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Celestin v. Fischer

United States District Court, Second Circuit

September 25, 2013

CLIVENS CELESTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, Comm'r of DOCCS; DAVID ROCK, Superintendent, Upstate C.F.; and ALEC H. FRIEDMANN, Jewish Chaplain, Upstate C.F., Defendants.

CLIVENS CELESTIN, 94-A-5376 Attica Correctional Facility Attica, New York, Plaintiff, Pro Se

HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York Albany, New York, ADELE M. TAYLOR-SCOTT, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Counsel for Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this pro se prisoner civil rights action filed by Clivens Celestin ("Plaintiff") against the three above-named New York State correctional employees ("Defendants"), Defendants are (1) Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, (2) United States Magistrate Judge Andrew T. Baxter's Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendants' motion be granted, and (3) Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 15, 19, 21.) For the reasons set forth below, the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Defendants' motion is granted; and Plaintiff's Complaint shall be dismissed without further Order of this Court unless, within 30 days of the date of this Decision and Order, Plaintiff files a properly supported motion to amend that cures the pleading defects identified in the Report-Recommendation and this Decision and Order.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, while he was incarcerated at Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone, New York, Defendants violated his religious rights by denying his request for a religious circumcision at state cost. (Dkt. No. 1.) Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) a claim that Defendants denied him the right to freely practice his Jewish faith in violation of the First Amendment; (2) a claim that Defendants violated his religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (" RLUIPA") by disregarding a New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policy on religious practices; and (3) a claim that Defendants violated Plaintiff's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment because of his Jewish faith and/or "African descent." ( Id. ) Familiarity with the particular factual allegations supporting these claims is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. ( Id. )

B. Parties' Briefing on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Generally, Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim asserts the following three arguments: (1) to the extent that Plaintiff purports to bring this action against Defendants either for monetary damages in their official capacities or pursuant to RLUIPA, those claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly suggesting that Defendants were personally involved in the constitutional and statutory violations alleged; and (3) based on Plaintiff's own allegations, Defendants are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 15, Attach. 1, at Points I-III.)

Generally, Plaintiff's response asserts the following three arguments: (1) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages against Defendants not in their official capacities but solely in their individual capacities; (2) Plaintiff has alleged facts plausibly suggesting Defendants' personal involvement because (a) due to his confinement in a Special Housing Unit during the relevant time period, his ability to "direct[ly] interact[]" with Defendants was "strictly limit[ed]" to communication by inter-departmental correspondence, mail and the grievance process, (b) Plaintiff in fact used the grievance process, filing a grievance that was denied by Defendant Friedman and subsequently investigated by Defendant Rock, and (c) Plaintiff also subsequently wrote letters Defendants Fischer, Rock and Friedman; and (3) Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because they knew or should have known that they were violating Plaintiff's clearly established religious rights. (Dkt. No. 16, at Grounds I-III.)

C. Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation

Generally, in his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Baxter recommends that Defendants' motion be granted for the following two reasons: (1) based on Plaintiff's own allegations, Defendants are protected from liability as a matter of law by the doctrine of qualified immunity with regard to Plaintiff's First Amendment claim, because there appears to be no case law establishing that an inmate has a constitutional right to demand a surgery, religious or otherwise, that is not medically necessary; and (2) Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim must also be dismissed because he seeks only monetary damages with regard to that claim, and monetary damages against the State of New York are not available under RLUIPA. (Dkt. No. 19, at Parts III-IV.) As a result, Magistrate Judge Baxter recommends that, prior to dismissal, Plaintiff be afforded a chance to cure the pleading defects in his claims through the filing of a properly supported motion to amend. ( Id. at 11.) Familiarity with the particular recommendations and grounds of Magistrate Judge Baxter's Report-Recommendation is assumed in this Decision and Order, which (again) is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

D. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

Generally, liberally construed, Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation asserts the following two arguments: (1) qualified immunity does not apply because, while Plaintiff's circumcision may not be medically necessary, it is far from cosmetic in that it is religiously necessary, and a denial of that religious necessity is clearly prohibited by the First Amendment, as well as the New York State DOCCS Policy on Religious Programs Practices (under Directive 4202); and (2) Defendants have denied him ...


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