United States District Court, N.D. New York
March 17, 2015
DIMAS CUADRADO, Plaintiff,
STATE OF NEW YORK; BRUEAULT, Correction Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; CARROL, Correction Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility; and MILLET, Correction Officer, Coxsackie Correctional Facility, Defendants.
DIMAS CUADRADO, Plaintiff Pro se, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, Comstock, New York,
HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the, State of New York, RACHEL MAMAN KISH, ESQ., Assistant Attorney General, Albany, New York, Attorney for Defendant.
REPORT-RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER
CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff pro se Dimas Cuadrado, an inmate who was, at all relevant times, in the custody of the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendant Brueault violated his constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. Compl. (Dkt. No. 1). At all relevant times, plaintiff was an inmate incarcerated at Coxsackie Correctional Facility ("Coxsackie"). Additional defendants were named, but the claims against them have since been dismissed. Dkt. No. 10. Plaintiff demands monetary damages in the amount of $2, 000, 000 from New York State, "paid dental expenses, the removement [sic] from [Coxsackie] correctional facility, " and the suspension of the "officer." Compl. at 5. For the following reasons, it is recommended that Brueault's motion for dismissal be granted.
The allegations of plaintiff's complaint are viewed as true. See subsection III (A) infra. Plaintiff alleges that on October 13, 2014 he was on his way to Jewish services when he was approached by Officer Brueault and asked to "get on the wall for a pat frisk.'" Compl. at 5. While plaintiff obeyed Brueault's order, other officers notified Brueault that "the area was clear'". Id . Brueault then swung and hit plaintiff in his face, breaking his jaw and rendering him unconscious. Id . Plaintiff regained consciousness while the other officers "beat on [him] until a sergeant came." Id.
Plaintiff contends that defendant Brueault violated the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force during the October 13 incident. Compl. at 5. Brueault argues that plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") and that the Eleventh Amendment bars the claims against Brueault in his official capacity. Dkt. No. 13-1.
A. Legal Standard
Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes dismissal of a complaint that states no actionable claim. When considering a motion to dismiss, "a court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Sheppard v. Beerman, 18 F.3d 147, 150 (2d Cir. 1994). However, this "tenet...is inapplicable to legal conclusions[; thus, t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. lqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (holding that "entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action...[as] courts are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.")).
Accordingly, to defeat a motion to dismiss, a claim must include "facial plausibility...that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (explaining that the plausibility test "does not impose a probability requirement...it simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].")); see also Arar v. Ashcroft, 585 F.3d 559, 569 (2d Cir. 2009) (holding that, "[o]n a motion to dismiss, courts require enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible....") (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Determining whether plausibility exists is a "context-specific [task] that requir[es] the reviewing court to draw on its [judicial] experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64 (citation omitted).
When, as here, a party seeks judgment against a pro se litigant, a court must afford the non-movant special solicitude. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006). As the Second Circuit has stated,
[t]here are many cases in which we have said that a pro se litigant is entitled to "special solicitude, "...that a pro se litigant's submissions must be construed "liberally, "... and that such submissions must be read to raise the strongest arguments that they "suggest".... At the same time, our cases have also indicated that we cannot read into pro se submissions claims that are not "consistent" with the pro se litigant's allegations, ... or arguments that the submissions themselves do not "suggest"... that we should not "excuse frivolous or vexatious filings by pro se litigants"... and that pro se status "does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law[.]"
Id. (citations and footnote omitted); see also Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant #1, 537 F.3d 185, 191-92 (2d Cir. 2008) ("On occasions too numerous to count, we have reminded district courts that when [a] plaintiff proceeds pro se, ... a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally.'" (citations omitted)).
Brueault contends that his motion to dismiss must be granted because plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. Specifically, Brueault argues that plaintiff failed to wait until he received a decision on his final appeal before commencing this action. Under the PLRA, an inmate must exhaust all administrative remedies before bringing an action for claims arising out of his or her incarceration. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002); see also Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 82 (2006). To exhaust administrative remedies, the inmate must complete the full administrative review process set forth in the rules applicable to the correctional facility in which he or she is incarcerated. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 218 (2007) (internal citation omitted). The exhaustion requirement applies even if the administrative grievance process does not provide for all the relief requested by the inmate. Nussle, 534 U.S. at 524.
Although the Supreme Court has deemed exhaustion mandatory, the Second Circuit has recognized that "certain caveats apply." Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 175 (2d Cir. 2006) (citing Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 677 (2d Cir. 2004)). Thus, a court must conduct a three-part inquiry to determine whether an inmate's failure to follow the applicable grievance procedures is fatal to his or her claims. A court must consider whether:
(1) administrative remedies are not available to the prisoner; (2) defendants have either waived the defense of failure to exhaust or acted in such a way as to estop them from raising the defense; or (3) special circumstances, such as a reasonable misunderstanding of the grievance procedures, justify the prisoner's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement.
Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175 (citing Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir. 2004)).
Administrative remedies are unavailable when there is no "possibility of... relief for the action complained of." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 667 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 738 (2001)). The test to determine the availability of an administrative remedy is an objective one: whether "a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness" would have deemed it available. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (citation omitted). Unavailability may be found in circumstances "where plaintiff is unaware of the grievance procedures or did not understand it... or where defendants' behavior prevents plaintiff from seeking administrative remedies." Hargrove v. Riley, No.04-CV-4587 (DST), 2007 WL 389003, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. Jan 31, 2007) (internal citations omitted). Further, "where a prisoner has made a reasonable attempt' to file a grievance, and prison officials have prevented the prisoner from filing that grievance, the grievance procedures are not available' to the defendant, and thus, the [PLRA] does not preclude the prisoner from suing in federal court." Thomas v. New York State Dep't of Corr. Servs., 00-CV-7163 (NRB), 2002 WL 31164546, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2002) (citations omitted).
Here, there is no dispute that at all relevant times, DOCCS had in place a three-step inmate grievance program. N.Y. COMP. CODES R. & REGS. tit. 7, § 701.5 (2014). First, the inmate is required to file a complaint with an inmate grievance program clerk ("IGP") within twenty-one days of the alleged action. Id. at § 701.5(a)(1). An IGP representative has sixteen calendar days to informally resolve the issue. Id. at § 701.5(b)(1). If no informal resolution occurs, the full IGP committee must hold a hearing within sixteen days of receipt of the grievance and must issue a written decision within two working days after conclusion of the hearing. Id . §§ 701.5(b)(2)(i), (ii). If unfavorable, a grievant may appeal the IGP committee's determination to the facility superintendent within seven calendar days of receipt of the determination. Id . § 701.5(c)(1). If the superintendent's determination is unfavorable, the grievant may take the third step of the grievance procedure by appealing to the central office review committee ("CORC") within seven days after receipt of the unfavorable superintendent's determination. Id . §§ 701.5 (d)(i), (ii). CORC must issue a written decision within thirty days of receipt of the grievant's appeal. Id . § 701.5(d)(2)(ii).
Here, plaintiff presumably completed the first two steps of the administrative grievance process. His complaint states that his "grievance is still pending." Compl. at 5. Despite his claim otherwise, he has not completed the final step of the administrative grievance process as CORC has not yet addressed plaintiff's appeal. Dkt. No. 18. Plaintiff does not allege in his response that he failed to meet the exhaustion requirement due to administrative remedies being unavailable to him, nor does he allege that the defendant has waived the defense of failure to exhaust or acted in such a way as to estop him from raising such a defense. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175. Plaintiff also does not allege any special circumstances that would justify his failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement. Id.
As discussed, the exhaustion of administrative remedies must be fully completed prior to the filing of an action in federal court. Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 123 (2d Cir. 2001), overruled on other grounds, Porter, 534 U.S. at 532. Thus, "where it appears that plaintiff has begun, but not completed, the grievance procedure, the appropriate course would be to dismiss the action without prejudice to allow plaintiff to meet the exhaustion requirement." Leal v. Johnson, 315 F.Supp.2d 345, 347 (W.D.N.Y. 2004). Dismissal is required even in cases where the exhaustion requirement is met subsequent to the filing of the complaint. Rossi v. Fishcer, 13-CV-3167 (PKC)(DF), 2015 WL 769551, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2015). Because plaintiff has not received a written decision from CORC yet, and has demonstrated no exception, he has not met the exhaustion requirement under the PLRA.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Brueault's motion for dismissal be granted on this ground, but that such dismissal be without prejudice.
B. Eleventh Amendment
Brueault argues that he is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity relating to plaintiff's claims against him in his official capacity. The Eleventh Amendment provides that "[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. CONST. AMEND. XI. "[D]espite the limited terms of the Eleventh Amendment, a federal court [cannot] entertain a suit brought by a citizen against his [or her] own State. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98 (1984) (citing Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 21 (1890)). Regardless of the nature of the relief sought, in the absence of the State's consent or waiver of immunity, a suit against the State or one of its agencies or departments is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment. Halderman, 465 U.S. at 100. Section 1983 claims do not abrogate the Eleventh Amendment immunity of the states. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 340-41 (1979).
Moreover, suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is a suit against the entity that employs the official. Faird v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 921 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974)). "Thus, while an award of damages against an official in his personal capacity can be executed only against the official's personal assets, a plaintiff seeking to recover on a damages judgment in an official-capacity suit must look to the government entity itself, " rendering the latter suit for money damages barred even though asserted against the individual officer in his official capacity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).
Here, because plaintiff seeks monetary damages against Brueault for acts occurring within the scope of his duties, the Eleventh Amendment bar applies.
Accordingly, it is recommended that Brueault's motion on this ground be granted.
For the reasons stated above, it is hereby RECOMMENDED that defendant Brueault's motion for dismissal (Dkt. No. 13) of plaintiff's complaint (Dkt. No. 1) be GRANTED; and it is further
1. all claims against defendant Brueault in his official capacity be dismissed with prejudice, and;
2. all other claims remaining in plaintiff's complaint be dismissed without prejudice, for plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).
ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court serve a copy of this Report-Recommendation and Order upon the parties to this action, pursuant to local rules.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the parties may lodge written objections to the foregoing report. Such objections shall be filed with the Clerk of the Court. FAILURE TO OBJECT TO THIS REPORT WITHIN FOURTEEN (14) DAYS WILL PRECLUDE APPELLATE REVIEW. Roldan v. Racette, 984 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 1993); Small v. Sec'y of HHS, 892 F.2d 15 (2d Cir. 1989); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); FED. R. Civ. P. 72, 6(a), 6(e).
Attorneys and Law Firms
Wayne Hargrove, Ossining, NY, pro se.
Alexander V. Sansone, Troy & Troy, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, Joseph Carney, Mineola, NY, for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
*1 Inmate Wayne Hargrove ("Hargrove" or "plaintiff') brings this pro se action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Nassau County Sheriff, Nassau County Correctional Facility ("NCCF") and NCCF's medical staff, (collectively, "defendants"), seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by defendants while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 arguing, inter alia, that Hargrove's claims should be dismissed because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies, as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. For the following reasons, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.
On August 27, 2004,  Hargrove filed a complaint, alleging that defendants violated his civil rights when they forcibly administered purified protein derivative skin tests ("PPD test") to test for latent tuberculosis ("TB") in April 2002, 2003 and 2004 while he was incarcerated at NCCF. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A. Hargrove named Nassau County Sheriff Edward Reilly ("Reilly"), NCCF and Nassau County University Medical Staff as defendants. On November 22, 2004, after discovery, County Defendants and NHCC Defendants filed separate motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Both defendants properly filed a Local Rule 56.1 Statement and served Hargrove a Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.2.
Tuberculosis Testing at NCCF
Upon entering NCCF, new prisoners must first go through medical intake. Aff. of Kim Edwards, ("Edwards Aff.") ¶ 3. This standard process usually takes seventy-two hours. Edwards Aff. ¶ 4. During medical intake, NCCF tests inmates for TB. Aff. of Getachew Feleke ("Feleke Aff.") ¶ 3. NCCF generally uses a PPD test to detect latent TB. Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. However, if an inmate has previously tested positive for TB, it is NCCF's policy to test for TB using an x-ray instead. Feleke Aff. ¶ 3. As part of its Infectious Disease Program, NCCF re-tests inmates for TB each year, beginning after they have been housed in that facility for one year. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5.
Hargrove's Tuberculosis Testing at NCCF
On March 15, 2002, Hargrove was incarcerated at NCCF. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. Before entering the general population, Hargrove was processed through medical intake. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. The NCCF Medical Intake Chart for Hargrove, dated March 15, 2002 ("3/15/02 Chart"), shows that Hargrove informed medical staff that he had previously been exposed to tuberculosis. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. The 3/15/02 Chart also shows that Hargrove reported testing positive to a prior PPD test and that he had been treated for TB in 2000. NHCC Defs.' Notice of Mot., Ex. C, at 1. Hargrove alleges that he was exposed to and treated for TB in 1997. Hargrove's Aff. in Opp. to Mot. for Summary Judgment, ("Aff. in Opp."), Ex. A at 1-2. Defendants contend that Hargrove was given an x-ray during the medical intake process because of his reported positive PPD test, and that the x-ray was negative, showing no active TB infection. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 2; Edwards Aff. ¶ 3. Without specifying a date, Hargrove generally states that his "request to be x-rayed was denied."Aff. in Opp. at 3.
*2 Pursuant to NCCF's Infectious Disease Program, after being incarcerated in NCCF for a year, Hargrove was scheduled to be re-tested for TB. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. On May 24, 2003, Hargrove was given a PPD skin test. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. This test was negative. Edwards Aff. ¶ 5; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 4. According to Hargrove, he requested an x-ray instead of a PPD test because of his previous exposure to TB, but was forced to submit to the PPD test. He also alleges that defendants threatened to put him in "keep lock" or "lock up" unless he submitted to the PPD test. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 1-4, Ex. A.
The following year, in June of 2004, Hargrove was scheduled to be retested. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Because of the contradiction between the negative May 2003 PPD test and his reported positive history, NCCF contacted the Infectious Disease Department of the Nassau County Medical Center. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6. It was suggested that Hargrove be given a two-step PPD test, administered fifteen days apart. Feleke Aff. ¶ 4; Edwards Aff. ¶ 6. Hargrove was given these two PPD skin tests in June 2004. Edwards Aff. ¶ 6; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 5. Again, Hargrove alleges that these tests were administered against his will and under threat of being placed in quarantine. Complaint, Exs. A, B; Aff. in Opp., Ex. A.
On December 3, 2004, Hargrove was seen by a physician's assistant. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6. During this meeting, Hargrove complained of a dry cough and that the site on his forearm where the June 2004 PPD tests had been administered was red and swollen. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 6; 11/28/04 Sick Call Request.
Hargrove's December 18, 2004 chart notes a positive PPD test and an order was placed in the chart that Hargrove not be submitted for future PPD tests. Edwards Aff. ¶ 7; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8. See also 11/19/2004 Grievance.
Hargrove alleges that the following physical ailments were caused by the PPD tests: chronic coughing, high blood pressure, chronic back pain, lung infection, dizzy spells, blurred vision and a permanent scar on both his forearms. Complaint, Ex. C; Aff. in Opp. at 3-4.
NCCF's Inmate Grievance Procedure
NCCF has had an inmate grievance program ("IGP") in place since 2001. Aff. of Kenneth Williams, ("Williams Aff."), at 2. NCCF's IGP is carried out in conformance with the New York State Commission of Corrections Minimum Standards and Regulations for Management of County Jails and Penitentiaries ("Minimum Standards"). Id.
The IGP is designed to resolve complaints and grievances that an inmate may have regarding the inmate's care and treatment while incarcerated at NCCF. Williams Aff. at 2. Upon entering NCCF, all inmates receive a copy of the NCCF inmate handbook, which outlines the IGP. Id.
*3 The record does not include an actual copy of NCCF's IGP, but the NCCF's IGP is detailed in the affidavit of NCCF Investigator Kenneth Williams. The IGP encourages inmates to resolve their grievances informally with the staff member assigned to the inmate housing unit first. Id. If an acceptable resolution cannot be reached, inmates must then proceed through the formal three-step process set out in the IGP. Id. at 3.
The first step requires an inmate to submit his grievance form to the Inmate Grievance Unit by placing it in a locked box located in each housing area, "within five days of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance." Id. at 2-3.NCCF indexes all grievance forms filed by inmates in a log book and in a computer system. Id. at 1, 3. Once a grievance form is received by the Inmate Grievance Unit, the grievance is investigated and the inmate will receive a written determination of the outcome from the Inmate Grievance Coordinator in Section II of the grievance form. Id. at 3. The inmate is then given a choice to accept or appeal the decision by checking the desired selection and signing his name in Section III of the grievance form. See, e.g., 11/19/2004 Grievance form. If the inmate is not satisfied with the decision of the Inmate Grievance Coordinator, the inmate may appeal the determination to the Chief Administrative Officer. Williams Aff. at 3. Finally, if the inmate is not satisfied with the Chief Administrative Officer's determination, the inmate may appeal to the New York State Commission of Correction Citizen's Policy and Complaint Review Council ("Council"). Id. at 3. The Council will then render a final determination. Id. at 3.
Authenticity of the Grievance Forms and Other Documents Submitted by Hargrove
In support of his allegations that he continuously informed defendants that he had been exposed to TB and, therefore, should not have been given PPD tests, Hargrove submitted three letters with his complaint, two of which were addressed to the Inmate Grievance Committee and one of which was addressed to "To whom this may concern." Complaint, Exs. A-C. He also submitted five complaint letters written to Sheriff Reilly, seventeen sick call requests and nine grievance forms during discovery and with his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, explaining that some of the medical records and notarized letters were "missing." Aff. in Opp, Ex. A at 2. Defendants call the authenticity of most of these documents into question, contending that Hargrove never submitted any grievance form or complaint letter before he filed his complaint. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 16-21; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement at ¶¶ B2, C3, D3.
Kenneth Williams, an investigator at NCCF in the Inmate Grievance Unit, testified that he reviewed all of the grievance forms, complaint letters and sick call requests annexed to Hargrove's Complaint and to Hargrove's Affidavit in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Williams Aff. at 2. Williams testified that he examined the grievance records at NCCF and searched "for any grievances by plaintiff/inmate Hargrove" and found "only two." Williams Aff. at 1. The first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, complained that the medical staff continued "forcing [Hargrove] to take a T.B. shot while [he] keep[s] telling them that [he] has been exposed to T.B." 11/19/2004 Grievance; Williams Aff. at 1. In response to this grievance, Hargrove's "positive" TB status was noted in his medical records and an order was placed in Hargrove's medical chart, stating that Hargrove not be subjected to future PPD tests. 11/19/2004 Grievance, Section II; Williams Aff. at 1; NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶ 8; Edwards Aff. ¶ 7. In Section III of the 11/19/2004 Grievance, Hargrove acknowledged that he had read the Grievance Coordinator's decision, and that he chose to accept the decision instead of appealing it. 11/19/2004 Grievance. The other grievance received by the Grievance Unit, dated May 11, 2005, complained of an unrelated matter. 5/11/2005 Grievance (complaining of back problems and requesting the return of his medical shoes); Williams Aff. at 1. Thus, Williams concluded that, beside the 11/19/2004 and 5/11/2005 Grievance Forms, none of the other documents were "received by the grievance unit, and, given the locked box system, the grievance-forms were never submitted by plaintiff/inmate."Williams Aff. at 2.
*4 A visual examination of the grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claims suggests forgery. Five of the nine grievance forms were requests to stop PPD testing. See April 19, 2002 grievance; April 28, 2002 grievance; April 20, 2003 grievance; April 28, 2003 grievance; November 19, 2004 grievance. The remaining grievance forms concerned Hargrove's requests for medical shoes. See March 18, 2002 grievance; July 6, 2002 grievance; February 20, 2003 grievance; May 11, 2005 grievance. Of the grievance forms complaining of unwanted PPD tests, the April 28, 2002 grievance form is a patent photocopy of the April 19, 2002 grievance form, and the April 28, 2003 grievance form is a patent photocopy copy of the April 20, 2003 grievance form, with only the handwritten dates changed. The only potentially authentic grievance forms relating to Hargrove's complaint about the PPD testing are dated April 19, 2002, April 20, 2003, and November 19, 2004. Of these grievance forms, only the November 19, 2004 has been authenticated by NCCF personnel. See generally Williams Aff. at 1-4.
Turning to the complaint letters addressed to Reilly, many contain notary stamps cut from the bottom of unrelated documents and photocopied onto the bottom of the complaint letters. See County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 18-21. C.O. Thomas McDevitt and C.O. Paul Klein, both of whom perform notary services for prisoners at NCCF, have submitted sworn affidavits, stating that they kept individual Notary Log Books covering all dates relevant to this litigation. Aff. of C.O. Klein, ("Klein Aff."), at 1; Aff. of C.O. McDevitt, ("McDevitt Aff."), at 1. McDevitt's Notary Log Book shows that he notarized only one document for Hargrove. This document, dated May 13, 2002, was a motion related to Hargrove's criminal trial. McDevitt Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed the Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of that notarized motion. McDevitt Aff. at 2. McDevitt states that he never notarized any other documents for Hargrove. McDevitt Aff. at 2. However, McDevitt's stamp and signature dated May 13, 2002 (the date of the legitimate notarization) appear on Hargrove's letter to Sheriff Reilly dated May 10, 2002. County Defs.' Not. of Motion, Ex. A.
These facts repeat themselves in regard to the documents bearing the notary stamp and signature of Klein. Klein had performed several legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection to Hargrove's criminal trial. Klein Aff. at 1-2. Hargrove signed Klein's Notary Log Book acknowledging receipt of those notarized documents. Klein Aff. at 2. However, Klein states that he never notarized any of Hargrove's letters addressed to Sheriff Reilly that bear Klein's stamp and signature. Klein Aff. at 2. On all of the documents that Hargrove submitted bearing Klein's stamp and signature, the dates and signatures of Klein match identically to the dates on which he had performed legitimate notarizations for Hargrove in connection with his criminal trial. Defendants argue it is clear that the documents bearing the stamps and signatures of McDevitt and Klein were not actually notarized by these notaries. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 17-22.
*5 Hargrove does not deny these allegations. Instead, he resubmits the documents that McDevitt and Klein testify they did not notarize with his Affidavit in Opposition and insists that the documents "refute[ ] the assertions put forth by the defendants."Aff. in Opp. at 2.
Summary Judgment Standard
A motion for summary judgment is granted when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and... the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A court ruling on a summary judgment motion must construe the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Williams v. Metropolitan Detention Center, 418 F.Supp.2d 96, 100 (E.D.N.Y.2005). Defendants, the moving party in this action, bear the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Baisch v. Gallina, 346 F.3d 366, 371 (2d Cir.2003).
As Hargrove is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be reviewed carefully and liberally, and be interpreted to "raise the strongest argument it suggests, " Green v. United States, 260 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir.2001), particularly when civil rights violations are alleged, see, e.g., McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir.2004). Plaintiffs complaint does not specify the legal theories upon which it relies, but, in construing his complaint to raise its strongest arguments, it will be interpreted to raise claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See, e.g., Wort v. Burgos, No. 04-CV-4940, 2005 WL 2660384, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2005) (liberally construing plaintiffs complaint, which failed to specify the legal theory or theories upon which it rested, as, inter alia, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100 (same).
Prison Litigation Reform Act
a. Purpose of the Prison Litigation Reform Act
The PLRA was intended to "reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits." Woodford v. Ngo, ___ U.S. ___, 126 S.Ct. 2378, 2387 (2006) (quoting Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002)). It seeks to eliminate unwarranted interference with the administration of prisons by federal courts, and thus "affor[d] corrections officials time and opportunity to address complaints internally before allowing the initiation of a federal case.'" Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387 (quoting Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). See also Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001). Formal grievance procedures allow prison officials to reconsider their policies, implement the necessary corrections and discipline prison officials who fail to follow existing policy. See Ruggiero v. County of Orange, 467 F.3d 170, 177-78 (2d Cir.2006).
b. The Exhaustion Requirement
The PLRA's "invigorated" exhaustion provision, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a), provides the mechanism to reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoners' suits by requiring that prison officials have the opportunity to address prisoner complaints through internal processes before allowing a case to proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 524). Section 1997e(a) provides that:
*6 [n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).
The exhaustion requirement is a mandatory condition precedent to any suit challenging prison conditions, including suits brought under Section 1983. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2383; Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 174; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 100-01. The exhaustion provision is applicable to suits seeking relief, such as money damages, that may not be available in prison administrative proceedings, as long as other forms of relief are obtainable through administrative channels. Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675 (2d Cir.2004); see also Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382-83 ("[A] prisoner must now exhaust administrative remedies even where the relief sought-monetary damages-cannot be granted by the administrative process.") (citing Booth, 532 U.S. at 734).
In June 2006, the Supreme Court held that the PLRA requires "proper exhaustion" before a case may proceed in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2387. "Proper exhaustion" requires a prisoner to use "all steps that the agency holds out, and doing so properly (so that the agency addresses the issues on the merits).'" Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385 (emphasis in original)). Although the level of detail necessary to properly exhaust a prison's grievance process will vary from system to system, Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910, 2007 WL 135890, at *12 (Jan. 22, 2007), "proper exhaustion" under the PLRA "demands compliance with [that] agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules.' " Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2386). Thus, the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is not satisfied by "untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies." Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 (citing Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
Exhaustion Analysis: Hargrove did not Exhaust the Administrative Remedies Made Available by NCCF prior to Bringing Suit
Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA applies to Hargrove's complaint; Hargrove was and continues to be confined in a correctional facility, see Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004), and Hargrove's claim is about a "prison condition" within the meaning of the PLRA, see Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. See also Sloane v. W. Mazzuca, No. 04-CV-8266, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 31, 2006) (recognizing PLRA's application to complaint alleging retaliation by prison officials for plaintiffs refusal to consent to a PPD test). Accordingly, the merits of Hargrove's Section 1983 claims can only be addressed if it is first determined that Hargrove properly exhausted each claim under Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA before filing his complaint in federal court.
*7 Hargrove has submitted both forged and authentic grievance forms in opposing defendants' motions for summary judgment. Excluding, for the moment, the forged documents, NCCF's records reflect that Hargrove did not submit his first grievance until after he filed the instant complaint. Williams Aff. at 1. Hargrove's first grievance complaining of unwanted PPD testing is dated November 19, 2004, Williams Aff. at 1, two to three months after Hargrove filed his complaint. Additionally, this first grievance, dated November 19, 2004, was submitted five months after the last PPD test was administered to him in June 2004. NHCC Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ 5, 6. This five-month period far exceeds the five-day window provided by NCCF's IGP. Since Hargrove failed to comply with the IGP's deadlines, he did not properly exhaust the available administrative remedies. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 176 ("untimely or otherwise procedurally defective attempts to secure administrative remedies do not satisfy the PLRA's exhaustion requirement.'") (quoting Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2382).
Furthermore, even if the falsified grievance forms Hargrove submitted in support of his claim are considered authentic, they are still untimely. The diagnostic TB tests (whether x-ray or PPD tests) were given to Hargrove on March 15, 2002, May 24, 2003 and in June of 2004, but the grievance forms Hargrove submitted complaining of unwanted PPD tests are dated April 19, 2002, April 28, 2002, April 20, 2003, April 28, 2003 and November 19, 2004. None of these grievances were filed "within five days of the of the date of the act or occurrence giving rise to the grievance." Williams Aff. at 3. There is no evidence in the record suggesting that NCCF's IGP allows for a tolling of the five-day time limit in which to file a grievance.
While the letters to Reilly and sick call requests show that Hargrove attempted to bring his complaints about the PPD testing to the attention of the prison staff, see, e.g., Aff. in Opp., Exs. A-D, NCCF's IGP requires use of formal grievance forms. Thus, writing complaint letters and submitting sick call requests did not properly exhaust NCCF's available administrative remedies. See, e.g., Hernandez v. Coffey, No. 99-CV-11615, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2006) (holding letters did not satisfy plaintiffs exhaustion obligation); Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101 (holding that because plaintiffs efforts to convey his medical condition through letters and conversations with the warden and medical staff did "not include the required steps of the PLRA's administrative remedy process, " plaintiff failed to exhaust); Mills v. Garvin, No. 99-CV-6032, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3333, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2001) ("letter writing is not the equivalent of an exhaustion of administrative remedies under the PLRA").
As Hargrove failed to properly exhaust his administrative remedies, this action is precluded by 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a) unless Hargrove can establish excuse for his failure to exhaust.
No Grounds to Excuse Plaintiffs Failure to Exhaust
*8 Exhaustion is an affirmative defense that defendants have the duty to raise. Jones, 2007 WL 135890, at * 8-11; Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *4; Williams, 418 F.Supp.2d at 101. Once argued by the defendants, a plaintiff has an opportunity to show why the exhaustion requirement should be excused or why his failure to exhaust is justified. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175; Collins v. Goord, 438 F.Supp.2d 399, 411 (S.D.N.Y.2006) ("[T]he Second Circuit has cautioned that while the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is mandatory, ' certain caveats apply.'") (internal citations omitted). Thus, before concluding that a prisoner failed to exhaust available administrative remedies as required by Section 1997e(a) of the PLRA, the following three factors must be considered: (1) whether administrative remedies were actually available to the prisoner; (2) whether defendants have either waived the defense of failure to exhaust or acted in such a way as to estop them from raising the defense; and (3) whether special circumstances, such as a reasonable misunderstanding of the grievance procedures, exist justifying the prisoner's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirement. Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 175 (citing Hemphill v. New York, 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004)).
a. Whether administrative remedies were "available" to Hargrove
The first step in the Hemphill inquiry requires a court to determine whether administrative remedies were available to the prisoner. Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686. The test for assessing availability is an "objective one: that is, would a similarly situated individual of ordinary firmness have deemed them available." Id. at 688 (internal quotation marks omitted). In making this determination, "courts should be careful to look at the applicable set of grievance procedures." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 668 (2d Cir.2004). Exhaustion may be considered unavailable in situations where plaintiff is unaware of the grievance procedures or did not understand it, Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 179, or where defendants' behavior prevents plaintiff from seeking administrative remedies,  Hemphill v. State of New York 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004).
Here, Hargrove has not claimed that NCCF's administrative grievance procedure was unavailable to him. In fact, Hargrove demonstrated his access to and knowledge of NCCF's IGP by filing proper grievances on November 19, 2004 and on May 10, 2005. Hargrove did not dispute any part of Investigator Williams's affidavit detailing the IGP and its availability to inmates since 2001. Specifically, Hargrove did not dispute, upon entering the facility, that he received a copy of the inmate handbook outlining the IGP. He has not claimed that he is unfamiliar with or unaware of NCCF's IGP. Hargrove has not alleged that prison officials failed to advance his grievances or that they threatened him or took any other action which effectively rendered the administrative process unavailable.
*9 Additionally, Hargrove's transfer from NCCF to Sing Sing Correctional Facility ("Sing Sing") in July 2005 did not excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust. See, e.g., Sims v. Blot, No. 00-CV-2524, 2003 WL 21738766, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 25, 2003) (determining that failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not excused by transfer to another facility); Santiago v. Meinsen, 89 F.Supp.2d 435, 440-41 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (determining that plaintiff should not be "rewarded" for failing to participate in grievance procedure before being transferred). Hargrove had ample opportunity to properly file his grievances and to appeal their results as required by NCCF's procedures while he was imprisoned at NCCF. The last PPD test Hargrove complains of was given in 2004; therefore, Hargrove had until June or July of 2004 to timely file his grievance in accordance with NCCF's IGP. Hargrove was not transferred to Sing Sing until July 2005. County Defs.' Mem. of Law at 2. Thus, Hargrove's transfer cannot excuse his previous failure to properly exhaust.
The second step of the inquiry asks whether defendants are estopped from raising exhaustion as a defense. Specifically, "whether the defendants may have forfeited the affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it, or whether the defendants' own actions inhibiting the inmate's exhaustion of remedies may estop one or more of the defendants from raising the plaintiffs failure to exhaust as a defense." Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 (internal citations omitted).
Here, Hargrove has not made any statements that would permit a finding that defendants should be estopped from raising the affirmative defense of exhaustion or that defendants waived the right to raise the defense. Defendants first raised the PLRA's exhaustion requirement as an affirmative defense in their respective answers. See County Defs.' Am. Answer at 3; NHCC Defs.' Answer at 1. County Defendants raised it again in their motion for summary judgment. See County Defs.' Mem of Law at 15-23. Thus, defendants are not estopped from raising the affirmative defense now. See, e.g., Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (exhaustion defense not waived where defendants first raised it in their motion to dismiss).
Additionally, defendants have not threatened Hargrove or engaged in other conduct preventing him from exhausting the available administrative remedies. Cf. Ziemba v. Wezner, 366 F.3d 161, 162 (2d Cir.2004) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion because of prison officials' beatings, threats and other conduct inhibiting the inmate from filing proper grievances); Feliciano v. Goord, No. 97-CV-263, 1998 WL 436358, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 1998) (holding defendants were estopped from asserting non-exhaustion where prison officials refused to provide inmate with grievance forms, assured him that the incidents would be investigated by staff as a prerequisite to filing a grievance, and provided prisoner with no information about results of investigation). Hargrove has not argued otherwise. See Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (holding defendants were not estopped from asserting a failure to exhaust defense where plaintiff pointed to no affirmative act by prison officials that would have prevented him from pursing administrative remedies); Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that defendants prevented him from pursuing the available administrative remedies); Hernandez, 2006 WL 2109465, at *4 (finding no estoppel where plaintiff did not argue that any threats or intimidation prevented him from pursuing his appeals). Thus, for the same reasons that administrative remedies were not deemed unavailable to Hargrove, defendants are not estopped from raising a failure to exhaust defense.
c. Special circumstances
*10 Even where administrative remedies are available and the defendants are not estopped from arguing exhaustion, the court must "consider whether special circumstances' have been plausibly alleged that justify the prisoner's failure to comply with administrative procedural requirements.'" Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 688 (quoting Giano, 380 F.3d at 676). For example, plaintiffs reasonable interpretation of regulations differing from prison official's interpretation has been held to constitute a "special circumstance." Giano, 380 F.3d at 676-77. No special circumstances have been alleged that would excuse Hargrove from availing himself of administrative remedies. See Sloane, 2006 WL 3096031, at *8; Freeman v. Goord, No. 02-CV-9033, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23873, at * 9-10 (S.D.N.Y.2004) (granting motion to dismiss where "there is no evidence in the record """ of any special circumstances' in this action.")
Hargrove's Failure to Exhaust, in Addition to his Fraud on the Court, Warrants Dismissal with Prejudice
Hargrove has not sufficiently rebutted the defendants' assertion of failure to exhaust, and a liberal reading of his submissions does not reveal any grounds to excuse that failure.
Because Hargrove filed a complaint in federal court before filing a grievance, permitting his unexhausted and unexcused claim to proceed would undercut one of the goals of the exhaustion doctrine by allowing NCCF to be haled into federal court without the "opportunity to correct its own mistakes with respect to the programs it administers." Woodford, 126 S.Ct. at 2385. See also Ruggiero, 467 F.3d at 178 (citing Porter, 534 U.S. at 525). Thus, his complaint must be dismissed. In general, dismissal without prejudice is appropriate where plaintiff has failed to exhaust but the time permitted for pursuing administrative remedies has not expired. Berry v. Kerik, 366 F.3d 85, 87 (2d Cir.2004). Dismissal with prejudice is appropriate where "administrative remedies have become unavailable after the prisoner had ample opportunity to use them and no special circumstances justified failure to exhaust." Berry, 366 F.3d at 88. Here, Hargrove's administrative remedies were available to him during his entire period of confinement at NCCF. He remained incarcerated in NCCF throughout the time period in which he alleges the PPD tests were given. He could have exhausted remedies for his grievances at any time. Therefore, Hargrove had ample opportunity to seek administrative remedies but failed to do so. Because there is no evidence in the record that administrative remedies are still available to Hargrove, as the five-day time period had run, and because Hargrove has alleged no special circumstances justifying his failure to exhaust, his complaint is accordingly dismissed with prejudice. Berry, 366 F.3d at 88 (upholding dismissal with prejudice where plaintiff had no justification for his failure to pursue administrative remedies while they were available.)
*11 Additionally, defendants' have moved for sanctions based on Hargrove's alleged submission of falsified evidence. If a party commits a fraud on the court, the court has the inherent power to do whatever is reasonably necessary to deter abuse of the judicial process. Shangold v. The Walt Disney Co., No. 03-CV-9522, 2006 WL 71672, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. January 12, 2006) (citing Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44 (1991)). Fraud upon the court has been defined as "fraud which seriously affects the integrity of the normal process of adjudication." Gleason v. Jandrucko, 860 F.2d 556, 559 (2d Cir.1988); McMunn v. Mem'l Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 191 F.Supp.2d 440, 445 (S.D.N.Y.2002). In order for a court to grant sanctions based upon fraud, it must be established by clear and convincing evidence that a party has "sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system's ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by... unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party's claim or defense." McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 455 (quoting Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 892 F.2d 1115, 1119 (1st Cir.1989).
After carefully reviewing the allegedly fraudulent documents, it must be concluded that Hargrove consciously falsified these documents. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *1, *3 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiffs fabricated a timeline and plot outlines to advance their claims); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 446 (finding clear and convincing evidence of fraud where plaintiff edited audio tapes and represented that they were unedited during discovery). The notaries performing services for prisoners at NCCF testify that they never notarized many of the documents supplied by Hargrove. See Klein Aff.; McDevitt Aff. Furthermore, a visual examination of the documents themselves makes it clear that many of the documents submitted by Hargrove are forgeries.
In considering what sanction to impose, courts consider the following five factors: (i) whether the misconduct was the product of intentional bad faith; (ii) whether and to what extent the misconduct prejudiced the plaintiffs; (iii) whether there was a pattern of misbehavior rather than an isolated instance; (iv) whether and when the misconduct was corrected; and (v) whether further misconduct is likely to occur in the future. Scholastic, Inc. v. Stouffer, 221 F.Supp.2d 425, 444 (S.D.N.Y.2002) (citing McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 461).
Here, Hargrove's deception was not an isolated instance; he fabricated the dates on many grievance forms, in addition to improperly duplicating notary stamps on complaint letters to make them look authentic. Klein Aff. at 2; McDevitt Aff. at 2; County Defs.' 56.1 Statement ¶¶ C3, D3. He submitted these forgeries to defendants during discovery and again as exhibits to his Affidavit in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. A severe sanction is warranted as Hargrove's forgeries were intentional, he never corrected them once their authenticity was challenged and he continues to insist on their veracity. Aff. in Opp. at 1-4. Given that there is clear and convincing evidence that Hargrove has continuously and consciously perpetrated a fraud on the court through his submission of fraudulent documents and sworn affirmations of those documents' authenticity, dismissal with prejudice is especially appropriate. See, e.g., Shangold, 2006 WL 71672, at *5 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiffs fabricated evidence to advance their claims); Scholastic, 221 F.Supp.2d at 439-444 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff produced seven pieces of falsified evidence); McMunn, 191 F.Supp.2d at 445 (dismissing with prejudice where plaintiff "lie[d] to the court and his adversary intentionally, repeatedly, and about issues that are central to the truth-finding process").
*12 Because Hargrove did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement under the PLRA, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted. Further, considering the fraud Hargrove perpetrated on the court, the claims are dismissed against all defendants with prejudice. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close the case.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CASTEL, District Judge.
*1 Plaintiff Randolph Rossi, proceeding pro se, brings this action against officials of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS"). In his Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants violated, and continue to violate, his constitutional rights by denying him the right to freely practice his Rastafarian faith while incarcerated. He brings an action asserting violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and affirmatively disaffirms any claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to exhaust claims under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), failure to state a claim under the Free Exercise Clause, failure to meet the standards for injunctive relief, lack of personal involvement of certain defendants, and qualified immunity.
For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies as to certain claims and exhaustion is excused as to others. Certain allegations state a claim for relief, but plaintiff fails to plausibly allege a violation under the Free Exercise Clause, Establishment Clause, or Equal Protection Clause with regard to other claims. Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of personal involvement fails. Finally, defendants have not demonstrated entitlement to qualified immunity at the pleading stage.
Plaintiff Rossi is a practicing Nyahbinghi Rastafarian currently incarcerated at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, maintained by DOCCS. ( See Amended Complaint ("Am.Compl."), ¶ 3.) He brings this action against the following employees of DOCCS: Brian Fischer,  Commissioner of DOCCS; Catherine Jacobsen, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Program Services; Jeff McKoy,  Deputy Commissioner for Program Services; Cheryl Morris, Director for Ministerial, Family, and Volunteer Services; Mark Leonard, Director of Ministerial Family and Volunteer Services; Robert Cunningham, Superintendent for the Woodbourne Correctional Facility; Moses Santiago, Coordinating Chaplain; and Dorothy Davis, Drug Counselor at Woodbourne. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-11.) Plaintiff asserts that defendants Fischer, Jacobsen, McKoy, Morris, Leonard, and Cunningham "are responsible for all rules, policies, regulations, and directives governing the religious rights of prisoners under their care and custody."( Id. ¶ 13.) He claims that "[d]efendants have denied plaintiff his right to practice his faith in accordance with the traditions, customs, and tenets of Rastafari." ( Id. )
First, plaintiff claims that he has been denied his right to celebrate, in a manner consistent with his faith, the holy days of April 21, May 25, August 17, and October 7. ( Id. ¶¶ 15-18.) Specifically, plaintiff requests that these four Rastafari holy days be added to the religious calendar with designations that permit plaintiff to (a) refrain from working or attending programs, (b) attend a congregate worship service, and (c) eat a holy day meal with the Rastafarian inmate community. ( Id. ; Hearing before Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, July 8-9, 2014 ("July Tr."), pp. 82-83.) Plaintiff further requests that April 21 and August 17 be designated as "family events." (Am. Compl., ¶ 16; July Tr., p. 82.) During the pendency of plaintiffs motion, DOCCS added all of the holy days at issue to its "Religious Holy Day Calendar, " with varying limitations regarding how each day may be observed. (Religious Holy Day Calendar, Revised July 29, 2014 ("Revised Calendar"), p. 25 (Dkt.82-1).) The revised DOCCS calendar, which was submitted to Magistrate Judge Freeman on the preliminary injunction motion, allows members of the Rastafari faith to be exempt from work and programming, attend a worship service, and share a holy day meal on August 17 and October 7. ( Id. ) For April 21, DOCCS only permits a congregate worship service and for May 25, DOCCS does not authorize any of these three designations. ( Id. ) The revised calendar does not designate any of the four holy days at issue as "family events." ( Id. )
*2 Second, plaintiff claims that defendants have denied him the right to add food items to the holy day meal menu, giving the "Department of Nutritional Services unfettered authority to dictate the dietary laws of the Rastafarian community for holy day celebrations."(Am.Compl., ¶ 27.) He concludes that DOCCS's "Nutritional Services is in effect acting as an ecclesiastical body for the Rastafarian community, " in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. ( Id. ¶¶ 27, A.9.)
Third, plaintiff alleges that Rastafarians at Woodbourne are forced to hold congregate worship services on Wednesdays instead of Fridays, the day of worship Rastafarians traditionally observe. ( Id. ¶ 26.) Defendant Cunningham denied plaintiffs grievance on the basis that "there was no room available for Rastafarians to conduct congregate worship on Fridays."( Id. )
Fourth, plaintiff claims that defendants have denied him the right to wear the Rastafarian religious turban brought to him by his wife. ( Id. ¶¶ 20-22.) After wearing the turban his wife sent him for two months, a correction sergeant told plaintiff that he was no longer permitted to wear the headgear. ( Id. ¶ 20.) The sergeant told plaintiff that according to defendant Santiago, the Coordinating Chaplain, the only religious headgear for Rastafarians was a Tsalot Kob. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff asserts that the Tsalot Kob is "restricted to members of the Ba Beta Kristiyan Church of Haile Selassie I (a Christianized House or Mansion within Rastafari), " and does not apply to the Rastafari sect that plaintiff adheres to, the Nyahbinghi "mansion." ( Id. ¶¶ 3; 20-21.) At no time did defendant Santiago speak to plaintiff to determine the religious significance of his turban. ( Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff complied with the sergeant's order to mail home his turban, and subsequently filed a grievance that was denied by defendant Cunningham. ( Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)
Fifth, plaintiff challenges Directive 4760, which requires religious groups engaging in fundraising activities to apply for Special Purpose Organization ("SPO") status. ( Id. ¶ 23.) He explains that SPO status subjects religious groups to the same mandates as non-religious inmate organizations, including the requirement that each organization surrender half of the funds it raises to the Inmate Occupational Therapy Fund ("IOTF") for the benefit of the general inmate population. ( Id. ) Plaintiff challenges this requirement, as it applies to Rastafarians, because he claims it has "the effect of a tax on religion" and burdens the Rastafarians' ability to purchase necessary materials for congregate services, religious classes, and holy day celebrations. ( Id. ¶ 24.) Sixth, plaintiff claims that defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they denied his request to gain access to spiritual and religious advisers ( Id. ¶¶ 19, A(7).) Defendant Morris denied plaintiffs request for advisers on security grounds, and defendant McKoy upheld Morris's determination after plaintiff sent McKoy a letter seeking intervention. ( Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff claims that "[o]ther religious groups are allowed to have religious and spiritual advisors without breaching security concerns."( Id. )
*3 Finally, plaintiff claims that defendant Davis, a drug counselor at Woodboume, falsely reported that plaintiff admitted to using marijuana for religious rituals to justify recommending him to a drug treatment program. ( Id. ¶ 28.) Davis asked plaintiff in an interview about the "ritual use of marijuana within the Rastafarian faith."( Id. ) "When plaintiff responded to defendant's request, defendant Davis put in her report that plaintiff admitted using marijuana for religious rituals only, " despite the fact that plaintiff claims he "denied ever using substances whatsoever, " including marijuana. ( Id. )
Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief, including compensatory and punitive damages. ( Id. ¶ ¶ A-C.)
Plaintiff commenced this action on May 8, 2013 (Dkt.2), and filed an Amended Complaint on November 19, 2013. (Dkt.11.) Plaintiff moved for a preliminary injunction to enjoin defendants "from continuing to enforce the policies being challenged in this proceeding."(Dkt.17.) Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman, to whom the preliminary injunction motion was referred to hear and report, bifurcated plaintiffs motion on the basis of the temporal proximity of the relief sought. Magistrate Judge Freeman issued a Report and Recommendation ("R & R") as to plaintiffs ability to celebrate April 21 as a holy day (Dkt.27), and a Supplemental R & R, reexamining some of the issues regarding April 21 and addressing the remaining claims raised by plaintiffs motion. (Dkt.89.) The Court adopted both the R & R (Dkt.37) and the Supplemental R & R. (Dkt.103.) Plaintiffs motion was granted, to the extent that defendants were mandatorily enjoined, pending judgment on the merits, to: (1) permit plaintiff to wear a Rastafari religious turban; (2) allow plaintiff to observe all four of the Rastafari holy days at issue in his motion by (a) refraining from working or attending programs, (b) attending a congregate worship service, and (c) sharing a holy day meal with other Rastafarian inmates; and (3) provide space for Rastafari Sabbath worship services on Friday afternoons, or, at least, pending the final resolution of the case on its merits, to provide an alternative accommodation for such services on Friday evenings. (Order Adopting Supp. R & R.)
Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiffs Amended Complaint in its entirety. (Dkt.56.)
LEGAL STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6)
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P., "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, ' rather, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Twomblv, 550 U.S. at 555). In considering a Rule 12(b) (6) motion to dismiss, all non-conclusory factual allegations are accepted as true, see id. at 678-79, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See In re Elevator Antitrust Litig., 502 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir.2007) (per curiam). Moreover, plaintiffs pro se pleadings are given a liberal and generous construction and are read "to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir.2006) (internal quotation marks omitted).
I. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
*4 The exhaustion requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion of administrative remedies is mandatory before an action is commenced. Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 122 (2d Cir.2001), overruled on other grounds, Porter, 534 U.S. at 532. The Second Circuit indicated in Neal, that "[s]ubsequent exhaustion after suit is filed... is insufficient" to satisfy the PLRA. Id.
While the PLRA's exhaustion requirement is "mandatory, " Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006), certain caveats apply. See Hemphill v. N.Y., 380 F.3d 680, 686 (2d Cir.2004). A plaintiffs failure to exhaust administrative remedies may be excused if: (1) administrative remedies were not available; (2) defendants forfeited their affirmative defense of non-exhaustion by failing to raise or preserve it or are estopped from raising non-exhaustion because their own actions inhibited the inmate from exhausting his claims; or (3) "special circumstances" have been plausibly alleged that justify the prisoner's failure to comply with the exhaustion requirements. Id.
"A court may not dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies unless it determines that such remedies are available." Abney v. McGinnis, 380 F.3d 663, 668 (2d Cir.2004) (alterations omitted) (quoting Snider v. Melindez, 199 F.3d 108, 114 (2d Cir.1999)). Courts must look at the applicable set of grievance procedures when determining the availability of an administrative remedy. Id. Plaintiff, as an inmates of a New York State correctional facility, is subject to a three-step, administrative procedure for inmate grievances called the Inmate Grievance Program ("IGP"). See 7 N.Y.Codes R. & Reg. ("N.Y.O.R.R.") § 701.5. The first step in the IGP is to file a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (the "IGRC"). Id. § 701.5(b). After receiving a response from the IGRC, an inmate has seven calendar days in which to appeal to the superintendent. Id. § 701.5(c). Within seven calendar days of receiving a response from the superintendent, the inmate then must appeal to the Central Office Review Committee ("CORC"). Id. § 701.5(d). The CORC is required to render a decision on each appeal and transmit its decision within 30 calendar days from the time the appeal was received. Id.
A number of federal circuit courts have held that a failure to respond to a grievance within the time limit prescribed by the prison grievance process renders an administrative remedy unavailable for purposes of exhaustion. See Jernigan v. Stuchell, 304 F.3d 1030, 1032 (10th Cir.2002); Lewis v. Washington, 300 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir.2002); Foulk v. Charrier, 262 F.3d 687, 698 (8th Cir.2001); Underwood v. Wilson, 151 F.3d 292, 295 (5th Cir.1998). While the Second Circuit has not directly addressed this issue, it has treated the decision cited above favorably. See Hemphill, 380 F.3d at 686 n. 6 (citing to the cases above and noting that when an inmate does not receive a response to a grievance there may be a question as to whether administrative remedies were available); Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 677 (2d Cir.2004) (citing favorably to Underwood and Foulk with regard to availability of administrative remedies). The Second Circuit in Abney cited to Hemphill for the proposition that "exhaustion may be achieved in situations where prison officials fail to timely advance the inmate's grievance."380 F.3d at 667.
*5 Judges in this district, including the undersigned, have also agreed with the proposition that administrative remedies may be deemed unavailable when the prison fails to timely respond to a grievance. See Peoples v. Fischer, 11-cv-2694 (SAS), 2012 WL 1575302, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. May 3, 2012)on reconsideration in part, 898 F.Supp.2d 618 (S.D.N.Y.2012) ("When a prisoner complies with all of the administrative requirements and makes a good-faith effort to exhaust, he should not be denied the opportunity to pursue his grievance in federal court simply because the final administrative decision maker has neglected to issue a final administrative determination."(alterations, internal quotation marks, and citation omitted)); Manos v. Decker, 03-cv-2370 (PKC), 2005 WL 545215, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2005) (asserting that Abney "held in part that administrative remedies are unavailable when prison officials fail to respond to grievances within the time period prescribed by regulation"); Dimick v. Baruffo, 02-cv-2151 (LMM), 2003 WL 660826, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2003) (holding that plaintiffs claims were properly exhausted where CORC rendered an untimely decision and plaintiff filed his complaint almost two months after CORC had been required to respond pursuant to the prison grievance procedures). But see Bennett v. Wesley, 11cv-8715 (JMF), 2013 WL 1798001, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 29, 2013) ("[T]he Court of Appeals has not adopted the position that a delay in responding to a grievance demonstrates per se unavailability."(alterations omitted) (quoting Mateo v. O'Connor, 10-cv-8426 (LAP), 2012 WL 1075830, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2012)); Rivera v. Anna M. Kross Ctr., 10cv-8696 (RJH), 2012 WL 383941, at *4-5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2012) (asserting that the Second Circuit has declined to hold that administrative remedies are deemed unavailable when a plaintiff receives no response from prison authorities within the prescribed time limits.)
Here, defendants argue that some of plaintiffs claims were not exhausted before plaintiff brought this action. (Def. Memo in Support of Motion to Dismiss ("Def.MTD"), pp. 46.) Defendants show that CORC's decision regarding plaintiffs appeal of his May 2013 grievance was issued after the filing of both the original Compliant and the Amended Complaint. ( Id. at 5.) The original Complaint was filed on May 8, 2013, the Amended Complaint was filed on November 19, 2013, and CORC's decision regarding plaintiffs appeal was not issued until December 18, 2013. ( Id. ) Defendants, however, overlook two important points. First, plaintiff exhausted some of his claims through grievances filed prior to his May 2013 grievance. Second, in regard to the May 2013 grievance, the CORC failed to issue a decision within the 30 day limit set by the IGP, rendering the administrative remedies unavailable to plaintiff.
Plaintiffs original Complaint sought to enjoin defendants from (1) prohibiting the wearing of his religious turban, (2) prohibiting his celebration of certain religious holy days in a manner consistent with his beliefs, and (3) collecting half of the funds raised by the Rastafari inmate organization. Each of these claims was properly raised and exhausted through grievances filed on June 17, 2009, September 12, 2011, and March 14, 2012. ( See Hehenberger Decl. Ex. B & D (Dkt.58.)) The CORC issued a decision regarding the June 2009 grievance on August 5, 2009, ruled on the September 2011 grievance on January 4, 2012, and rendered a decision on the March 2012 grievance on September 5, 2012. ( Id. ) The original Complaint was filed eight months after the resolution of the lattermost grievance at issue.
*6 Plaintiffs Amended Complaint, filed on November 19, 2013, seeks additional relief, including: (1) the addition of October 7 to the religious calendar with various designations; (2) that Rastafari congregate worship be moved to Fridays; (3) that defendants be prohibited from making the menu for holy day meals mandatory; (4) that defendants' failure to provide plaintiff with access to Rastafarian advisers be deemed a constitutional violation; and (5) for the removal of information regarding marijuana use from plaintiffs institutional records. Plaintiff filed a grievance that included these additional claims on May 29, 2013. ( Id. at Ex. C.) After receiving a response from both the IGRC and the superintendent, plaintiff appealed the superintendent's decision to CORC on July 26, 2013. ( Id. ) More than four months passed between the appeal and CORC's decision, issued on December 18, 2013, which is far longer than the 30 day deadline explicitly set forth in the IGP process. ( Id. ) Had the CORC provided a timely response to plaintiffs appeal, plaintiff would have received a response prior to filing the Amended Complaint. Plaintiff "should not be penalized for the CORC's failure to timely respond, especially where the eventual response denied the requested relief." Peoples, 2012 WL 1575302, at *9 n. 125. Because prison officials failed to respond to plaintiffs grievance within the 30 day time limit set by regulation, administrative remedies were not available to the plaintiff and dismissal for failure to exhaust is not appropriate. Defendants' motion to dismiss on this ground is denied.
II. The Free Exercise Clause
1. Legal Standard
"Prisoners have long been understood to retain some measure of the constitutional protection afforded by the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause." Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 588 (2d Cir.2003) (citing Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974)). A prisoner's right to exercise his religion is not absolute and must be balanced against "the interests of prison officials charged with complex duties arising from administration of the penal system." Id. (quoting Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 574 (2d Cir.1990)). Accordingly, free exercise claims of prisoners are judged "under a reasonableness' test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied': a regulation that burdens a protected right passes constitutional muster if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.'" Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 274 (2d Cir.2006) (quoting O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987)).
Under this reasonableness test, a prisoner asserting a free exercise claim "must show at the threshold that the disputed conduct substantially burdens his sincerely held religious beliefs." Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 274-75. "The defendants then bear the relatively limited burden of identifying the legitimate penological interests that justify the impinging conduct; the burden remains with the prisoner to show that these articulated concerns were irrational." Id. at 275 (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).
*7 A substantial burden on religious exercise exists "where the state puts substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs." Woodward v. Perez, 12-cv-8671 (ER), 2014 WL 4276416, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2014) (quoting Jolly v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 468, 477 (2d Cir.1996)) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff need not show that the disputed conduct impedes a religious practice mandated by his religion, but he must show that it burdens a religious practice that is "central or important" to his practice of religion. Ford, 352 F.3d at 593-94. "Significantly, the plaintiffs burden in demonstrating substantial burden is not a particularly onerous task." Woodward, 2014 WL 4276416, at *4 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 202 (2d Cir.2004).
Even if a challenged policy substantially burdens the plaintiffs sincerely held religious beliefs, it is nevertheless valid "if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner v. Salley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987); see also Ford, 352 F.3d at 595. When evaluating whether a regulation or official action is reasonable, courts are guided by four factors: (1) "whether the challenged regulation or official action has a valid, rational connection to a legitimate governmental objective;" (2) "whether prisoners have alternative means of exercising the burdened right;" (3) "the impact on guards, inmates, and prison resources of accommodating the right;" and (4) "the existence of alternative means of facilitating exercise of the right that have only a de minimis adverse effect on valid penological interests." Salahuddin, 467 F.3d at 274 (citing Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-91).
A. Substantial Burden
On this motion, defendants do not challenge that plaintiff has alleged sincerely held religious beliefs; rather defendants argue that plaintiff fails to allege facts that show that his religious beliefs were substantially burdened. (Def.MTD, pp. 6, 9.) The Court concludes that plaintiff has plausibly alleged that defendants have substantially burdened his right to freely exercise his religion as to some but not all of the religious practices he wishes to engage in.
i. Claims Involving the Religious Calendar
As noted above, DOCCS has added all of the holy days at issue to the religious calendar, but with varying limitations regarding how each day may be celebrated. (Revised Calendar, p. 25.) The requests that were accommodated are moot. The Court must address whether plaintiff states a claim with respect to those requests which have not been voluntarily accommodated, which include: (1) exemption from work and the provision of a shared meal on April 21 and May 25; (2) permission for a congregate worship service on May 25; and (3) the designation of April 21 and August 17 as "family events." Plaintiff has plausibly alleged a substantial burden on his free exercise of religion with regard to all of the contested holy day restrictions, with the exception that plaintiff cannot reach this threshold burden on his claim concerning "family events."
*8 Plaintiff has shown that celebrating the four holy days at issue by refraining from work and programming, attending a congregate worship service, and sharing a holy day meal is "central or important" to his faith. See Ford, 352 F.3d at 593-94. In the telephone conferences and hearings before Magistrate Judge Freeman, plaintiff explained why the holy days are sacred, stating that April 21 is "the day that Emperor Selassie came to Jamaica" (July Tr., p. 13), May 25 is African Liberation Day (Telephone Conference before Magistrate Judge Freeman, March 18, 2014 ("March Tr."), p. 19), August 17 is the birthday of the Rastafari prophet Marcus Mosiah Garvey, (July Tr., p. 24.) and October 7 "respects the day that Emperor Haile Selassie was named heir apparent prior to his coronation." (March Tr., p. 19.) He testified that each holy day at issue should be celebrated in the same manner, by coming together with other Rastafari observers for a congregate service called a "reasoning" and a shared meal, and by refraining from work. (July Tr., pp. 13, 20, 25-26.) The Court concludes that plaintiff has plausibly alleged a substantial burden on his religious beliefs to the extent that plaintiff alleges defendants continue to deny him an exemption from work and provision of a shared meal on April 21 and May 25 and have failed to permit a congregate worship service on May 25. See Ford, 352 F.3d at 593-94 (asserting that being denied a holiday meal would be considered a substantial burden on the plaintiffs religious beliefs if participation in the meal was considered central or important to his practice of religion); Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 993 F.2d 306, 308 (2d Cir.1993) ("It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right to participate in congregate religious services.").
Plaintiff fails, however, to plausibly allege that his free exercise rights are substantially burdened by the denial of his request to designate April 21 and August 17 as "family events." He asserts, "Rastafari family is the center of Rasta society, " (Am. Compl., ¶ 16 n. 1) and that "[d]uring holy days' celebrations, it is necessary for the family to celebrate together, representing the unity established by Emperor Haile Selassie I, Empress Menen, and the Royal Children."(Pl. Objection to Magistrate Judge's R & R ("Pl.Objection"), p. 1.) These conclusory allegations fail to adequately explain the religious significance of the "family event." Nor does plaintiff explain why celebration with family carries religious significance for the holy days of April 21 and August 17, but not for the other holy days at issue. Plaintiff fails to show that celebration with family is "central or important" to his religious beliefs, and thus cannot state a claim under the Free Exercise Clause as to this request.
ii. Holy Day Menus
It has long been established that "prison authorities must accommodate the right of prisoners to receive diets consistent with their religious scruples." Kahane v. Carlson, 527 F.2d 492, 495 (2d Cir.1975); see also McEach, in 357 F.3d at 203 ("[C]ourts have generally found that to deny prison inmates the provision of food that satisfies the dictates of their faith does unconstitutionally burden their free exercise rights.")
*9 Plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege that DOCCS's policy prohibiting inmates from adding items to the holy day menu substantially burdens his religious exercise. (Am.Compl., ¶ 27.) He does not allege that the holy day meals are inconsistent with his religious beliefs nor does he explain how his ability to add certain items to the meals is "central or important" to his religion. See Kahane, 527 F.2d at 496 (holding that a prison was required to provide an orthodox Jewish rabbi with a diet that maintained his good health and did not violate Jewish dietary laws, but refusing to mandate any specific food item or method for fulfilling this order, as "[s]uch details are best left to the prison's management which can provide from the food supplies available within budgetary limitations"). Accordingly, plaintiff does not plausibly allege a Free Exercise Clause claim as to the so-called "mandatory menu" provided by DOCCS for holy day meals.
iii. Friday Worship
Plaintiff asserts that he has "been forced to have congregate worship on Wednesdays instead of the traditional Fridays."(Am.Compl., ¶ 26.) Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that this restriction substantially burdens his right to free exercise. "It is well established that prisoners have a constitutional right to participate in congregate religious services." Salahuddin v. Coughlin, 993 F.2d at 308; see also Young v. Coughlin, 866 F.2d 567, 570 (2d Cir.1989) ("Although we recognize that great deference should be accorded to prison officials as they undertake the difficult responsibility of maintaining order in prisons, we have long held that prisoners should be afforded every reasonable opportunity to attend religious services, whenever possible."). In Lloyd v. City of New York, 12-cv-03303 (CM), 2014 WL 4229936, at *5-6 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2014), the court held that Muslim inmates plausibly alleged a substantial burden on their religious exercise where they were unable to conduct religious services in a manner that complied with their religious beliefs. The plaintiffs in Lloyd, for example, were forced to conduct religious services in a chapel where the pews prevented them from kneeling for prayer. Id. Here, plaintiff has plausibly alleged that defendants have substantially burdened his ability to participate in religious services in a manner consistent with the practices of his religion. Plaintiff alleges that he is forced to conduct services on Wednesdays, but he asserts that Friday is the traditional day of worship. ( See Am. Compl., ¶ 26.) He explains that the appropriate day for Rastafari congregate worship is Friday because it "carries the Rastafarian Community into the Sabbath, " which begins on Friday at sundown. ( Id. ) Plaintiff plausibly alleges that his inability to hold Friday Sabbath services substantially burdens his free exercise of religion.
Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that defendants substantially burden his right to free exercise by denying him the right to wear his religious turban. See Singh v. Goord, 520 F.Supp.2d 487, 502-03 (S.D.N.Y.2007) (holding that defendants substantially burdened plaintiffs religious exercise where plaintiff was prohibited from wearing the type of turban required by his religion); Morgan v. City of New York, 12-cv-704 (WFK), 2014 WL 3407714, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. July 10, 2014) ("Plaintiff has shown that the removal of his turban substantially burdens his sincerely held religious beliefs.") Plaintiff has explained the significance of wearing a turban in the Rastafari religion, testifying that the "Nya[h]binghi Rastaman's head must be covered" and that wearing a turban represents "the complete discipline of the Rastaman in terms of a priestly life." (July Tr., p. 37-39.) Plaintiff alleges that the only headgear Rastafari males are permitted to wear at Woodbourne is the Tsalot Kob, which is a type of headgear restricted to members of the Ba Beta Kristiyan Church and does not align with plaintiffs sincerely held religious beliefs. ( Id. at 38-42; Am. Compl., ¶ ¶ 20-21.) Plaintiff does not provide a full explanation of the how the Rastafari sect that plaintiff adheres to, the Nyahbinghi "mansion, " is distinct from the Ba Beta Kristiyan Church, nor does he elaborate on why wearing a Tsalot Kob does not comport with his religious beliefs. Nevertheless, given the special solicitude afforded to pro se plaintiffs, the Court concludes that plaintiff has adequately pled that defendants' prohibition on the wearing of his religious turban substantially burdens his sincerely held religious beliefs. The issue may look different at the summary judgment stage.
v. Fundraising Proceeds
*10 Plaintiff challenges defendants' policy of collecting half of the Rastafari inmate organization's fundraising proceeds; however, he fails to adequately explain how this practice constitutes a substantial burden on his religious beliefs. Plaintiff explains that the collection of half of the organization's funds "creates a burden on [the Rastafari group's] ability to purchase necessary materials for congregate services, religious classes, and religious holy day celebrations."(Am.Compl., ¶ 24.) While forbidding or confiscating religious materials may in some instances support a free exercise claim, see Breland v. Goord, 94-cv-3696 (HB), 1997 WL 139533, at *5-6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 1997) (holding a claim regarding the confiscation of a prisoner's religious literature survives summary judgment), plaintiff does not assert that defendants have prohibited him from obtaining religious materials. Nowhere does plaintiff claim he is restricted from either buying the religious materials he desires with the funds the Rastafari group retains or obtaining the materials from another source. Plaintiff does not show how the deprivation of half of the funds constitutes a substantial burden on his religious beliefs. As plaintiff has failed to plausibly allege a substantial burden, his free exercise claim challenging defendants' collection of half of the funds raised by the Rastafari organization is dismissed.
vi. Rastafarian advisers
Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his rights when they denied his request to gain access to spiritual and religious advisers. (Am.Compl., ¶ 19.) Plaintiff fails, however, to plausibly allege that defendants' actions substantially burden his free exercise of religion. He makes no showing regarding how contact with advisers is "central or important" to the practice of his faith. Thus, his free exercise claim based on lack of access to advisers is dismissed.
vi. Reporting of Marijuana Use
Plaintiff claims that defendant Davis, a drug counselor at Woodbourne, falsely reported that plaintiff admitted to using marijuana for religious rituals to justify recommending him to a drug treatment program. (Am.Compl., ¶ 28.) He claims that defendant's false reporting was a result of "unconstitutional stereotyping of plaintiff based on his religious beliefs" and the ritual use of marijuana within the Rastafari faith. ( Id. ) Plaintiff, however, fails to explain how defendant's purported stereotyping burdened his free exercise of religion, nor does he show how being recommended for a drug treatment program has any effect on his religious practice. Thus, plaintiff does not state a claim under the Free Exercise Clause as to the alleged false reporting of marijuana use.
B. Penological Interest
With regard to the claims for which plaintiff has plausibly alleged a substantial burden, defendants contend that they have proffered a legitimate penological interest which justifies not allowing the practice in question. (Def.MTD, p. 6.) Defendants cite "safety and security" concerns for their prohibition of plaintiffs turban and identify "spatial restrictions" as the reason for requiring Rastafari Sabbath services to be held on Wednesdays rather than Fridays. ( Id. at 11, 13-14.) Defendants do not to offer a justification for their policy regarding plaintiffs religious calendar claims. ( Id. at 8-9.)
*11 Determining whether a challenged policy is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest is a fact-laden inquiry that is generally ill-suited for resolution on a motion to dismiss. See Ford, 352 F.3d at 596 (refusing to determine whether defendants' conduct was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests because "the record [was] insufficient to resolve this fact-and context-specific dispute"). On this motion to dismiss, the Court cannot assess whether there is a "valid, rational connection" between defendants' actions and their purported concerns. See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89. Defendants state in a conclusory manner that the ban on plaintiffs religious turban is due to safety and security concerns, but fail to explain how plaintiffs turban presents a security problem or why concerns exist with respect to plaintiffs turban but not with the other types of permitted headgear. ( See Def. MTD, pp. 13-14.) Next, while defendants explain that there is a lack of available space for Rastafarians to conduct congregate worship on Fridays ( Id. at 11), the Court is unable to assess, based on the limited record, the impact accommodation would have on the guards, other inmates, and prison resources and whether there is an "absence of ready alternatives." See Turner, 482 U.S. at 90. The Court will not, at this stage, dismiss any of plaintiffs claims based on defendants' stated penological interests. The Court acknowledges that the case may look very different at the summary judgment stage.
To recap, the following free exercise claims survive defendant's motion to dismiss: (1) the denial of plaintiffs ability to observe all four of the Rastafari holy days at issue on his motion by (a) refraining from working or attending programs, (b) attending a congregate worship service, and (c) sharing a holy day meal with other Rastafari inmates; (2) the denial of Friday Sabbath services; and (3) the prohibition on plaintiffs religious turban.
III. The Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause
While plaintiff asserts violations of the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause, the parties only briefed the claims under the Free Exercise Clause. Where plaintiff has plausibly alleged a free exercise violation, the Court need not decide at this time whether plaintiff also states a claim under the Establishment Clause or the Equal Protection Clause. Because these claims have survived, the Court can make this determination at a later stage after the parties have briefed the issues. However, where plaintiff fails to state a claim under the Free Exercise Clause, the Court will determine whether the claim can nevertheless survive under the Establishment Clause or the Equal Protection Clause.
Plaintiff fails to plead any facts to support a claim under the Establishment Clause with respect to: (1) the designation of April 21 and August 17 as "family events;" (2) the denial of spiritual and religious advisers; and (3) the false reporting regarding plaintiffs marijuana use. Plaintiff fails to plead any facts to support an Equal Protection Clause claim as to: (1) the designation of "family events;" (2) the policy of collecting half of the Rastafari inmate organization's fundraising proceeds; and (3) the mandatory nature of holy day menus. As such, the claim regarding "family events" is dismissed, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, and the Court will analyze plaintiffs holy day menu and fundraising claims under the Establishment Clause and his religious adviser and false reporting claims under the Equal Protection Clause. For reasons to be explained, the Court dismisses each of these four claims.
1. The Establishment Clause
*12 The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."U.S. Const. amend. I. In deciding an Establishment Clause claim, courts in this Circuit continue to apply the three-prong test articulated by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). See Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30, 40 n. 9 (2d Cir.2011) ("Although the Lemon test has been much criticized, the Supreme Court has declined to disavow it and it continues to govern the analysis of Establishment Clause claims in this Circuit."); see also Westchester Day Sch. v. Vill. of Mamaroneck, 504 F.3d 338, 355 (2d Cir.2007); Kityas Joel Alliance v. Vill. of Kiryas Joel, 495 F.Appx. 183, 190 (2d Cir.2012). Under Lemon, "government action which interacts with religion (1) must have a secular purpose, (2) must have a principal or primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and (3) must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion." Bronx Household of Faith, 650 F.3d at 40 (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Lemon, 403 U.S. at 612-13)."Because plaintiff is a prisoner challenging a Department of Corrections directive, the Lemon test is tempered by the test laid out by the Supreme Court in Turner ... which found that a prison regulation that impinges on an inmate's constitutional rights is nevertheless valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Pugh v. Goord, 571 F.Supp.2d 477, 494 (S.D.N.Y.2008) (quoting Salahuddin v. Perez, 99-cv-10431 (LTS), 2006 WL 266574, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
First, plaintiff claims that by denying him the ability to supplement holy day meals with additional food items, defendants have given the "New York State Department of Nutritional Services unfettered authority to dictate the dietary laws of the Rastafarian community for holy day celebrations."(Am.Compl., ¶ 27.) He concludes that DOCCS's "Nutritional Services is in effect acting as an ecclesiastical body for the Rastafarian community."( Id. ) Defendants counter that "a perfect accommodation of each inmate's preferential meal choices" would be "prohibitively expensive." (Def.MTD, p. 13.)
Plaintiff fails to state a claim under the Establishment Clause pursuant to the Lemon analysis. See 403 U.S. at 612-13. First, the prison's policy has the permissible purpose of attempting to reasonably accommodate the inmates' religious dietary practices without subjecting the prison "to prohibitively expensive accommodations of religious dietary meal requests." ( Id. ) See Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 579 (2d Cir.1990) (asserting that prisoners have a right to receive diets consistent with their religious beliefs but that this right may be limited where accommodation is prohibitively expensive or administratively unfeasible). Second, plaintiff has failed to allege that DOCCS's policy regarding holy day menus has the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. Plaintiff does not claim that the holy day meals are inconsistent with his religious beliefs. Finally, DOCCS's policy does not foster excessive entanglement of government with religion. "In order to permit inmates to freely exercise their religion, some entanglement is necessary. Muhammad v. City of New York Dep't of Corr., 904 F.Supp. 161, 198 (S.D.N.Y.1995) (emphasis in original) ("[I]n the prison context, the [E]stablishment [C]lause has been interpreted in the light of the affirmative demands of the [F]ree [E]xercise [C]lause."(internal quotation marks omitted)). DOCCS developed a menu for holy day celebrations in order to accommodate inmates' free exercise right to receive a diet consistent with their religious beliefs. This does not constitute excessive government entanglement with religion. As such, plaintiffs claim regarding the holy day menus is dismissed.
*13 Next, plaintiff asserts that "the policy of requiring the Rastafarians to surrender 50% of their fundrais[ing proceeds] had the effect of a tax on religion."(Am.Compl., ¶ 24.) This allegation fails to plausibly allege a violation under the Establishment Clause. First, as plaintiff acknowledges, the policy has the secular purpose of providing funds to the Inmate Occupational Therapy Fund ("IOTF"), which is "for the benefit of the general population's use." ( Id. ¶ 23.) The policy does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion. The fundraising requirement is applied equally to religious and non-religious groups, and plaintiff does not adequately allege how the policy inhibits or burdens his religion. ( Id. ) Finally, the policy does not foster excessive government entanglement with religion. Thus, plaintiffs claim as to defendants' policy regarding fundraising proceeds is dismissed.
2. The Equal Protection Clause
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). To state a claim for an equal protection violation, a plaintiff must plausibly allege "that he was treated differently than others similarly situated as a result of intentional or purposeful discrimination." Phillips V. Girdich, 408 F.3d 124, 129 (2d Cir.2005). Courts in the Second Circuit have emphasized that "it is axiomatic that a plaintiff must allege that similarly situated persons have been treated differently." Gagliardi v. Vill. of Pawling, 18 F.3d 188, 193 (2d Cir.1994); see also Bishop v. Best Buy, Co. Inc., 08-cv-8427 (LBS), 2010 WL 4159566, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2010) ("Well-pled facts showing that the plaintiff has been treated differently from others similarly situated, remains an essential component of [an equal protection] claim."(internal quotation marks omitted))." While the Turner ... standard was established in the context of first amendment issues, it is also relevant to the assessment of equal protection claims in the prison setting." Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 575 (2d Cir.1990). Thus, "the reasonableness of the prison rules and policies must be examined to determine whether distinctions made between religious groups in prison are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests."( Id. )
Plaintiffs claim regarding defendant Davis's alleged false report fails to state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause because plaintiff fails to allege that he was treated differently than others. In Bishop, plaintiffs equal protection claim, alleging that he was discriminated against on the basis of his race, was dismissed because the plaintiff "failed to allege or identify a single similarly situated [individual] who was treated differently.'" 2010 WL 4159566, at * 12 (quoting Sweeney v. City of New York, 03-cv-4410 (JSR)(RLE), 2004 WL 744198, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 2, 2004) subsequently affd, 186 F.Appx. 84 (2d Cir.2006)); see also King v. New York State Div. of Parole, 260 Fed.App'x. 375, 379-80 (2d Cir.2008) (affirming dismissal of equal protection claim where petitioner "failed to identify a single individual with whom he can be compared for Equal Protection purposes"). Here, plaintiff makes no claim regarding how others were treated during their interviews for the drug treatment program. Thus, plaintiffs equal protection claim regarding religious stereotyping with regard to the alleged false report of his marijuana use is dismissed. As this is the only claim that implicates defendant Davis, she is dismissed from this case.
*14 Next, plaintiff alleges that being denied spiritual advisers for security reasons violates his equal protection rights because "[o]ther religious groups are allowed to have religious and spiritual advisors without breaching security concerns."(Am.Compl., ¶ 19.) This allegation is conclusory and fails to identify any specific religious group that is being treated differently. See Bishop, 2010 WL 4159566, at *11 ("Conclusory allegations of selective treatment are insufficient to state an equal protection claim."). Plaintiffs equal protection claim regarding spiritual advisers is dismissed.
IV. Injunctive Relief
Defendants seek to dismiss plaintiffs claims for injunctive relief for lack of merit and mootness. (Def.MTD, pp. 17-20.) Defendants have not established that all of plaintiffs holy day claims are moot. Injunctive relief, however, may not be premised upon claims that this Court has dismissed.
Plaintiff asserts six claims for injunctive relief. (Am.Compl., ¶ B) First, plaintiff seeks to enjoin defendants from "continuing to deny plaintiff and other Rastafarians their holy days." ( Id. ¶B(1).) Second, plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to allow him to wear his turban. ( Id. ¶ B(2).) Third, plaintiff seeks to enjoin defendants from enforcing the policy which mandates that the Rastafarian inmate organization surrender half of the funds it raises to the IOTF. ( Id. ¶ B(3).) Fourth, plaintiff seeks an injunction enjoining defendants from retaliating against him. ( Id. ¶ B(4).) Fifth, plaintiff seeks to direct defendant Davis to expunge the "stereotyped information from plaintiffs institutional records."( Id. ¶ B(5).) Sixth, plaintiff seeks to enjoin all defendants from "continuing to deny him his right to freely practice his faith." ( Id. ¶ B(6).)
Defendants assert that none of plaintiffs claims for injunctive relief can be sustained as a matter of law. (Def.MTD, p. 17.) "To obtain a permanent injunction, a plaintiff must succeed on the merits and show the absence of an adequate remedy at law and irreparable harm if the relief is not granted." Roach v. Morse, 440 F.3d 53, 56 (2d Cir.2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). Defendants reason that because "Plaintiff is unable to succeed on the merits of his claims" permanent injunctive relief is not warranted. (Def.MTD, p. 18.) At the pleading stage, defendants are correct only with respect to some of plaintiffs claims. The Court has found that plaintiff has plausibly alleged a constitutional violation with respect to his claims regarding the observance of Rastafari holy days and the wearing of his turban. Accordingly, plaintiffs claims for injunctive relief regarding these rights may not properly be dismissed. However, the Court has determined that plaintiffs claims regarding the purported false report of plaintiffs marijuana use and defendants' policy of collecting half of the Rastafari inmate organization's fundraising proceeds do not state a claim. Thus, plaintiffs claims to (1) to expunge references to marijuana use from his institutional records and (2) enjoin defendants from requiring the Rastafarian organization to surrender half of their funds, are dismissed because the underlying claims upon which they are premised are dismissed.
*15 Plaintiffs claim that seeks to prevent future retaliation is also dismissed, as plaintiff fails to plead any facts whatsoever to show that defendants have or would retaliate against plaintiff. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."(internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Reiter v. Metro. Transp. Auth. of N.Y., 01-cv-2762 (JGK), 2003 WL 22271223, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2003) (denying plaintiffs request for a permanent injunction to prevent retaliation because there was no showing that plaintiff would be retaliated against in the future).
Next, defendants argue that injunctive relief is not appropriate concerning the religious calendar because "it is quite possible that this litigation could continue after Plaintiffs particular sect of Rastafarianism ceases to have followers that are inmates under DOCCS' supervision or custody" and lals such, Plaintiffs request for injunctive relief would be moot."(Def.MTD, p. 19.) This argument lacks merit, as plaintiff brings his claims individually and he is currently an inmate at Woodbourne. "In order for a federal court to retain jurisdiction over a case, an actual controversy must exist at all stages of review, not merely at the time the complaint is filed." Prins v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 504, 506 (2d Cir.1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). At this time, an actual controversy regarding the religious calendar exists as to the claims that defendants have not voluntarily accommodated. As such, not all of plaintiffs religious calendar claims are moot.
V. Personal Involvement
Defendants contend that plaintiff has failed to allege the personal involvement of defendants Fischer, Jacobson, and Leonard, and as such, they should be dismissed from this suit. (Def.MTD, pp. 15-17.) The Court holds that plaintiff has plausibly alleged the personal involvement of the three defendants at issue.
"It is well settled in this Circuit that personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages under § 1983." Farrell v. Burke, 449 F.3d 470, 484 (2d Cir.2006) (quoting Wright v. Smith, 21 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.1994)). Individual liability under section 1983 may not be anchored in a theory of respondeat superior. Hemmings v. Gorczyk, 134 F.3d 104, 109 n. 4 (2d Cir.1998) (per curiam)."The bare fact that [a defendant] occupies a high position in the New York prison hierarchy is insufficient to sustain [a] claim." Colon v. Coughlin, 58 F.3d 865, 874 (2d Cir.1995). Further, "[c]onclusory accusations regarding a defendant's personal involvement in the alleged violation, standing alone, are not sufficient." Kee v. Hasty, 01-cv-2123 (KMW)(DF), 2004 WL 807071, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 14, 2004).
In Colon, the Second Circuit held that the personal involvement of a supervisory defendant can be shown by evidence that:
*16 (1) the defendant participated directly in the alleged constitutional violation, (2) the defendant, after being informed of the violation through a report or appeal, failed to remedy the wrong, (3) the defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, or allowed the continuance of such a policy or custom, (4) the defendant was grossly negligent in supervising subordinates who committed the wrongful acts, or (5) the defendant exhibited deliberate indifference to the rights of inmates by failing to act on information indicating that unconstitutional acts were occurring.
58 F.3d at 873. The continuing vitality of the supervisory liability test established in Colon has come into question after the Supreme Court's 2009 decision in Iqbal. See Reynolds v. Barrett, 685 F.3d 193, 205 n. 14 (2d Cir.2012). There, the Supreme Court noted that "[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to... § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
The Second Circuit has not yet definitively addressed how Iqbal affects the Colon factors, nor have the district courts within this Circuit reached a clear consensus. See Aguilar v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Div., 811 F.Supp.2d 803, 814 (S.D.N.Y.2011). Despite the lack of agreement regarding the Colon factors, courts agree that the third factor, that defendant created a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred, has survived Iqbal. Compare Bellamy v. Mount Vernon Hosp., 07-cv-1801 (SAS), 2009 WL 1835939, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2009) ("Only the first and part of the third Colon categories pass Iqbal's muster-a supervisor is only held liable if that supervisor participates directly in the alleged constitutional violation or if that supervisor creates a policy or custom under which unconstitutional practices occurred."), aff'd sub nom. Bellamy v. Mount Vernon Hosp., 387 F.Appx. 55 (2d Cir.2010), with Hodge v. Sidorowicz, 10-cv-428 (PAC)(MHD), 2011 WL 6778524, at *16 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 20, 2011) ("[W]here the claim does not require a showing of discriminatory intent, the personal-involvement analysis set forth in Colon should still apply."), report and recommendation adopted sub nom. Hodge v. Wladyslaw, 10cv-428 (PAC)(MHD), 2012 WL 701150 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 6, 2012). It is under this factor that plaintiff claims defendants Fischer, Jacobson, and Leonard were personally involved.
Plaintiff alleges that Brian Fischer, as the Commissioner of DOCCS, "has the statutory authority to promulgate rules, regulations, and policies governing the religious rights of prisoners within the department."(Am.Compl., ¶ 4.) Similarly he alleges that Catherine Jacobsen as Acting Deputy Commissioner for Program Services "had the authority to approve policies governing the religious programs in [DOCCS], " ( Id. ¶ 5), and that Mark Leonard, as the Director of Ministerial, Family, and Volunteer Services "was responsible for the promulgation of policies affecting the religious rights of all Rastafarian prisoners within [DOCCS]." ( Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff attributes DOCCS's policies on holy days and headgear to Fischer, Jacobsen, and Leonard, along with other defendants. ( Id. ¶ A(1).) A defendant that creates a policy is considered personally involved in any unconstitutional practices that occur under the policy. See Colon, 58 F.3d at 873. In Pugh v. Goord, 571 F.Supp.2d 477, 485-86 (S.D.N.Y.2008), the plaintiff argued that certain defendants, by creating and continuing policies regarding the accommodation of Shiite Muslims, were personally involved in the deprivation of his right as a Shiite inmate to have a separate prayer service from the Sunni Muslims. The court agreed with the plaintiff and found that because plaintiff showed that defendants made "certain contributions to formulation of policy, " he had adequately established personal involvement with regard to these defendants. Id. at 513 (internal quotation marks omitted). Similarly, plaintiff has plausibly alleged that defendants Fischer, Jacobson, and Leonard were involved in creating policies under which his right to free exercise was substantially burdened. Thus, these defendants are not properly dismissed from this suit at this juncture.
*17 Plaintiff also alleges that defendant Fischer is personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations because he has written letters to defendant Fischer "complaining about the unconstitutional impediments to plaintiffs ability to practice his faith, " but Fischer has always referred plaintiffs complaints to subordinates. (Am.Compl., ¶ 25.) Defendants are correct in stating that this allegation cannot demonstrate the requisite personal involvement of Fischer. ( See Def. MTD, p. 16.) "If the supervisor fails to respond to [a prisoner's] letter or passes the letter on to a subordinate to handle, the general rule is that the supervisor is not personally involved." Lloyd, 2014 WL 4229936, at *9; see also Sealey v. Giltner, 116 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir.1997) (holding that the inmate failed to produce sufficient evidence to establish personal involvement of the prison commissioner, where the commissioner referred plaintiffs appeal letter to a subordinate); Smart v. Goord, 441 F.Supp.2d 631, 643 (S.D.N.Y.2006)on reconsideration in part, 04-cv-8850 (RWS), 2008 WL 591230 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 3, 2008) (stating that defendant "cannot be held liable on the sole basis that he did not act in response to letters of protest" sent by inmate). Nevertheless, because plaintiff has plausibly alleged Fischer's personal involvement in creating policies under which unconstitutional practices have occurred, Fischer is not dismissed from this suit.
VI. Qualified Immunity
Defendants argue that qualified immunity shields them from money damages. (Def.MTD, pp. 20-25.) On this motion to dismiss, the Court cannot conclude that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law. The case may look very different at the summary judgment phase.
Qualified immunity protects public officials performing discretionary functions "from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). A government official is entitled to qualified immunity "if either (a) the defendant's action did not violate clearly established law, or (b) it was objectively reasonable for the defendant to believe that his action did not violate such law." Johnson v. Newburgh Enlarged Sch. Dist., 239 F.3d 246, 250 (2d Cir.2001); see also Luna v. Pico, 356 F.3d 481, 490 (2d Cir.2004). In deciding whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, courts must look "to both the clarity of the law establishing the right allegedly violated as well as whether a reasonable person, acting under the circumstances the[n] confronting a defendant, would have understood that his actions were unlawful." Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 59697 (2d Cir.2003) (quoting Hanrahan v. Doling, 331 F.3d 93, 98 (2d Cir.2003) (per curiam)) (internal quotation marks omitted)."The question is not what a lawyer would learn or intuit from researching case law, but what a reasonable person in the defendant's position should know about the constitutionality of the conduct." Coollick v. Hughes, 699 F.3d 211, 220 (2d Cir.2012) (alterations and citation omitted). While a defendant may assert a qualified immunity defense on a motion to dismiss, "the defense faces a formidable hurdle when advanced on such a motion." McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432, 434 (2d Cir.2004).
*18 Defendants have failed to show that restricting plaintiff from celebrating certain holy days in a manner consistent with his religious beliefs, requiring Friday Sabbath services to be held on Wednesdays, and prohibiting him from wearing a religious turban do not violate clearly established law. An inmate has a "clearly established right to be free of unjustified burdens upon free exercise rights." Salahuddin v. Dalsheim, 94-cv-8730 (RWS), 1996 WL 384898, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 1996) (citations omitted); see also Turner v. Salley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). In Salahuddin v. Gourd, the Second Circuit held that because plaintiffs "free-exercise rights were substantially burdened by a joint-worship policy not justified by a legitimate penological interest, " qualified immunity was not appropriate as "it was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation that prison officials may not substantially burden inmates' right to religious exercise without some justification." 467 F.3d 263, 275-76 (2d Cir.2006). Similarly here, because the Court holds that plaintiff has plausibly alleged that defendants substantially burdened his free exercise rights and, at this time, have not established a legitimate penological justification, defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity on the premise that their conduct did not violate clearly established law.
Whether defendants could have reasonably believed that they did not violate an established constitutional right depends, at this stage, "on whether, on the facts alleged in the Complaint, they had a reasonable basis to believe that that [sic] [their actions] served a legitimate penological interest." Diggs v. Marikah, 11-cv-6382 (PAE), 2012 WL 934523, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 20, 2012) (denying defendants' motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity, where plaintiffs religious beliefs were substantially burdened and the factual basis for whether defendants' actions were reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest was not yet developed). At this early stage, there is inadequate information to determine whether defendants were objectively reasonable in their beliefs regarding their proffered penological interests. See Perez v. Westchester Cnty. Dep't of Corr., 05-cv-8120 (RMB), 2007 WL 1288579, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 30, 2007). This determination is more appropriate for summary judgment. See id. at *6 ("It is generally premature to address the defense of qualified immunity in a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)." (alterations and citations omitted)). Thus, defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage.
For the reasons outlined above, defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiffs claims regarding (1) "family events, " (2) holy day menus, (3) spiritual advisers, (4) fundraising proceeds, and (5) the reporting of plaintiffs marijuana use are dismissed in their entirety. Because the only claim plaintiff brought against defendant Davis is dismissed, Davis is also dismissed from this suit. Plaintiffs claims regarding (1) the religious calendar, excluding requests for "family events, " (2) Friday worship, and (3) plaintiffs turban survive defendants' motion to dismiss.
*19 Counsel for defendants shall provide plaintiff with copies of all unreported decisions cited herein. This Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this order would not be taken in good faith and in forma pauperis status is denied. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BUCHWALD, District J.
*1 Plaintiffs Anthony Beasly, Anthony Jackson, Jose Santos, and Pete Thomas ("plaintiffs"), former inmates at the Fishkill Correctional Facility ("Fishkill"), bring this action against various prison officials and entities seeking damages and declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They allege exposure to toxic substances and unreasonably hazardous working conditions in violation of their Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that two of the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is denied without prejudice.
Fishkill is operated by the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("Department of Correctional Services"). The Division of Correctional Industries ("Corcraft") is the manufacturing division of the Department of Correctional Services. While incarcerated at Fishkill, plaintiffs were employed in Fishkill's industry paint shop, which is a Corcraft facility.
Plaintiffs allege that during the course of their employment at the paint shop they were exposed to dangerous substances, were not provided with adequate training on handling those substances, and were not provided appropriate safety equipment. Plaintiffs further allege that as a result of these conditions, they suffered from sinus problems, bouts of dizziness, chest pains, various respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, and an increased risk of developing future respiratory and cardiac complications.
Plaintiffs Jose Santos and Pete Thomas exhausted their administrative remedies by appealing their grievances all the way up to the Central Office Review Committee of the Department of Correctional Services. Defendants' Statement of Material Fact ("Defendants' Statement"), ¶¶ 52-54.
Plaintiff Beasly maintains that he was on his way to file a grievance concerning inadequate safety equipment at the paint shop when he encountered an Officer Geronimo, from whom he requested a pass he would need to take his grievance to the appropriate office for filing. Beasly Declaration ("Beasly Decl."), ¶¶ 4-5. Mr. Beasly further maintains that at this point, Officer Geronimo and a Sergeant McCarroll told him there was no need for him to file a grievance since Mr. Thomas was filing a similar grievance. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.According to Mr. Beasly, this was the reason he did not file a complaint. Id. at 8.
Plaintiff Anthony Jackson alleges that he filed a grievance concerning paint shop conditions at the Fishkill grievance office, and that when this grievance was denied, he appealed, first to the Superintendent of Fishkill, and then to the Central Office Review Committee. Jackson Declaration ("Jackson Decl."), ¶¶ 6-14. However, Defendants dispute these facts. Defendants' Reply Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Reply Memo."), 6-7.
I. The Legal Standards
*2 The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("the Act") provides that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [Section 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted."42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). As recently stated by the Supreme Court in Porter v. Nussle , this provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." 534 U.S. 516, 122 S.Ct. 983, 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 12 (2002). A plaintiff must file a valid grievance and exhaust all appeals prior to bringing suit, or the case will be dismissed, regardless of whether the plaintiff attempts to exhaust after the suit is filed. Neal v. Goord, 267 F.3d 116, 117-118 (2d Cir.2001).
 Defendants base their summary judgment motion on failure to exhaust. They grant that Mr. Santos and Mr. Thomas have exhausted their administrative remedies in compliance with the Act. Def. Reply Memo. at 1 n. 1. However, they assert that Mr. Beasly and Mr. Jackson have not. Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Memo. of Law"), 3.
Summary judgment is properly granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate the entry of summary judgment "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In reviewing the record, we must assess "the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolve ambiguities and draw reasonable inferences against the moving party." Frito-Lay, Inc. v. LTV Steel Co. (In re Chateuagay Corp.), 10 F.3d 944, 957 (2d Cir.1993). In order to defeat such a motion, the non-moving party must affirmatively set forth facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). An issue is "genuine... if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248 (internal quotation marks omitted).
II. Plaintiff Beasley
We deal with plaintiff Beasly first. Though he does not contend that he physically filed, he does assert that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether the normal administrative remedies of the Department of Correctional Services were "available" to him under the Act. Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl. Memo. of Law"), 10-11. Specifically, Mr. Beasly contends that on or about March of 2000, he filled out a grievance form, attempted to file it, and was met by Officer Geronimo and Sergeant McCarroll who, when he requested a pass to allow him to file the form, told him there was no need to file such a form. Beasly Decl. at ¶¶ 14-8.
*3 This court has held that, where a prisoner has made a "reasonable attempt" to file a grievance, and prison officials have prevented the prisoner from filing that grievance, the grievance procedures are not "available" to the defendant, and thus the Act does not preclude the prisoner from suing in federal court. O'Connor v. Featherston, No. 01 Civ. 3251(HB), 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7570, at *5-*6 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 29, 2002). See also Rodriguez v. Hahn, 99 Civ. 11663(VM), 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16956, at *4-*5 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 20, 2000) (refusing to dismiss on grounds of failure to exhaust where there is evidence of a "reasonable attempt" to exhaust and allegations that "corrections officers never filed some... grievances"); Gonzalez v. Officer in Charge of Barber Shop, 99 Civ. 3455(DLC), 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2875, at *8-*10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2000) (refusing to dismiss on grounds of exhaustion where plaintiff was "frustrated" in his attempts to file grievances by prison officials).
We note that defendants have as yet offered no evidence concerning whether Officer Geronimo or Sergeant McCarroll has any recollection of the events described by Mr. Beasley, and if so, what that recollection is. We believe that on the record presented, a reasonable fact-finder could conclude that Mr. Beasley's actions represented a reasonable attempt to file, and that the prison officials prevented Mr. Beasly from doing so.
III. Plaintiff Jackson
 Mr. Jackson, however, maintains that he actually filed a grievance and exhausted the process. Defendants contend otherwise. Mr. Jackson states he has a specific recollection of having appeared before a grievance panel some time in or about April of 1999 for a hearing of approximately twenty minutes. Jackson Decl. at 8-9. Upon losing the hearing, he says he mailed an appeal the same day. Id. at 9-10.Mr. Jackson claims that when that appeal was denied, he mailed on the next day the final appeal required under the grievance procedures, an appeal to the Central Office of the Department of Correctional Services. Id. at 11-12.That appeal, he says, was denied. Id. at 13.
In response, defendants submit a declaration by Thomas Eagen, Director of the Inmate Grievance Program for the Department of Correctional Services. Mr. Eagen states: "After review of my records, I can establish that... Anthony Jackson... did not file a grievance regarding working conditions at the Fishkill paint shop."Declaration of Thomas J. Eagen ("Eagen Decl."), ¶ 4.
The Eagen declaration, upon which defendants would have this Court grant them summary judgment, is totally conclusory. It does not even describe the search that was done, whether any search was conducted beyond the program's computerized records, or describe all the places where records of Mr. Jackson's grievance could be found. There is no indication that records of adjudicating officials were checked. Nor is there any information on record retention policies. For example, once filed and adjudicated, what happens to grievance records? How long are records of grievances maintained? What safeguards are in place to insure that records are not lost? Satisfactory answers to these questions would be necessary before we could consider granting summary judgment against Mr. Jackson.
*4 Accordingly, we deny defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.