United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
Vincent L. Briccetti, United States District Judge.
Basheen Rush, a former inmate at Sing Sing Correctional
Facility (“Sing Sing”), currently housed at
Orleans Correctional Facility (“Orleans”), who
identifies as an adherent of the Shi'a branch of Islam,
brings this action pro se and in forma
pauperis under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
violations of his First Amendment right to free exercise of
his religion and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal
have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. #62). For
the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
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.
has asserted five fully-exhausted claims arising from
incidents that occurred at Sing Sing and
Orleans. (See Am. Compl. Exs. 31-35).
plaintiff claims he was prevented from participating in a
Shi'a Eid ul-Fitr prayer service on July 28, 2014,
because an event package was submitted too late for Sing Sing
to accommodate the request. According to plaintiff, he
submitted the request five days before the event; the
relevant rules require that such requests be submitted
forty-five days before an event. Because it was late, the
request was denied.
plaintiff claims an event package for observance of the Six
Days of Shawwal Fast at Sing Sing was originally approved to
take place between August 3 and August 8, 2014, but that it
was subsequently rescheduled for between August 1 and August
6, 2014. The new dates caused a conflict, however, because a
Family Day Event for Eid ul-Fitr was scheduled for August 2.
The Family Day Event involved the provision of food and
drinks to Muslim inmates and their guests. As a result,
plaintiff could not both fast for Shawwal and partake in the
food and drinks at the Family Day Event.
plaintiff claims in August 2014, after twenty-seven months of
separate Shi'a Jumu'ah Friday Prayer services at Sing
Sing, separate Shi'a services were suspended until
October 2014, when they were reinstated.
plaintiff claims that on October 12, 2014, he was made to
miss the observance of the last two days of Ashura at Sing
Sing because no separate Shi'a service was permitted.
plaintiff claims defendants at Orleans have denied his right
to weekly classes, a separate inmate account to collect funds
for Shi'a “books and other study items, ”
(Am. Compl. Exs. 34 at 3), and denied Shi'a inmates
“the ability as a whole to receive donations or raise
funds” (referred to elsewhere as a
“fundraiser”). (Id. Ex. 35 at 2).
brings these causes of action against ten defendants: (i)
Anthony Annucci, Commissioner of the New York State
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
(“DOCCS”); (ii) Jeff McKoy, DOCCS Deputy
Commissioner for Program Services; (iii) Cheryl Morris,
Director of DOCCS Ministerial, Family and Volunteer Services
(“MFVS”); (iv) Fernandez (incorrectly sued as
Hernandez), Assistant Director of MFVS; (v) Michael Capra,
Superintendent of Sing Sing; (vi) Leslie Malin, Deputy
Superintendent of Programs at Sing Sing; (vii) Noelle
Cheeseboro, Assistant Deputy Superintendent of Programs at
Sing Sing; (viii) Imam Hasan A. Mu'min, Sing Sing
Coordinating Chaplain; (ix) K. Crowley, Superintendent of
Orleans; and (x) T. Tracz, Deputy Superintendent of Programs
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.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of
Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)
(internal quotation marks 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
quotation marks omitted). Nor may the Court “invent
factual allegations [plaintiff] has not pled.”
Free Exercise Claims
clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment,
including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free
exercise of religion.” O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) (internal citation
omitted). To state a free exercise claim, plaintiff
“must show at the threshold that the disputed conduct
substantially burdens his sincerely held religious
beliefs.” Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263,
274-75 (2d Cir. 2006).
inmate's “right to practice his religion is,
however, not absolute.” Salahuddin v.
Coughlin, 993 F.2d 306, 308 (2d Cir. 1993). Corrections
facilities may restrict religious exercise so long as such
restrictions are “reasonably related to legitimate
penological interests.” O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. at 349. Thus, even if plaintiff can
establish defendants substantially burdened his right to
religious exercise, he cannot state a free exercise claim if
defendants can show “the disputed official conduct was
motivated by a legitimate penological interest.”
Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d at 276; see also
Young v. Coughlin, 866 F.2d 567, 570 (2d Cir. 1989);
accord Harris v. Lord, 957 F.Supp. 471, ...