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Corey Ford v. Joseph T. Smith

September 28, 2012

COREY FORD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSEPH T. SMITH, SUPERINTENDENT, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FACILITY; C.O. PALMER, CORR. OFFICER, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FACILITY; LAW, CORR. OFFICER/SEC. STAFF EMPLOYEE, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FACILITY; DEGEORGIO, CORR. OFFICER, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FACILITY; AND S. LACIKA, JR., CORR. OFFICER, SHAWANGUNK CORR. FACILITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this pro se prisoner civil rights action by Corey Ford ("Plaintiff") against the five above-captioned Shawangunk Correctional Facility employees ("Defendants"), are (1) Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 40), (2) United States Magistrate Judge Randolph F. Treece's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 49), and (3) Plaintiff's objection to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 51). For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted; Defendants' motion is granted; and all of Plaintiff's claims are dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint on February 24, 2011. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 27, 2011. (Dkt. No. 9.) Generally, and liberally construed, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges as follows. He has been a practicing Muslim of the Nation of Islam for the past nine years. (Id. at ¶ 10.) During Ramadan in 2009, and 2010, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility ("Shawangunk C.F."), Defendants failed to provide him with hot water for his pre-dawn meal, which precluded him from exercising one of the five pillars of his faith (i.e., fasting). (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 14, 15.)

More specifically, on August 22, 2009, Defendant Palmer refused to provide Plaintiff with hot water despite Plaintiff's request. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Similarly, on September 1, 2009, Defendant Law also refused to provide Plaintiff with hot water. (Id. at ¶ 18.) On or about September 7, 2009, Plaintiff wrote Defendant Smith to complain about being refused hot water for his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. (Id. at ¶ 19.) Defendant Smith responded by informing Plaintiff that there is no method for providing Plaintiff with hot water, and otherwise did nothing to cure Plaintiff's complaint. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Also on or about September 7, 2009, Defendant Law threatened to "put some kind of substance in plaintiff's hot water" in retaliation for writing a complaint to Defendant Smith. (Id. at ¶ 21.)

On or about August 14, 2010, Defendant Lacika refused to provide Plaintiff with hot water for his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. (Id. at ¶ 22.) On or about August 28, 2010, Defendant Doe*fn1 refused to provide Plaintiff with hot water for his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. (Id. at ¶ 23.) On or about August 30, 2010, Defendant DeGeorgio refused Plaintiff the opportunity to prepare his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan. (Id. at ¶ 24.)

Despite his awareness of Plaintiff's denial of hot water during Ramadan for his pre-dawn meal, Defendant Smith did nothing to stop it. As a result, Defendant Smith has allowed and participated in a "blanket policy of depriving plaintiff of his constitutional . . . rights in violation of [Plaintiff's] first and fourteenth amendment rights . . . ." (Id. at ¶ 26.) In contrast, Jewish prisoners at Shawangunk C.F. are provided up to four cups of water every day to fulfill their religious dietary requirements. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff has grieved his complaints through the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee at Shawangunk C.F. (Id. at ¶ 27.)

Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims arising under the First, Fourteenth, and Eighth Amendments, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act ("RLUIPA"). (See generally Dkt. No. 9.) As relief, Plaintiff requests damages in the amount of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00), consisting of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00) in compensatory damages and two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00) in punitive damages, plus costs. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-33.) For a more detailed recitation of Plaintiff's factual allegations, the Court refers the reader to the Amended Complaint in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 9.)

B. The Parties' Briefings on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

On January 23, 2012, Defendants submitted their motion for summary judgment.*fn2 (Dkt. No. 40.) In their motion, Defendants make the following six arguments: (1) based on the four corners of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has failed to state claims under the First and Eighth Amendments (Dkt. No. 40, Attach. 6 at 5-6, 7-8); (2) based on the record evidence, there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under RLUIPA and the Fourteenth Amendments (id. at 6-7, 9); (3) any portion of the Amended complaint that seeks compensatory damages for mental and emotional injuries should be dismissed because, based on the four corners of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that he suffered any physical injury (id. at 11); (4) to the extent that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint attempts to assert a claim for verbal abuse, that claim should be dismissed because it is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") (id. at 12); (5) Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Smith should be dismissed because, based on the four corners of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendant Smith was personally involved any of the alleged constitutional violations; (id. at 12-13); and (6) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment (id. at 14-16). For a more detailed recitation of Defendant's arguments, the Court refers the reader to their memorandum of law in support of their motion for summary judgment. (See generally id.)

Liberally construed, Plaintiff's response makes the following seven arguments: (1) by refusing to provide Plaintiff with hot water for his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan, Defendants precluded him from being able to exercise his Muslim faith in violation of the First Amendment because, without the hot water, he was precluded from fasting as required by his faith (Dkt. No. 44, Attach. 1 at 8); (2) Defendants' refusal to provide Plaintiff with hot water for his pre-dawn meal during Ramadan amounted to a substantial burden under RLUIPA (id. at 9-10); (3) the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (i.e., Jewish prisoners are supplied with hot water for their religious dietary needs every day) are sufficient to state a claim for an equal protection violation (id. at 11-13); (4) the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") does not preclude Plaintiff from recovering compensatory damages for constitutional violations arising under the First Amendment (id. at 13-16); (5) Plaintiff has adequately alleged the personal involvement of Defendant Smith, because Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant Smith denied Plaintiff's grievances (id. at 17); (6) Eleventh Amendment immunity does not apply in this case because Plaintiff is suing Defendants in their individual capacities (id. at 18); and (7) it is not appropriate to grant qualified immunity on a motion for summary judgment (id. at 19).

Defendants did not file a reply. (Dkt. No. 45.)

C. Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation

On August 17, 2012, Magistrate Judge Treece issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted and that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint be dismissed in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 49.) In particular, Magistrate Judge Treece's recommendation was based on his following four findings: (1) Plaintiff's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims should be dismissed because, even assuming the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are true, those allegations give rise to nothing more than a de minimus violation under RLUIPA and the First Amendment (Dkt. No. 49 at 7-8); (2) because Plaintiff's allegations giving rise to his equal protection claim under the Fourteenth Amendment is no more than conclusory, that claim should be dismissed (id. at 8); (3) because none of Plaintiff's constitutional claims survive Defendants' motion, whether Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity is moot (id. at 8-9); and (4) because Defendants Palmer and Doe were never served in this action, they both should be dismissed from the action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m) (id. at

9).*fn3 Familiarity with the grounds of Magistrate Judge Treece's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is ...


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