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Allah v. Annucci

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 7, 2017




          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiff Shakim Abd Allah (“Plaintiff”), currently an inmate at Great Meadow Correctional Facility, brings this pro se Action against Anthony Annucci (“Commissioner Annucci”), Cheryl Morris (“Morris”), Thomas Griffin (“Superintendent Griffin”), and Jaifa Collado (“Collado, ” and collectively, “Defendants”), alleging Defendants violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and New York State law when they denied Plaintiff's attendance at certain religious events and failed to provide religious accommodations while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Green Haven Correctional Facility. (See Compl. (Dkt. No. 2).) As a result of these alleged violations, Plaintiff contends that he could not “freely practice his religion.” (Id. ¶ 48.) Before the Court is Defendants' Motion To Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (the “Motion”). (See Dkt. No. 23.) For the reasons to follow, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken from the Complaint and the documents appended thereto, and are assumed true for the purpose of resolving the Motion.

         1. Denial of Attendance at Religious Events

         On October 2 and October 8, 2015, Plaintiff was “denied his right to attend the Shi'ite religious event[s] of Ghadir Khum . . . and Mubahila.” (Compl. ¶ 14.) On October 13, 2015, Plaintiff “filed a grievance” and “also wrote a letter to Defendant Collado dated [October 9, 2015] regarding the denial of his rights to attend these events.” (Id.) The letter to Collado notified him that Plaintiff was “requesting approval to attend the 10 days of Ashura which started on [October 15, 2015] and finished on [October 24, 2015].” (Id.) On October 23, 2015, Plaintiff “sent a letter to Defendant Annucci, regarding his being denied attendance at the Shia Holy Days [o]f Ghadir Khum, Mubahila, and Ashura.” (Id. ¶ 35.) On the same day, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant Morris. (See Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that Commissioner Annucci and Morris never responded to his letters, (see Id. ¶¶ 36, 38), and “Collado[] did not respond to Plaintiff['s] . . . letter until [November 5, 2015], after . . . Plaintiff . . . had already been denied attendance at Ashura, ” (id. ¶ 38).

         Plaintiff asserts that he “was entitled to a hearing on his grievance within 16 calendar days of the receipt of his grievance” and that on December 18, 2015, he “sent a letter to [the Inmate Grievance Request Program (‘IGRP')] Supervisor L. Stanway, requesting that his grievance . . . be sent to Superintendent Griffin for decision” within 21 days. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.) On January 11, 2016, Plaintiff “sent a letter to IGRP Supervisor L. Stanway requesting that his grievance be forwarded to [the Central Office Review Committee (‘CORC') for] review and decision.” (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that “CORC failed to render a decision on both grievances within 30 days” in violation of certain regulations. (Id. ¶ 22.)

         2. Accommodation of Other Faith Groups

         Plaintiff contends that “Defendants recognize and provide accom[m]odations to many faith groups within the inmate population” and that these “religious groups are provided with a Chaplain that serves as a religious leader for the group.” (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Additionally, “[i]nmates registered as members of a recognized group may attend their own congregational worship service and religious classes, facilitated by the Chaplain or an approved volunteer, or an approved inmate facilitator, and may observe religious holidays as listed on the annual [Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (‘DOCCS')] religious calendar.” (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff avers that “all of the religious groups recognized . . . are also allowed to have a fund[]raiser to raise money to purchase religious text books and educational material about their faith.” (Id. ¶ 41.)

         Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he Islamic program offered by . . . Defendants is a Sunni Muslim religious program, because the Chaplain is a Sunni Muslim, the sermons during Juma'ah service focus on Sunni Muslim [t]eachings, . . . the majority of classes offered in DOCCS facilities are for Sunni Muslims, and the money raised through fund[]raisers is used to purchase Sunni Muslim texts and other educational material.” (Id. ¶ 42.) “In sum, ” Plaintiff asserts, “the program is dominated, controlled[, ] and officiated exclusively by Sunni Muslims, ” (id.), despite the fact that “there are more inmates that [i]dentify as Shia in the DOCCS system th[a]n there are inmates that belong to many of the religious groups that DOCCS currently recognize[s], ” (id. ¶ 46). Plaintiff asserts that “[a] Sunni Muslim . . . can[]not provide religious guidance and counseling to Shia Muslims.” (Id. ¶ 26.) Furthermore, “Plaintiff . . . believes . . . that congregate prayer service on [F]riday, the Juma'ah service, [is] fundamental to the practice of his religion, ” (id. ¶ 29), and “that the leader of the congregate prayer during Juma'ah service must be a fellow Shia, who correctly leads prayer, and is mature, sane, just, and legitimate by birth, ” and that such prayer is “invalid if the leader does not meet these requirements, ” (id. ¶ 30).[1]

         As a result of these alleged violations, Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages in the amount of $100, 000, punitive damages, and “costs [and] [i]nterests to the extent permitted by law.” (Id. at 10-11.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint on March 11, 2016. (See Dkt. No. 2.) Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on March 16, 2016. (See Dkt. No. 4.) In a memo endorsement dated July 19, 2016, the Court issued a schedule for briefing on the instant Motion. (See Dkt. No. 19.) On September 2, 2016, Defendants filed the instant Motion To Dismiss and accompanying papers. (See Dkt. Nos. 23-27.) On October 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed his papers in opposition. (See Dkt. Nos. 28-30.) Defendants filed their reply on October 21, 2016. (See Dkt. No. 33.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         “The standards of review for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and under 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim are substantively identical.” Gonzalez v. Option One Mortg. Corp., No. 12-CV-1470, 2014 WL 2475893, at *2 (D. Conn. June 3, 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Neroni v. Coccoma, No. 13-CV-1340, 2014 WL 2532482, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. June 5, 2014) (same), aff'd, 591 F. App'x 28 (2d Cir. 2015). “In deciding both types of motions, the Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Gonzalez, 2014 WL 2475893, at *2 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Seemann v. U.S. Postal Serv., No. 11-CV-206, 2012 WL 1999847, at *1 (D. Vt. June 4, 2012) (same). However, “[o]n a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, . . . the party who invokes the Court's jurisdiction bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that subject matter jurisdiction exists, whereas the movant bears the burden of proof on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Gonzalez, 2014 WL 2475893, at *2; see also Sobel v. Prudenti, 25 F.Supp.3d 340, 352 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (“In contrast to the standard for a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). This allocation of the burden of proof is “[t]he only substantive difference” between the standards of review under these two rules. Smith v. St. Luke's Roosevelt Hosp., No. 08-CV-4710, 2009 WL 2447754, at *9 n.10 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 11, 2009), adopted by 2009 WL 2878093 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 2, 2009); see also Fagan v. U.S. Dist. Court for S. Dist. of N.Y., 644 F.Supp.2d 441, 446-47 & n.7 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (same).

         1. Rule 12(b)(1)

         “A federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over a cause of action only when it has authority to adjudicate the cause pressed in the complaint.” Bryant v. Steele, 25 F.Supp.3d 233, 241 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Determining the existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry[, ] and a claim is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Morrison v. Nat'l Austl. Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted), aff'd, 561 U.S. 247 (2010); see also Butler v. Ross, No. 16-CV-1282, 2016 WL 3264134, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. June 14, 2016) (same). Nevertheless, “[u]nlike Article III standing, which ordinarily should be determined before reaching the merits, statutory standing may be assumed for the purposes of deciding whether the plaintiff otherwise has a viable cause of action.” Coan v. Kaufman, 457 F.3d 250, 256 (2d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). While a district court resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) “must take all uncontroverted facts in the complaint . . . as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party asserting jurisdiction, ” “where jurisdictional facts are placed in dispute, the court has the power and obligation to decide issues of fact by reference to evidence outside the pleadings, such as affidavits, ” in which case “the party asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence ...

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