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Tyrone Walker v. Brian Fischer

March 26, 2012

TYRONE WALKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, COMMISSIONER OF STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; ROBERT SCHATTINGER, DIRECTOR OF NUTRITIONAL SERVICES, STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES; DALE ARTUS, SUPERINTENDENT, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; THOMAS LAVALLEY, FIRST DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; MAX PATNODE, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF PROGRAMS, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; RABBI ALEC H. FRIEDMANN, JEWISH CHAPLAIN, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; DAVID LUCIA, LIEUTENANT, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; V. JOHNSON, FACILITY HEALTH SERVICES DIRECTOR, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; KEVIN HICKS, SERGEANT, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; R. TRUDEAU, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; AND IMAM ASSALLAMI FADL, CHAPLAIN, CLINTON CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff filed a pro se civil rights complaint against a broad array of corrections employees, alleging several deprivations of his civil rights. In his complaint, Plaintiff sets forth several claims alleging violations of his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), as well as the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In a February 27, 2012 Report, Recommendation and Order, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended that the Court grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion to dismiss and deny Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his complaint and join additional parties without prejudice to renewal.

Currently before the Court are Plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Peebles' February 27, 2012 Report, Recommendation and Order and his renewed motion to amend and supplement his complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's complaint

Plaintiff is a prison inmate entrusted to the care and custody of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 4. At all times relevant to his claim, Plaintiff was confined in a special housing unit ("SHU") cell within the Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton"), located in Dannemora, New York. See id. Plaintiff is a Muslim by faith, and suffers from a gastrointestinal condition that causes him to experience chronic constipation and severe internal hemorrhoids. See id. at ¶ 18 and Exhibit "5." For these conditions, Plaintiff receives hemorrhoidal cream periodically, is provided with Metamucil, and has been placed on a Controlled "A" High Fiber Diet. See id. at ¶ 18 and Exhibit "1."

Plaintiff's complaint, in large part, centers upon the alleged failure of prison officials to meet his health and religious dietary needs. Believing that the prescribed High Fiber Diet did not provide him with adequate fiber, Plaintiff filed Grievance No. CL-57436-08 on July 14, 2008, requesting a Kosher or a Muslim Halal Diet, which, he claims, would satisfy both his medical needs and religious beliefs. See id. at ¶ 19. In response to his grievance, Plaintiff was advised that the High Fiber Diet was created by the DOCCS Division of Nutritional Services in accordance with DOCCS' policies and complies with all state-wide mandates. See id. As such, his grievance was denied. See id. and Exhibit "2." Plaintiff appealed the denial of his grievance, and his appeals were rejected by both the facility superintendent and by the DOCCS Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). See id. at ¶ 19.

On July 29, 2008, Plaintiff received a communication from Brian LeCuyer, a Nurse Administrator at Clinton, advising him that if he was not satisfied with his existing diet, he should complete a refusal form requesting that he be removed from the diet and that he could speak with the appropriate religious official regarding his desire for a Kosher or Muslim Halal Diet. See id. at ¶ 20 and Exhibit "3." On July 30, 2008, Plaintiff wrote to the Assistant Director of Nutritional Services, reiterating his challenge to the adequacy of the High Fiber Diet, as set forth in Grievance No. CL-57436-08. See id. at ¶ 25 and Exhibit "4." Plaintiff did not receive a response to this communication. See id.

On August 1, 2008, Plaintiff made a written request to Defendant Rabbi Alec H. Friedmann, the Jewish Chaplain at Clinton, requesting that he be placed on a Cold Alternative Diet, or Kosher Diet, to address his health issues, explaining that the diet would be consistent with his religious beliefs. See id. at ¶ 22 and Exhibit "5." On August 6, 2008, Defendant Friedmann wrote back to Plaintiff, denying his request and recommending that he instead accept a Religious Alternative Meal ("RAM"). See id. In that communication, Defendant Friedmann informed Plaintiff that the RAM would meet all of the biblical requirements of his chosen religion as a Muslim. See id. and Exhibit "5."

In September of 2008, after complaining to several prison officials concerning the diet denial, including Defendant Dale Artus, Superintendent of Clinton, Defendant Max Patnode, Clinton Superintendent of Programs, and Defendant Brian Fischer, DOCCS Commissioner, Plaintiff voluntarily removed himself from the Controlled "A" High Fiber Diet. See id. at ¶¶ 23-30 and Exhibit "12."

In his complaint, Plaintiff also complains that he was denied the opportunity to observe weekly religious Jumuah sermons, also referred to as Khutbah, by closed circuit television from his SHU cell. See id. at ¶¶ 35-42. In an effort to obtain access to those weekly religious sermons, Plaintiff filed grievances on October 21, 2008, July 1, 2010, and September 21, 2010; sent a complaint letter on July 28, 2008 to Defendant Artus; forwarded a written complaint to Defendant Fischer on August 25, 2008; sent three letters, dated February 10, 2009, February 23, 2009, and March 2, 2009, to Defendant Imam Assallami Fadl; and lodged a complaint, dated September 21, 2010, with Clinton Superintendent, Defendant Thomas LaValley. See id. and Exhibit "16-22."

Plaintiff further asserts a retaliation claim, alleging that after complaining about the failure of prison officials to provide him with the requested diet and access to Jumuah sermons, he was moved from his cell location to another, where he experienced significantly worse conditions and was subjected to excessively frequent cell searches. See id. at ¶¶ 43-50.*fn1 Plaintiff also claims that his due process rights were violated in connection with his transfer to a different cell. See id.

Finally, Plaintiff claims that, on October 2, 2010, he was denied a request for a sweet breakfast*fn2 as part of his religious services and that he was provided different food from that offered to Muslim inmates in the general prison population in celebration of the Ramadan Feast. See id. at ¶¶ 68-70. Plaintiff claims that the religious feast provided to him in the SHU consisted of rice, fish, mess hall cabbage, and mess hall beans, and did not include other foods, such as lamb, bean pie, and chicken, which were provided to Muslims in the general population in celebration of the Ramadan Feast. See id. at ¶ 70. In anticipation of the 2010 religious feast, and after having been denied his sweet breakfast in 2009, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant LaValley on September 22, 2010 concerning the matter, hoping to preemptively avoid a similar denial for that year. See id. at ¶ 68 and Exhibit "48." On October 3, 2010, after not receiving his sweet breakfast as requested, Plaintiff filed a grievance and sent letters to Defendants Fischer and LaValley, complaining of the failure to provide him with the requested sweet breakfast. See id. at

¶ 70 and Exhibit "49."

Plaintiff commenced this action on November 23, 2010. See Dkt. No. 1. In his complaint, Plaintiff asserts that his religious freedom rights under the RLUIPA and First Amendment were infringed because of Defendants' interference with his ability to practice his chosen religion, including through denial of a sweet breakfast and proper feast, the opportunity to observe Jumuah sermons, and the denial of a Kosher Diet. See id. Plaintiff further claims that he was unlawfully retaliated against for voicing his complaints and that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. See id.

B. Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report, Recommendation and Order

In his February 27, 2012 Report, Recommendation and Order, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended that the Court dismiss several Defendants and several of Plaintiff's claims. See Dkt. No. 40. First, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended that the Court grant Defendants' motion as to Defendant Fischer for his lack of personal involvement, but deny the motion as to Defendants Artus and LaValley on the same ground. See id. at 16-18. Second, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended that the Court find that Plaintiff failed to state a plausible First Amendment and RLUIPA deprivation claim associated with the refusal of prison officials to provide him with a Kosher Diet in lieu of the prescribed Controlled "A" High Fiber Diet. See id. at 20. Magistrate Judge Peebles found that "Plaintiff does not appear to contend that his Controlled 'A' Diet does not comport with his religious beliefs as a Muslim. Instead, he argues that the Cold Alternative (Kosher) Diet would also be consistent with his religious beliefs, and should be made available to him for health reasons." See id.

Third, Magistrate Judge Peebles found that Plaintiff was also asserting an Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim by alleging that the Controlled "A" High Fiber Diet did not meet his medical needs. See id. at 21-22. He recommended that the Court find that Plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to establish either the objective or subjective element of this claim. See id. at 23-27. Fourth, Magistrate Judge Peebles found that "Plaintiff's allegations regarding the denial of religious meals on two isolated occasions are insufficient to meet his burden of establishing [that] defendants' conduct infringes on his sincerely held religious beliefs under either the First Amendment or the RLIUPA." See id. at 32 (citations omitted). Further, the Report found that the fact that Plaintiff was not provided with the same Ramadan Feast meal as inmates in the general population does not trigger the protections of the First Amendment or the RLUIPA. See id. at 33. Magistrate Judge Peebles did, however, find that the portion of Plaintiff's ...


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