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Weathers v. Rock

United States District Court, Second Circuit

April 23, 2013

DAVID ROCK, et al, Defendants.

ALBERT WEATHERS, Plaintiff pro se, CATHY Y. SHEEHAN, Asst. Attorney General for Defendants.


ANDREW T. BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

This matter has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and LOCAL RULES N.D.N.Y. 72.3(c). In this civil rights complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants have violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a) by denying him two Seder meals during Passover on April 6, 2012 and April 7, 2012, in part because inmates confined to the Special Housing Unit ("SHU") were not allowed to "congregate." (Compl. §§ 10-12, 27-32, 41) (Dkt. No. 1). The complaint also contains general references to other complaints about how Jewish meals are handled, how Jewish inmates are treated differently than other inmates, how Jewish inmates are denied their rights to "participate in the Sabbath, " and how the Rabbis do not make rounds once per week as indicated in the SHU manual. (Compl. §§ 50-57, 60). Plaintiff seeks declaratory and monetary relief. (Compl. §§ 69-73).

Presently before the court is the defendants' motion to dismiss this action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Dkt. No. 23). Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the motion. (Dkt. No. 29). For the following reasons, this court finds that the defendants' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.


I. Facts and Contentions

Plaintiff states that he is Jewish, and that on March 26, 2012, he wrote to defendants Superintendent Rock; Deputy Superintendent for Programs, D. Haug; Mr. Lira;[1] and Rabbi Friedmann, informing them that plaintiff wished to participate in the Seder during Passover. (Compl. § 2). Plaintiff states that, because food served for Passover is specially ordered, inmates must inform the staff ahead of time so that the correct amount of food may be purchased. ( Id. ) Plaintiff alleges that although he never received a response to his letter, plaintiff assumed that the Seder meal would be provided in accordance with Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") Directive # 4202, governing religious policies. (Compl. §§ 3-6).

Plaintiff states that when Passover began on April 6, 2012 at sundown, plaintiff and other Jewish inmates who were confined in SHU, asked defendant Officers Patterson and Forbes about the Seder meal. (Compl. §§ 10-11). These were the two officers who were in charge of serving dinner to the inmates that evening. Plaintiff had obtained the Seder menu from Albany, so he knew what should have been on the menu. Plaintiff claims that he showed the menu to defendants Patterson and Forbes, but that these defendants only made disparaging remarks to plaintiff. (Compl. §§ 11, 13). Plaintiff spoke to defendant Debya about the situation, and defendant Debya told plaintiff to write to the mess hall "to correct the issue of Passover." (Compl. § 20). Plaintiff sates that defendant Debya failed to address any of the problems that were faced by the Jewish inmates during Passover, and he failed to contact anyone else who could address those problems. (Compl. § 25).

Plaintiff alleges that on April 7, 2011, defendant officers R. Demers and Mr. Kroeger were in charge of serving the evening meals, and the Jewish inmates began to complain to them about the lack of a Seder meal. (Compl. § 27). Plaintiff states that when these two officers arrived at plaintiff's cell, he attempted to explain that he was supposed to get a Seder meal, but they told plaintiff it was not their fault that the appropriate items were not provided. (Compl. §§ 28-29). They refused to call the mess hall to notify the sergeant. (Compl. § 30). Plaintiff states that when defendant Sergeant Debya finally made his rounds, and plaintiff explained what had happened, defendant Debya told plaintiff "that despite what the Memo states, no inmates in SHU' are allowed to participate in the Seder because inmates [have] to congregate." (Compl. § 32). Plaintiff then told defendant Debya the story behind the Seder meal and how important this meal is in the Jewish religion. (Compl. § 35). Plaintiff states that defendant Debya told plaintiff there was nothing he could do about it, because it was the Superintendent's determination, and plaintiff should file a grievance. (Compl. § 36).

Plaintiff states that he filed a grievance that was denied by the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") on May 1, 2012, stating that "per D. Haug (FSA) SHU inmates are not allowed the Seder meals." (Compl. § 38). Plaintiff alleges that appealed to the Superintendent. On May 15, 2012, the Superintendent's response stated that "the Passover Menu was followed to assure all inmates received all required items and portions, " and that this meal was served to the general population inmates who requested it. (Compl. § 39, 41). However, due to the fact that the "event" took place in the Chapel, the inmates who were in SHU status could not participate. Plaintiff claims that there is nothing in DOCCS policy stating that Jewish inmates cannot participate in the Seder because they are in SHU. (Compl. §§ 41-42). Plaintiff states that most of Upstate is an SHU, and the only general population inmates are those who are in the "Cadre Program" and are responsible for cleaning the buildings and grounds keeping. (Compl. § 48). Plaintiff claims that inmates confined to Fishkill Correctional Facility's SHU are allowed to get Seder meals so they may perform Seder ceremonies in their cells.[2] (Compl. § 49).

Plaintiff then states that this denial of a Seder meal is "just another issue with... Upstate... that directly affects the Jewish population."[3] (Compl. § 51). Plaintiff claims that the DOCCS calendar has the incorrect dates for Jewish holidays, resulting in mistakes serving special meals, and the staff does not handle Kosher food properly. (Compl. §§ 54-55). Plaintiff claims that Rabbis do not make rounds once a week as they should, and the Rabbis seldom write back to inmates when they write letters. (Compl. § 57). Finally, plaintiff states that the grievances were "past the 30 day time limit that C.O.R.C. [Central Office Review Committee] is to completely render a decision. (Compl. § 59).

The complaint contains seven numbered causes of action:

1. Defendants violated the plaintiff's First Amendment right to practice his religion when they failed to provide him with his Seder meal to perform his ceremony at sundown on April 6 and 7, 2012. (Compl. § 62).
2. Defendants violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights when they failed to follow the DOCCS memorandum for Passover and instead engaged in their own "wrongful acts." (Compl. § 63).
3. Defendants violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights when they failed to correct the deprivations. (Compl. § 64).
4. Defendant Forbes violated plaintiff's 14th Amendment rights to be "free from discrimination" when she told plaintiff that he was not a "real Jew, " but was just using religion to obtain "different" food. (Compl. § 65).
5. Defendants violated RLUIPA when they failed to make necessary accommodations so that plaintiff could engage in his religious practices. (Compl. § 66).
6. Defendants violated RLUIPA when they placed a substantial burden on the practice of plaintiff's religion. (Compl. § 67).
7. Defendants violated RLUIPA when they knowingly disregarded DOCCS policy and prevented Jewish inmates from participating in the Seder. (Compl. § 68).

Defendants[4] argue that plaintiff does not state a claim for relief. (Dkt. No. 23-1). Defendants argue that plaintiff's First Amendment claim fails because the denial of two Seder meals fails to allege "more than an inconsequential burden on his religious beliefs." (Dkt. No. 23-1 at 5). Defendants also argue that, assuming the plaintiff succeeded in showing a burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs, defendants had "clearly legitimate penological purposes" in deciding to serve the Seder meals to the general population and to prohibit the SHU inmates from attending. ( Id. at 6).

Defendants also argue that plaintiff has failed to state a RLUIPA claim "since plaintiff cannot make a prima facie showing that his First Amendment rights were violated." ( Id. at 9). Defendants argue that plaintiff's Equal Protection claim fails because plaintiff has no evidence to show that defendants intentionally or purposefully discriminated against him on the basis of his faith when they refused to allow him to attend the congregate Seder meals. ( Id. ) Finally, defendants argue that the complaint should be dismissed against them because none of them were personally involved in the alleged violations, and they are all entitled to qualified immunity. ( Id. at 10-13).

II. Motion to Dismiss

To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is "plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, " do not suffice. Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555). Plaintiff's factual allegations must also be sufficient to give the ...

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