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Caractor v. City of New York Department of Homeless Services

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 14, 2013


Bishop William B. Caractor, proceeding pro se Rosedale, New York, for the plaintiff.

Janice Casey Silverberg, New York City Law Department, Office of the Corporation Counsel New York, New York, for the defendants.


DENISE COTE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Bishop William B. Caractor ("Caractor"), proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against the City of New York Department of Homeless Services ("DHS") and Seth Diamond ("Diamond"), the Commissioner of DHS, for violations of his constitutional rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and equal protection. DHS has denied Caractor's request, on behalf of his church - Discovered Being Ministry, Inc. ("Discovered Being Ministry" or "Ministry") - to conduct religious services inside homeless shelters. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.


The following facts are undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The plaintiff is a Bishop ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He is also the Presiding Prelate of Discovered Being Ministry, a nonprofit organization offering religious services. As Presiding Prelate, the plaintiff oversees eighteen churches and nine bishops in four ecclesiastical districts. The plaintiff has conducted religious services in churches in New York, New Jersey, and South Carolina. His religious services typically include a call to worship, prayer, a sermon, and - on the first Sunday of each month - communion. During Caractor's worship services, collections are traditionally taken for the Discovered Being Ministry.

Through its family services program, defendant DHS provides emergency shelter for approximately 33, 000 individuals on a daily basis in 147 shelters. The Assistant Commissioner for Family Services, Julia Moten, explains that the program seeks to "prevent homelessness in the first place, offer safe and secure emergency housing when necessary, minimize families' length of stay in DHS shelters, and engage clients in working toward permanent housing." Consistent with these goals, DHS shelters are not intended to serve as permanent homes for DHS clients.

Since 2004, Caractor and his family have resided intermittently in roughly four DHS shelters. Between March and December of 2007, he and his family resided in the LIFE shelter, located at 78 Catherine Street in Manhattan. According to the plaintiff, while residing at LIFE, he observed a "rap for Jesus" concert conducted by Donnie McClurkin of Perfecting Faith Ministries and Creflo Dollar of Creflo Dollar Ministries.[1] Also during this time, Caractor requested permission to conduct religious services at the LIFE shelter. DHS denied his request and Caractor filed a law suit alleging violations of his constitutional rights. See Caractor v. NYC Dep't of Homeless Servs., et al., 07 Civ. 8069 (AKH). This case ended in 2008 when the parties reached a settlement agreement.

In 2009, DHS revised the access procedure applicable to its shelters. New York City DHS Access Procedure No. 10-210 ("Procedure") differs from the previous version in a number of respects. In particular, unlike its predecessor, the revised Procedure expressly limits access to facilities in the DHS shelter system to authorized visitors. The Procedure lists categories of visitors who are authorized to enter DHS shelters, such as elected officials, legal representatives of shelter clients, and law enforcement personnel. Relevant to the present case, the Procedure also grants access to "[s]taff members of external organizations enlisted and approved by DHS to provide onsite, shelter-related services specifically authorized or mandated by applicable laws or regulations including workers performing improvements or repair work to a facility."[2] Under the policy, DHS "may authorize" external organizations to provide services to residents in the shelters "when DHS determines that such organizations have the specific expertise to most efficiently assist DHS in carrying out its core mission of providing shelter and assisting residents in their search for permanent housing." The policy further provides that the facility directors have "discretion" to permit external organizations to enter the shelters to offer services mandated or authorized by law. Approved organizations have offered services such as job-training, child-care, and certain recreational programs for children. According to the defendants, DHS is aware of no requests by groups or individuals, other than the plaintiff, to offer religious services in DHS shelters.

In January 2010, Caractor began residing at HELP1, a DHS shelter located in Brooklyn. Shortly after arriving at HELP1, Caractor requested permission on behalf of Discovered Being Ministry to conduct "church services" at the facility. On February 19, 2010, Aaron Goodman, then Senior Counsel for the DHS Family Programs, sent the following letter to Caractor denying his request:

Dear Bishop Caractor,
This is in response to your correspondence of February 6, 2010, requesting permission for Discovered Being Ministry Incorporated to hold church services within the New York City Department of Homeless Services' (DHS) HELP I temporary housing facility. For the reasons below, your request is denied.
DHS' Facility Access Procedure, dated October 20, 2009 (and attached to this letter), details measures the agency has adopted to "maintain the confidentiality of clients and applicants, and to ensure that the resources within the DHS shelter system are used solely to further DHS' core mission of providing [temporary housing assistance] and housing placement to those in need." DHS meets these required goals by restricting access to its facilities to those organizations described in the policy, and excluding all others.... Only those external organizations enlisted by DHS to assist it in furthering its core, statutory mission (e.g., childcare and job training services) are permitted access to use DHS facilities to provide services to DHS clients. Because Discovered Being Ministry does not fall within the parameters of DHS' Facility Access Procedure, it cannot use DHS facilities to carry out its activities. This decision does not contravene the court order that you describe in your correspondence, which declines to grant the City of New York's motion to dismiss an earlier action brought by you against DHS.
Aaron C. Goodman

After receiving the letter, on May 12, Caractor sent an email to DHS Commissioner Diamond, requesting a meeting to discuss DHS's position on bringing Christian services to DHS clients in the shelters. He received no response to his inquiry.

The plaintiff initiated this action on April 25, 2011, on behalf of himself and Discovered Being Ministry. In his complaint, the plaintiff named DHS, Diamond, HELP1 USA and Evelyn Zambrana ("Zambrana"), the Director of HELP1 USA, as defendants. On November 22, 2011, the motion to dismiss filed by defendants HELP1 USA and Zambrana was granted. In addition, on December 21, the claims brought on behalf of Discovered Being Ministry were dismissed because no attorney had filed a notice of appearance on its behalf. The remaining defendants filed a motion for summary judgment.


Although the defendants do not raise the issue, the Court must address whether the plaintiff has standing to bring this action. The standing inquiry, which "focuses on whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring [the] suit, " will "often turn[] on the nature and source of the claim asserted." Raines v. Byrd , 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997) (citation omitted). The standing requirement has both constitutional and prudential components. See Warth v. Seldin , 422 U.S. 490, 498-99 (1975). As a constitutional matter,

[t]he plaintiff must have suffered an "injury in fact" - an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) "actual or imminent, " not "conjectural" or "hypothetical." Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of - the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third it must be likely, as opposed to merely "speculative" that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife , 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (citation omitted). In addition, "the plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Warth , 422 U.S. at 499. A plaintiff may, however, assert the legal rights of a third party when, in addition to satisfying the constitutional standing requirements, he demonstrates that (1) he has "a close' relationship with the person who possesses the right" and (2) "there is a ...

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