United States District Court, S.D. New York
CHAMMA K. BRANDON, Plaintiff,
MARK ROYCE, LESLIE MALIN, and JOHN V. WERLAU, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
Vincent L. Briccetti, United States District Judge.
Chamma K. Brandon, an inmate at Sing Sing Correctional
Facility (“Sing Sing”), proceeding pro
se and in forma pauperis, brings this action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”), the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. (“RLUIPA”),
and the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States
Constitution, alleging defendants violated his rights to free
exercise of religion and freedom from cruel and unusual
the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint
under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. #17). For the
following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §
deciding the pending motion, the Court accepts as true all
well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable
inferences in plaintiff's favor.
Eid al-Adha Meal
September 2015, Sing-Sing officials accepted a special events
package for Muslim inmates and their guests to attend a
celebration for Eid al-Adha, a significant Muslim holiday,
scheduled to take place on September 26, 2015. Plaintiff was
one of the inmates granted permission to attend the event.
However, sometime before the event, plaintiff was informed
that some of the invited guests would not be able to attend
the celebration because the total number of attendees
exceeded the capacity of the event space. Plaintiff was then
told that if some of the inmates volunteered to withdraw from
the event, all of the invited guests could attend. He was
told the inmates who withdrew would receive a celebratory
“feed-in tray” in their cells instead. (Compl.
¶ 18). Plaintiff volunteered, and his name was put on a
list of inmates who were to receive a feed-in tray.
day of the celebration, September 26, 2015, inmate cooks
began preparing the feed-in trays for delivery to those
inmates who had volunteered to miss the event. However,
defendant Werlau stopped the cooks on their way to deliver
the trays and ordered them to throw out the trays, in
compliance with an “updated” order for the event.
(Compl. Ex. B). This updated order stated that “[n]o
[f]acility [p]repared food will leave the [e]vent
October 14, 2015, after attempts at informal resolution,
plaintiff filed a grievance with the Inmate Grievance Program
(“IGP”) supervisor. The IGP supervisor received
the grievance on October 27, 2015. On October 28, 2015, the
IGP supervisor denied plaintiff's grievance as
“untimely.” (Compl. Ex. G). Plaintiff appealed
that decision through the inmate grievance process. On March
9, 2016, the IGP Central Office Review Committee upheld the
previous decisions determining plaintiff's grievance was
untimely. (Id. Ex. K).
November 22, 2015, defendant Royce ordered the installation
of “1000-watt wide-range high intensity stadium-style
light-bulbs” in plaintiff's cell block. (Compl.
¶ 37). These bulbs were kept on twenty-four hours a day,
seven days a week, and caused plaintiff and a number of other
inmates sleep issues.
complaints submitted between November 28 and December 11,
2015, plaintiff and other inmates objected to the lighting,
stating it prevented them from being able to sleep. Plaintiff
reported for sick call three times in the month of December,
and was prescribed Benadryl and Tylenol to treat his
December 22, 2015, Royce ordered the maintenance department
to replace the lights in plaintiff's cell block with
lower-wattage bulbs, and the lights were replaced.
to plaintiff, the new lights are lower in wattage but they
still shine into his cell at all times, day and night.
deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), “A
case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction . . . when the district court lacks the
statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.”
Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d
Cir. 2000). Once the question of jurisdiction is raised, the
burden of establishing it rests on the party asserting
jurisdiction. See Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442,
446 (1942). “[F]ederal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction and lack the power to disregard such limits as
have been imposed by the Constitution or Congress.”
Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson, & Cortese-Costa,
P.C. v. Dupont, 565 F.3d 56, 62 (2d Cir. 2009). If this
Court determines at any time that it lacks subject matter
jurisdiction, it must dismiss the action. Fed.R.Civ.P.
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
allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the allegations in the
complaint must meet a standard of “plausibility.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). A claim is
facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
“The plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court must
construe his submissions liberally and “interpret them
to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.”
Pabon v. Wright, 459 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)
(internal citation omitted). “Even in a pro se
case, however . . . threadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice.” Chavis v. Chappius, 618 F.3d
162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal citation omitted). Nor may
the Court “invent factual allegations [plaintiff] has
not pled.” Id.
Free Exercise Claims
argue plaintiff has failed to state a claim for religious
deprivation under the Free Exercise clause for three reasons:
(i) plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies,
(ii) any alleged religious deprivation was de
minimus, and (iii) plaintiff failed to allege the
personal involvement of defendants Royce and Malin.
Court rejects all three arguments.
Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies
first contend that because the IGP supervisor rejected
plaintiff's grievance as untimely, plaintiff failed to
exhaust his administrative remedies and thus ...