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Covington v. Mountries

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 20, 2014

ERNEST COVINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBORAH MOUNTRIES, Grievance Coordinator, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

VALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Ernest Covington brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Defendant Deborah Moultrie[1] violated his religious rights while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the George R. Vierno Center ("GRVC"). Plaintiff seeks both damages and injunctive relief. Defendant moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Because Plaintiff has not timely filed an opposition, the Court considers this motion fully-briefed. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff is directed to file an amended complaint within 45 days of the date of this order. If he fails to do so, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a practicing Muslim who regularly attends Jumu'ah religious services.[2] On November 23, 2012, Plaintiff was "unlawfully locked in cell block 15B and deprived of attending religious services for obligatory worship and congregational prayer." (Compl. ¶ II.D.) Other practitioners in the same cell block were also prevented from attending services. (Id.) Plaintiff acknowledges that "the 15 building was on full... lockdown" that day. ( Id. at 2.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff asserts that this lockdown was pretextual because he was permitted to leave his cell during breakfast that morning and "there were no incidents... [that justified] being locked down for [10.5] hours." ( Id. at 5.) According to Plaintiff, while he was prohibited from leaving his cell, other inmates were permitted to attend religious services and otherwise move about the facility. ( Id. at 5, ¶ II.D.) It is unclear, however, whether those inmates were housed in the same cell block as Plaintiff. According to Plaintiff, this was not the first instance in which he had been barred from attending Jumu'ah services. ( Id. at 5.) On the other hand, Plaintiff also contends that he had not "miss[ed] a Jumu['ah] service[] in over 24 years." ( Id. at 6.)

Five days after the November 23 lockdown, Defendant Moultrie, the prison's grievance coordinator, interviewed Plaintiff regarding his complaints. During the interview, Defendant purportedly "snatched papers out of [Plaintiff's] hand" and commented that she "d[idn't] like [his] attitude." ( Id. at 4.) Defendant also told Plaintiff that he "wasn't a Muslim" and that he "shouldn't be incarcerated if [he] w[ere] a real Muslim." ( Id. at 2.) She then told Plaintiff to "leave her office immediately." ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff filed a grievance concerning Defendant's behavior, but Plaintiff was not afforded another hearing. ( Id. ¶ IV.G.) Defendant then "harassed and humiliated" Plaintiff both for his religious beliefs and in retaliation for his grievances. ( Id. at 5.) On December 21, 2012, Plaintiff and "the entire population" were again barred from attending religious services. ( Id. ¶ II.D.)

After Plaintiff filed his complaint, the case was reassigned to this Court on March 20, 2014. In addition to Defendant Moultrie, Plaintiff's complaint originally named GRVC Warden Edmund Duffy, GRVC Captain Smith, and GRVC Deputy Warden of Security Melendez as defendants. On April 24, 2013, those defendants were dismissed because Plaintiff had failed to allege any personal involvement in the alleged violation of his rights. Covington v. Duffy, No. 13-CV-343, slip op. at 2-3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2013) (citing Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470, 484 (2d Cir. 2006)).[3] Defendant Moultrie is thus the only remaining defendant in this action.

DISCUSSION

On a motion to dismiss, the Court must assess whether the complaint "contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Nielsen v. Rabin, 746 F.3d 58 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Because Plaintiff is pro se, his complaint also "must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggest[s].'" Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006). Even if the Court determines that a pro se complaint is insufficient, however, leave to amend should generally be granted "at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 139 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010)). But leave to amend need not be granted if the amendment would be futile. Id. (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). Finally, although Defendant's motion to dismiss is unopposed, the Court must still analyze the sufficiency of Plaintiff's complaint. Haas v. Commerce Bank, 497 F.Supp.2d 563, 564 (S.D.N.Y. 2007) (citing McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 322 (2d Cir. 2000)).

A. Relief Sought

1. Injunctive Relief

First, Plaintiff urges that he "seek[s] [a] remed[y]... [for] the behavior this facility['s] staff continuously practice[s] on a regular basis." (Compl. ¶ V.) Although not a model of clarity, the Court construes this statement as a claim for injunctive relief. But Plaintiff was transferred to a different prison shortly after commencing this action. See Covington v. Mountries, No. 13-CV-343 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2013) (ECF No. 5). Accordingly, any claim for injunctive relief is moot.

"In this circuit, an inmate's transfer from a prison facility generally moots claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against officials of that facility." Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272 (2d Cir. 2006). Here, Plaintiff's complaint arises from treatment he received from GRVC employees while he was incarcerated in that facility. The docket sheet, of which the Court takes judicial notice, and Plaintiff's last change of address card indicate that he is currently housed at Mohawk Correctional Facility. See Covington v. Mountries, No. 13-CV-343 (S.D.N.Y. June 10, 2013) (ECF No. 13); Mangiafico v. Blumenthal, 471 F.3d 391, 398 (2d Cir. 2006) ("[D]ocket sheets are public records of which the court could take judicial notice."). Plaintiff does not allege that he expects to be subjected to the same mistreatment at Mohawk. See Pugh v. Goord, 571 F.Supp.2d 477, 489 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (noting "exception to the mootness doctrine for challenged actions that are capable of repetition, yet evading review' (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 482 (1982))). Any claim for injunctive relief is therefore moot.

2. Monetary Relief

Defendant next urges that Plaintiff's claims for monetary relief should also be dismissed because he has failed to allege any physical harm. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), "[n]o Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a... correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury...." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e). Plaintiff does not allege any physical injury. Instead, Plaintiff claims that he suffered harassment, humiliation, general frustration, and degradation from Defendant's discriminatory comments and the ...


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