clause (Am.Compl., Count 2 and Supp.Compl., Count 6); (2) the Equal Protection Clause (Am.Compl., Count 3); (3) RFRA; and (4) state law. Dkt. No. 91 ¶ 6. Plaintiff cannot unilaterally withdraw his claims without a Court Order, because an Answer (as well as a motion for summary judgment) have already been filed. FED. R. CIV. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). To the extent that the Court could liberally construe plaintiff's withdrawal of his claims as a request for a Court Order dismissing those claims without prejudice "on terms that the court considers proper" pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 41(a)(2), the Court denies that request based on a finding that a dismissal with prejudice is more appropriate. This is because (1) defendants have expended the time and effort to file a motion for summary judgment requesting the dismissal of those claims, and (2) the Court, having independently reviewed the merits of the claims that plaintiff seeks to withdraw, agrees with the reasons set forth in defendants' memorandum of law that the those claims have no merit.*fn4 Accordingly, pursuant to plaintiff's request, and for the reasons set forth above, plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to (1) the First Amendment Establishment Clause; (2) the Equal Protection Clause; (3) RFRA; and (4) state law are dismissed with prejudice. See also Rosen v. City of New York, 667 F. Supp. 2d 355, 359 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (granting summary judgment with respect to claims withdrawn by plaintiff).

The only claims remaining are plaintiff's allegations that defendants violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion and his free-exercise rights under RLUIPA. In light of this, defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment address identical claims, therefore the Court will review the motions jointly. Each side is arguing that, as to the claims remaining in this action, there are no questions of material fact and therefore each side argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

V. PLAINTIFF'S RELIGIOUS CLAIMS

Plaintiff asserts two separate claims with respect to violations of his religious rights. Plaintiff claims that his rights have been violated because he has been prohibited from praying Salaah in the prison yard during his designated recreation period at both Clinton and Great Meadow. Plaintiff also asserts that he was denied the ability to attend Jumu'ah services while he was confined in SHU. Plaintiff asserts these claims underboth the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA.

It is well-settled that inmates have the right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to freely exercise a chosen religion. Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 588 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974)). However this right is not limitless, and may be subject to restrictions relating to legitimate penological concerns. Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 574 (2d Cir. 1990). As more fully discussed below, the analysis of a free exercise claim is governed by the framework set forth in O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987) and Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84 (1987). This framework is one of reasonableness and is "less restrictive than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional rights." Ford, 352 F.3d at 588 (citations omitted).

As to a First Amendment claim, the Supreme Court held that a regulation that burdens a protected right withstands a constitutional challenge if that regulation is "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349 (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89). An individualized decision to deny an inmate the ability to engage in a religious exercise is analyzed under the same standard. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 274 n.4 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). In Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 926 (2d Cir. 1988), the Second Circuit held that to assess a free exercise claim, a court must determine "(1) whether the practice asserted is religious in the person's scheme of beliefs, and whether the belief is sincerely held; (2) whether the challenged practice of prison officials infringes upon the religious belief; and (3) whether the challenged practice of the ...


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