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Rush v. Malin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

June 29, 2017

BASHEEN RUSH, Plaintiff,
v.
DR. L. MALIN, ANTHONY ANNUCCI, CHERYL MORRIS, NOELLE CHEESEBORO, MICHAEL CAPRA, JEFF MCKOY, T. TRACZ, K. CROWLEY, HERNANDEZ, IMAM HASAN A. MU'MIN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Vincent L. Briccetti, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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 protection.

         Defendants 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.

         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 has asserted five fully-exhausted claims arising from incidents that occurred at Sing Sing and Orleans.[2] (See Am. Compl. Exs. 31-35).

         First, 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.

         Second, 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.

         Third, 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.

         Fourth, 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.

         Fifth, 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).

         Plaintiff 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 at Orleans.

         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 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.” 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.” Id.

         II. Free Exercise Claims

         “Inmates clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion.”[3] 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).[4]

         An 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, ...


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