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Brandon v. Royce

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 20, 2017

MARK ROYCE, LESLIE MALIN, and JOHN V. WERLAU, in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.


          Vincent L. Briccetti, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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 punishment.

         Before 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 IN PART.

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


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

         I. Eid al-Adha Meal

         In 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.

         On the 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).[1] This updated order stated that “[n]o [f]acility [p]repared food will leave the [e]vent [a]rea.” (Id.).

         On 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).

         II. Lighting Issue

         On 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.

         By 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 ailments.

         On 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.

         According to plaintiff, the new lights are lower in wattage but they still shine into his cell at all times, day and night.


         I. Legal Standard

         In 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. 12(h)(3).

         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 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 679.

         To 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 unlawfully.” Id.

         Because 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.

         II. Free Exercise Claims

         Defendants 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.

         The Court rejects all three arguments.

         A. Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

         Defendants first contend that because the IGP supervisor rejected plaintiff's grievance as untimely, plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and thus ...

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