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Dreamwalker v. Strada

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 6, 2015

DOUGLAS ABERNATHY a/k/a RAIN DREAMWALKER, pro se, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANK STRADA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

DORA L. IRIZARRY, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Douglas Abernathy a/k/a Rain Dreamwalker ("Plaintiff"), [1] who practices a Native American religion, filed the instant action asserting claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. against Frank Strada ("Strada" or "Defendant"), Warden for the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York ("MDC"). ( See generally Complaint ("Compl."), Dkt. Entry No. 1.) Plaintiff contends that his First Amendment free exercise rights were violated by Defendant's denial of his request to transfer to a correction facility that could accommodate Plaintiff's religious needs, including access to a "sweat lodge, drums, flutes, rattles, literature, [and] [sufficient] pipe tobacco for proper pipe ceremony[ies]...." (Pl.'s Expedited Pet., Dkt. Entry No. 9 at 2-3.)

Defendant moves for summary judgment ( see Def.'s Mem. of L. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 36), which Plaintiff opposes ( see Pl.'s Mem. of L. in Opp'n, Dkt. Entry No. 36-3). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and this action is dismissed in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Unless otherwise indicated, the facts contained herein are drawn from Defendant's uncontested Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts.[2] ( See Def.'s Stmt. of Mat. Facts ("Def.s' 56.1"), Dkt. Entry No. 36-2.)

Plaintiff was incarcerated at the MDC at the time that he filed the instant action. (Def.'s 56.1 ¶ 4.) During Plaintiff's incarceration, Defendant served as the MDC Warden. (Id. ¶ 7.) Prior to, and during his incarceration, Plaintiff practiced a Native American religion. (Id. ¶ 6.)

The Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") has promulgated rules and regulations regarding the religious beliefs and practices of inmates for the stated purpose of providing "inmates of all faith groups with reasonable and equitable opportunities to pursue religious beliefs and practices, within the constraints of budgetary limitations and consistent with the security and orderly running of the institution." (Id. ¶ 8.) Each correctional facility is required to "develop an Institution Supplement for operating religious programs and activities." (Id. ¶ 11.) The MDC's Institution Supplement indicates that the ritual use of tobacco is authorized only in certain designated areas when available. (Id. ¶ 14.) The MDC Institution Supplement further specifies that, "[s]weat [l]odge and outdoor worship services are not available at MDC Brooklyn because of architectural design restraints." (Id. ¶ 15.)

The BOP maintains an "Administrative Remedy Program, " whereby inmates may seek relief for "an issue relating to any aspect of his/her own confinement." (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff took advantage of these grievance procedures. On September 12, 2012, Plaintiff submitted a Request for Administrative Remedy to Strada, which was assigned case number 704915 ("Request 704915"). (Id. ¶ 23.) In Request 704915, Plaintiff complained that his First Amendment free exercise of religion rights were being violated because the MDC did not have a sweat lodge. (Id. ¶ 24.) He requested transfer to a facility with a sweat lodge. (Id. ) On September 28, 2012, Strada responded in writing to Plaintiff ("9/28/12 Warden Response"). (Id. ¶ 26.) Strada advised Plaintiff that construction of a sweat lodge at the MDC was not possible, "based on the architectural design and the location of the institution" and that, "alternatively, other American Indian services were available to him and that Plaintiff may refer to the Religious Services schedule posted in his housing unit." (Id. ¶¶ 26-28 (alterations omitted).) The BOP Regional Director denied Plaintiff's appeal. (Id. ¶¶ 29-33.) Plaintiff then filed an appeal to the BOP's Central Office. (Id. ¶ 34.) In that appeal, Plaintiff complained, for the first time, about: (1) an unequal distribution of religious resources; (2) a lack of drums, flutes, rattles, and religious literature; (3) a lack of a religious room; (4) the absence of postings about religious activities; (5) insufficient amounts of tobacco for ritual use; and (6) that the facilities at the MDC were inadequate for religious services. (Id. ¶ 35.) While this appeal was pending, Plaintiff filed two additional Requests for Administrative Remedy. (Id. ¶¶ 36-62.) Notably, none of Plaintiff's grievances allege that Strada interfered with Plaintiff's free exercise rights.

On March 5, 2013, Plaintiff was transferred from the MDC to a halfway house. (Id. ¶ 63.) On June 28, 2013, Plaintiff was released from BOP custody. (Id. ¶ 64.) On March 18, 2014, BOP's Central Office notified Plaintiff that, due to his release from BOP custody, his appeal of the 9/28/12 Warden Response and his subsequent Requests for Administrative Remedy were moot. (Id. ¶¶ 65-66.)

DISCUSSION

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must resolve all ambiguities, and credit all factual inferences that could rationally be drawn, in favor of the party opposing summary judgment and determine whether there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, raising an issue for trial." McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet Corp., 482 F.3d 184, 202 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). A fact is "material" within the meaning of Rule 56 when its resolution "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. To determine whether an issue is genuine, "[t]he inferences to be drawn from the underlying affidavits, exhibits, interrogatory answers, and depositions must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Cronin v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 46 F.3d 196, 202 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam) and Ramseur v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 865 F.2d 460, 465 (2d Cir. 1989)). "[T]he evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, "[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

The moving party bears the burden of "informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record]... which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Once the moving party has met its burden, "the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (emphasis omitted). The nonmoving party must offer "concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in [its] favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party may not "rely simply on conclusory statements or on contentions that the affidavits supporting the motion are not credible, or upon the mere allegations or denials of the nonmoving party's pleading." Ying Jing Gan v. City of New York, 996 F.2d 522, 532-33 (2d Cir. 1993) (citations and internal quotations omitted). ...


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