United States District Court, W.D. New York
JEROME CURRY, Pro se, Clinton Correctional Facility.
ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, ATTORNEY GENERAL, STATE OF NEW YORK, KIM S. MURPHY Assistant Attorney General, of Counsel Main Place Tower, Buffalo, NY, Attorney for Defendant.
REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
LESLIE G. FOSCHIO, Magistrate Judge.
This action was referred to the undersigned by Honorable Richard J. Arcara on August 22, 2013 (Doc. No. 11), for all pretrial matters. The matter is presently before the court on Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order (Doc. No. 21), filed February 7, 2014.
Plaintiff Jerome Curry ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") on April 9, 2013, while incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility ("Attica") in Attica, New York, alleging Defendants, employees of New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), violated his rights under the First Amendment while at Attica by infringing Plaintiff's right to freely exercise his religion by depriving Plaintiff of the opportunity to fast during the month of Ramadan.
On January 29, 2014, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint ("Amended Complaint") (Doc. No. 20), adding a claim against Defendants for violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and for retaliating against Plaintiff for filing this action. Amended Complaint ¶ 1. Plaintiff also added an Eighth Amendment claim, alleging that Defendants subjected Plaintiff to cruel and unusual punishment when Defendants provided Plaintiff with one, instead of the customary two, hot meals during the month of Ramadan. Amended Complaint ¶¶ 1, 19.
Plaintiff filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order ("TRO") on February 7, 2014, seeking to prevent Defendants from denying Plaintiff during the month of Ramadan one of the two hot meals per day otherwise given to inmates, and from retaliating against Plaintiff for filing the instant action ("Plaintiff's Motion") (Doc. No. 21). Plaintiff's Motion is supported by the Declaration of Jerome Curry ("Plaintiff's Declaration"). On March 20, 2014, Defendants filed Defendants' memorandum in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion ("Defendants' Memorandum") (Doc. No. 25), and the Declaration of Stewart Eckert ("Eckert Declaration") (Doc. No. 26), attaching Exhibit A ("Eckert Exh. A"). On April 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed a reply memorandum ("Plaintiff's Reply") (Doc. No. 29). Oral argument was deemed unnecessary.
Based on the following, Plaintiff's Motion should be DENIED.
Plaintiff, a practicing Muslim, was an inmate at Attica from 2007 until 2014. Plaintiff's Declaration at 1. As part of his faith, Plaintiff observes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Plaintiff fasts from sunrise to sunset. Plaintiff's Motion ¶ 3.
When religious celebrations involve meals, the religious and nutritional administrators at Attica work together to develop and implement a policy to accommodate observant inmates, in this case Plaintiff and other Muslim inmates at Attica during Ramadan. Eckert Declaration ¶ 4. According to Defendants' policy relevant to this motion, each inmate observing Ramadan receives one hot meal each day, served in the messhall after sunset, and one package of food to take back to their cells to consume before sunrise, to allow observant inmates to partake in the Ramadan fast. Id. ¶¶ 7-9. Plaintiff alleges he is a practicing Muslim who sought to observe Ramadan by fasting in accordance with Islamic religious requirements. See Amended Complaint ¶¶ 3-4. As part of their policy, Defendants generate a special menu outlining the composition of each meal observant inmates are to receive each day during Ramadan. Id. at 8-21. Alternatively, Plaintiff and other Muslim inmates can elect to receive the customary meal schedule for the general inmate population, which includes two hot meals and one cold meal each day. Id. ¶ 6.
Plaintiff's motion, in response to Defendants' implementation of this policy during the month of Ramadan in 2012, asserts that Defendants' policy of providing observant Muslim inmates with one hot meal, instead of the customary two hot meals, during Ramadan violated Plaintiff's freedom under the First Amendment to practice his religion. Plaintiff's Motion ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff alleges that he will suffer immediate and irreparable health risks as a result of Defendants' policy if the court does not grant Plaintiff's Motion, Plaintiff's Declaration at 1, and that Defendants' subjecting Plaintiff to such health risks constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, Plaintiff's Motion ¶¶ 3, 7. Further, Plaintiff alleges his due process rights were violated when Defendants denied Plaintiff one of the two daily hot meals otherwise provided to inmates. Id. ¶ 3. Finally, Plaintiff alleges Defendants' failure to provide Plaintiff with one of the two hot meals otherwise provided to inmates triggers the Equal Protection Clause because Plaintiff's First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion is a fundamental right. Id. ¶ 6.
Following Plaintiff's filing of the instant action against Defendants, Plaintiff alleges Defendants learned about the lawsuit and took retaliatory action against Plaintiff. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendants opened a letter Plaintiff received from this court in relation to this action. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff further alleges Defendants learned about the present action by opening this letter, and that shortly after opening the letter, Plaintiff was issued a misbehavior report for drug use, even though Plaintiff disclaimed drug use during that time. Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges he will suffer irreparable injury from continuing retaliatory action by Defendants if the court does not grant the instant motion. Id.
As noted in a docket entry dated March 28, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred from Attica to Southport Correctional Facility ("Southport") in March 2014. As noted in a second docket entry dated June 11, 2014, Plaintiff was transferred from Southport to Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") in June 2014.
Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from depriving Plaintiff during the month of Ramadan of one of the two hot meals provided to all state inmates. Plaintiff's Motion ¶ 2. Plaintiff also seeks injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants' future retaliation, in the form of disciplinary sanctions, against Plaintiff for filing this action. Plaintiff's Motion ¶ 4. In opposition to Plaintiff's motion, Defendants assert Plaintiff cannot meet his burden of showing Plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm if injunctive relief is denied because Plaintiff's Motion is moot, Defendants' Memorandum at 4, 8, and Plaintiff cannot meet his burden of showing Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits of Plaintiff's First Amendment, RLUIPA, and retaliation claims, id. at 4, 9. Further, Defendants assert Plaintiff cannot demonstrate likelihood of success on the merits of his Eighth Amendment claim because the undisputed facts show observant Muslim inmates do not suffer from deprivation of food or nutrients when on the alternative Ramadan diet. Id. at 10-11. Defendants also assert that Plaintiff cannot move for a preliminary injunction on his retaliation claim because Plaintiff did not establish a relationship between the alleged retaliation and the conduct that gave rise to the Amended Complaint. Id. at 2. In further support of his motion, Plaintiff asserts his requests for injunctive relief should be granted because he established a clear relationship between the the alleged retaliation and the injury claimed in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff's Reply at 3, because Plaintiff suffered and continues to suffer irreparable harm from Defendants' retaliation, id. at 6, and because Plaintiff showed substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits of his First Amendment, RLUIPA, and retaliation claims, id. at 8-9.
The standard for entry of a TRO is the same as for a preliminary injunction, Blast v. Fischer, 2007 WL 2815754, at *1, *2 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2007) ("The standard for a temporary restraining order in this Circuit is the same as for ...