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Henry v. Schriro

August 2, 2011

CHRISTOPHER A. HENRY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DORA SCHRIRO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Christopher A. Henry, incarcerated and proceeding pro se, brings this action against Dora Schriro, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction ("DOC").*fn1 Henry alleges that, while incarcerted at the DOC's Anna M. Kross Center, the DOC violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amedment by denying his requests for matzoh and grape juice, which he considers integral to his practice of Judaism.*fn2 Henry claims injuries including, "malnurishment [sic] [and] permanent trauma,"*fn3 and seeks relief, including his desired provision of matzoh and grape juice, and $9,999,000,000 in (presumably punitive) damages.*fn4 The DOC now moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, DOC's motion is granted with prejudice.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court evaluates the sufficiency of the complaint under the "two-pronged approach" suggested by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal.*fn5

First, a court "'can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'"*fn6

"Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to withstand a motion to dismiss.*fn7 Second, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."*fn8 To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the allegations in the complaint must meet a standard of "plausibility."*fn9 A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."*fn10

Plausibility "is not akin to a probability requirement;" rather, plausibility requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."*fn11

"In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court may consider the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits, and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint."*fn12 However, the court may also consider a document that is not incorporated by reference, "where the complaint 'relies heavily upon its terms and effect,' thereby rendering the document 'integral' to the complaint."*fn13

III. APPLICABLE LAW

Section 1983*fn14 "does not create a federal right or benefit; it simply provides a mechanism for enforcing a right or benefit established elsewhere."*fn15 In order to state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the conduct complained of was committed by a person or entity acting under color of state law, and that the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.*fn16

"[A]lthough prisoners do not abandon their constitutional rights at the prison door, '[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system[.]'"*fn17 "An individual claiming violation of free exercise rights need only demonstrate that the beliefs professed are sincerely held and in the individual's own scheme of things, religious."*fn18 "The prisoner must show at the threshold that the disputed conduct substantially burdens his sincerely held religious beliefs."*fn19

The Supreme Court has held that a challenged prison regulation is judged "under a 'reasonableness' test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied"*fn20 -- a regulation that burdens a protected right passes constitutional muster "'if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'"*fn21

Courts must evaluate four factors in making the reasonableness determination: [1] whether the challenged regulation or official action has a valid, rational connection to a legitimate governmental objective; [2] whether prisoners have alternative means of exercising the burdened right; [3] the impact on guards, inmates, and prison resources of accommodating the right; and [4] the existence of alternative means of ...


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