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Jones v. Malin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 13, 2017

MARLON JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. LESLIE MALIN, ANTHONY ANNUCCI, CHERYL MORRIS, MICHAEL CAPRA, HASAN A. MU’MIN, SERGEANT MALAVI, WILLIAM KEYSER, and WATCH COMMANDER OF SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY ON 11-29-13, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Vincent L. Briccetti United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Marlon Jones, a former inmate at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (“Sing Sing”) who identifies as an adherent of the Shi’a branch of Islam, brings this action pro se and in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, alleging defendants violated his right to free exercise of religion while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. #32). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         BACKGROUND

         In deciding the pending motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that between November 2013 and October 2014, defendants denied his free exercise rights on four occasions.

         First, plaintiff claims he was prevented from attending Shi’a Jumu’ah prayer services on Friday, November 29, 2013, because the building in which the services were normally held was closed and no alternate area was designated. He claims he asked defendant Sergeant Malavi to call the Watch Commander but Malavi refused, saying “the Watch Commander said the building [is] closed so that’s that.” The building had been closed because of the Thanksgiving holiday the day before. Although defendants concede an alternate area for Shi’a services should have been provided, that was not done on this occasion. Defendant William Keyser was Sing Sing’s Acting Superintendent at the time.

         Plaintiff’s second claim is that he was prevented from participating in a Shi’a Eid ul-Fitr prayer service (which occurs the day after the last day of Ramadan) on July 28, 2014, because an “event package” was submitted too late for Sing Sing to accommodate the request. According to plaintiff, defendant Hasan A. Mu’Min, the Coordinating Chaplain at Sing Sing, failed to submit the request forty-five days before the event, as required by prison regulations, and the request was then submitted by several inmates only one day before the event. Because it was late, defendant Dr. Leslie Malin, Sing Sing’s Deputy Superintendent of Programs, denied the request.

         Plaintiff’s third claim is that he was prevented from participating in an Eid ul-Fitr Family Day Event on August 2, 2014. According to the complaint, the statewide Department of Corrections and Community Supervision ("DOCCS") Religious Holy Day Calendar scheduled the Six Days of Shawwal Fast (which is an optional fast that occurs in the month after Ramadan) for August 1 through August 6, 2014. But because the August 2 Eid ul-Fitr Family Day Event entailed the consumption of food and drink, which made it incompatible with the Shawwal Fast, the Shi’a community requested that the Shawwal Fast be re-scheduled for August 3 to August 8. In Malin’s absence, another prison administrator approved the request, but when Malin returned from vacation, she changed the start date back to August 1 because the prison did not have the authority to modify the published statewide Holy Day calendar. As a result, plaintiff could not participate in the Family Day Event on August 2.

         Plaintiff’s fourth claim is that from August to October 2014, he was prevented from attending Shi’a Jumu’ah prayer services held separately from Sunni Jumu’ah prayer services. According to the complaint, beginning in May 2012, separate Shi’a services had been held at Sing Sing as a result of the settlement of an unrelated lawsuit. But when the only Sing Sing inmate who had been a plaintiff in the separate lawsuit decided he no longer wanted to partake in separate Shi’a services, defendants Cheryl Morris (DOCCS’s Director of Ministerial, Family, and Volunteer Services), Michael Capra (the Sing Sing Superintendent), and Malin decided to suspend separate Shi’a services on the ground that such separate services were no longer required by the settlement. The last separate Shi’a service was held on August 15, 2014. However, on October 17, 2014, Capra and Malin reversed that decision, and Shi’a Muslims were thereafter permitted to conduct separate Jumu’ah services.

         Plaintiff was released from custody in November 2015.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Legal Standard

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court evaluates the sufficiency of the complaint under the “two-pronged approach” announced by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). First, plaintiff’s legal conclusions and “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” are not entitled to the assumption of truth and are thus not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678; Hayden v. Paterson, 594 F.3d 150, 161 (2d Cir. 2010). Second, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual ...


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