United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
JESSE M. FURMAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Maurice Blalock ("Blalock"), a New York State prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), Title 42, United States Code, Section 2000cc, alleging violations of his constitutional and statutory rights during his incarceration, including infringements on his right to free exercise of Islam. One Defendant, Catherine M. Jacobsen, has filed an Answer. (Docket No. 41; see Defs.' Reply Mem. Law Supp. Mot. To Dismiss (Docket No. 40) ("Defs.' Reply Mem.") 1 nn.1-2). All other Defendants who have been served (the "Moving Defendants") now move, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to dismiss the Complaint. (Docket No. 24). For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Generally, in evaluating a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court may consider "only the complaint, any written instrument attached to the complaint as an exhibit, any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference, and any document upon which the complaint heavily relies." In re Thelen LLP, 736 F.3d 213, 219 (2d Cir. 2013). Because Blalock is proceeding pro se, however, the Court may also consider factual allegations made in his opposition papers, so long as they are consistent with the complaint. See, e.g., Blue v. Macy's Herald Square, No. 12-CV-5673 (PAE), 2013 WL 3717777, at *1 n.2 (S.D.N.Y. July 16, 2013). Accordingly, the following facts are taken from the Complaint, exhibits attached thereto, and Blalocks opposition papers (to the extent they are consistent with the Complaint), and are presumed true for the purposes of this motion. See Karmely v. Wertheimer, 737 F.3d 197, 199 (2d Cir. 2013).
Blalock, a New York State prisoner, arrived at the Green Haven Correctional Facility ("Green Haven") on February 13, 2009. (Compl. (Docket No. 2) ¶ 31). Since entering state custody in 1997, Blalock regularly had his state-issued green pants altered to be worn above his ankles, in order to comply with a Muslim religious edict that instructs Muslim men that wearing longer pants is an act of "conceit." ( Id. Ex. 2; id. ¶ 42). On September 26, 2011, Jacobsen, then-Acting Deputy Commissioner of Program Services at the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), issued a memorandum ("Directive 3081 Memorandum") to all DOCCS facility superintendents. ( Id. ¶ 41; id. Ex. 1). In it, Jacobsen - who, as noted, does not move to dismiss - stated that some DOCCS facilities had "allowed Muslim and other offenders to alter their state issued green pants in a manner whereby they are cuffed to expose the skin/ankle" and that this practice was "not allowed and will cease immediately." ( Id. Ex. 1).
On January 25, 2012, DOCCS issued an amendment to Directive 3081, the relevant DOCCS policy regarding inmate clothing, allowing Muslim male inmates to wear their state-issued pants at the top of the ankle bone. ( Id. Ex. 4). Blalock then began to wear his pants at the length mandated by Islamic law, but was forced by Defendant Corrections Officer Jeffrey Erns to change back into unaltered pants twice, once before Erns had seen the amended directive ( id. ¶ 62), and once on February 13, 2012, a few weeks after Erns had read the amended directive in Blalocks presence ( id. ¶¶ 63, 67). During that period, Blalock filed two grievances, one directed at the Directive 3081 Memorandum itself and another at verbal harassment he had allegedly experienced from Erns and Defendant Corrections Officer James Goehl (incorrectly named in the Complaint as "Gayle"). ( Id. Exs. 3, 6).
On May 30, 2012, Blalock was selected at random to submit to a urinalysis. ( Id. ¶ 82). The urinalysis results were positive for marijuana, despite the fact that Blalock, a former crack cocaine user, had been sober since 1997. ( Id. ¶ 87; id. Ex. 11). As a result, Blalock was charged with violating Green Havens drug use policy and was granted a disciplinary hearing. ( Id. ¶ 87; id. Ex. 11). While awaiting that hearing, Blalock submitted two requests to attend religious services. ( Id. ¶ 89). One, sent to Defendant Deputy Superintendent Edward Burnett, never received a response; the other was denied by an unknown officer. ( Id. ¶ 89). Prior to the disciplinary hearing, Blalock also consulted with his assigned hearing assistant Stevenson (who, as noted in supra note 1, has not yet been served), who in turn consulted with Defendant Corrections Officer Nicole Huttle, who worked in the hearing office. ( Id. ¶¶ 90, 94, 97). Huttle told Stevenson that Blalock would not be allowed access to several pieces of documentation that he had requested for the hearing, including all documentation from Fishkill Correctional Facility, the site at which Blalocks specimen was tested. ( Id. ¶ 97; id. Ex. 13).
Blalocks disciplinary hearing, for which Royce served as the hearing officer, took place on June 25, 2012. At the conclusion of the hearing, Royce found Blalock guilty of violating the facilitys drug use policy, and sentenced him to twenty-four days of prehearing keeplock confinement; sixty-six days of special housing unit ("SHU") confinement; and ninety days' loss of phone, commissary, and packages privileges. ( Id. ¶ 100; id. Ex. 17 at 26). On July 5, 2012, Blalock was transferred to Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") to serve the remainder of his SHU sentence.
Blalock commenced this action on November 20, 2013, naming defendants from Green Haven and defendants from Clinton. On December 30, 2013, the Court issued an Order asking Blalock to show cause why his claims against the Clinton Defendants should not be severed from this action under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and transferred to the Northern District of New York pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 1404(a). (Docket No. 8). After receiving Blalocks response (Docket No. 9), the Court severed Blalocks claims arising out of events that occurred at Clinton and transferred those claims to the Northern District of New York (Docket No. 12), where they are now pending.
On March 18, 2014, all but one of the Defendants who had been served - namely, Albert Prack, Superintendent William A. Lee, Burnett, Lieutenant Orazio Bucolo, Sergeant Kevin OConnor, Huttle, Erns, Goehl, and Michael Mills - filed this motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Docket No. 24). On May 6, 2014, Jacobsen filed a separate Answer to the Complaint (Docket No. 41), and the Moving Defendants filed a reply memorandum of law indicating that one additional Defendant, Corrections Officer Natasha Trembath, had been served and joined in the motion seeking dismissal. (Defs.' Reply Mem. 1 n.1). As Blalock indicates that he has abandoned his claims against Mills and Bucolo (Pl.s Mem. Oppn Defs.' Mot. To Dismiss (Docket No. 34) ("Pl's Mem.") 25, 34), the Court will therefore evaluate the motion to dismiss as it relates to the remaining Moving Defendants.
In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all facts set forth in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. See, e.g., Burch v. Pioneer Credit Recovery, Inc., 551 F.3d 122, 124 (2d Cir. 2008). A claim will survive a 12(b)(6) motion, however, only if the plaintiff alleges facts sufficient "to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A plaintiff must show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully, " id., and cannot rely on mere "labels or conclusions" to support a claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. If the plaintiffs pleadings "have not nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed." Id. at 570.
Because Blalock is proceeding pro se, his Complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Nonetheless, a pro se litigant must still state a plausible claim for relief. See, e.g., Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d 119, 124 (2d Cir. 2013). Thus, the Courts "duty to liberally construe a plaintiffs complaint [is not] the equivalent of a duty to re-write it." Geldzahler v. N.Y. Med. Coll., ...