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Rose v. Annucci

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 19, 2018

ANTHONY J. ANNUCCI, et al., Defendants.


          ROOSEVELT ROSE, Plaintiff pro se.

          JOHN F. MOORE, Asst. Attorney General for Defendants.


         This matter has been referred to me for Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Brenda K. Sannes, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rules N.D.N.Y. 72.3(c). In his civil rights complaint, plaintiff, a practicing Muslim, alleges that defendants violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a) by interfering with his observance of religious holidays in 2014, 2015, and 2016, while he was incarcerated at Franklin Correctional Facility (“Franklin”). (Dkt. No. 1, Compl. at CM/ECF pp. 5-9). Plaintiff seeks significant monetary relief. (Compl. at CM/ECF p. 11).

         Presently before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. (Dkt. No. 53). Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the motion. (Dkt. No. 59). Defendants replied, and plaintiff filed a surreply. (Dkt. Nos. 61, 67). For the following reasons, this court agrees with defendants and will recommend dismissal of the complaint.


         I. Facts and Contentions

         As required under Local Rule 7.1, defendants have filed a statement of material facts and notice to plaintiff of the requirement to file a response in accordance with the local rules. (Dkt. No. 53-10, “Def. Statement of Material Facts”). Plaintiff filed a counter-statement of material facts, but did not respond in the manner required by Local Rule 7.1(a)(3). (Dkt. No. 59, “Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts”). Therefore, the court may accept the facts in defendants' statement as true to the extent that they are supported by evidence in the record. See Champion v. Artuz, 76 F.3d 483, 486 (2d Cir. 1996). However, in deference to plaintiff's pro se status, this court has opted to review the entire summary judgment record to determine the relevant facts.

         Plaintiff was incarcerated at Franklin between January 17, 2014 and October 31, 2016. (Dkt. No. 53-10, “Def. Statement of Material Facts” ¶ 2). In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that various officials violated his civil rights by interfering with his celebration of the religious holidays of Eid-Ul-Adha[1] and Ramadan by imposing unnecessary and discriminatory registration requirements. (Compl. at CM/ECF p. 5-10). Plaintiff expanded on these allegations in a June 13, 2017 deposition. (Dkt. No. 53-1, at CM/ECF pp. 131-181, (“Dep.”)[2]).

         A. Eid-Ul-Adha Festival in 2014

         In October 2014, the Muslim chaplain at Franklin retired, and the facility had not yet hired his replacement. (Dep. at 32). On October 10, 2014, defendant Smith, a Protestant chaplain at Franklin, advised Muslim inmates, including plaintiff, that they would need to sign a “Religious Meal Form” in order to attend the Eid-Ul-Adha festival, to be held on October 18, 2014. (Dep. at 27). Plaintiff was one of several inmates who refused to sign the form. (Dkt. No. 53-8, “Smith Decl.” ¶¶ 2-3).

         On October 15, 2014, defendant Wilder, a Catholic chaplain at Franklin who held the position of Facility Coordinating Chaplain, met with plaintiff individually. (Dkt. No. 53-7, “Wilder Decl.” ¶ 2). During this meeting, defendant Wilder explained that DOCCS policy required that any inmate who wished to participate in a religious meal was required to sign the Religious Meal Form. (Id.) Because the Eid-Ul-Adha festival included a meal component, plaintiff was required to sign the form in order to attend. (Wilder Decl. ¶ 2).

         Plaintiff again refused to sign the Religious Meal Form, and provided several reasons why he deemed the form incompatible with his Muslim faith. (Dep. at 33, 45). He noted that one version of the form referenced a “Kosher diet, ” and a different version of the form referenced a “Cold Alternative Diet.” (Dep. at 30, 80; Wilder Decl. Ex. F; Dkt. No. 53-1, at 91). Neither of these diets was a mandatory part of his Muslim faith. (Dep. at 80). In addition, plaintiff argued that DOCCS did not provide any regular “diet” for practicing Muslims, so there was no need for him to sign the form for a single festival, where much of the food was purchased with inmate funds. (Dep. at 46-48). At his deposition, plaintiff also insisted that DOCCS already had a list of Muslim inmates who would attend, and that the previous imam had not used the Religious Meal Form. (Dep. at 30-32).

         Defendants contend that the Religious Meal Form was used for all faith groups, and that any inmate who refused to sign the form was prohibited from attending religious events that included a meal, regardless of their particular religious affiliation. (Wilder Decl. ¶ 4). This contention is consistent with the language of the form itself. Despite some potentially confusing references to Kosher meals and the Cold Alternative Diet, the forms submitted with the record herein are not limited to specific religious affiliations. For example, both Religious Meal Forms state that “You are requesting permission to participate in a religious meal for your registered religion of record.” (Dkt. No. 53-1, at CM/ECF pp. 58, 91). At the bottom of the form, the inmate is instructed to confirm that “I have read and understand the requirements for participation in the Religious Diet/Menu program. I would like to participate as indicated by checking the appropriate line below.” (Id.) The first option allows registration for either the Kosher Diet or the Cold Alternative Diet, depending on the form. (Id.) The second option, on both versions of the form, is for

ALL other Department approved religious diets/menus that are available for my religion of record. I have notified the Coordinating Chaplain or their designee of my desire to participate in accordance with local facility policies. Since I have requested this menu/diet, if I fail to comply with the terms, I may be subject to removal.

(Id.) (emphasis in original).

         Citing plaintiff's refusal to sign the Religious Meal Form, defendant Wilder decided that plaintiff could not attend the Eid-Ul-Adha festival. (Wilder Decl. ¶¶ 2-3). On the day of the festival, plaintiff attempted to attend, but was refused entry because he had not signed the Religious Meal Form. (Dkt. No. 53-2 at CM/ECF p. 9, “LaClair Decl., ” Ex A; Dep. at 31).

         B. Ramadan 2015

         At the end of 2014, defendant Qusay Qubaisy, an Imam, became the Muslim Chaplain at Franklin. (Dkt. No. 53-4, “Qubaisy Decl.” ¶ 1). He held that position until November 10, 2016, when he was reassigned to a different facility. (Id.) In 2015, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan commenced on June 18, 2015. (Dkt. No. 53-1, at CM/ECF p. 5, Qubaisy Decl., Ex. A). Beginning on or about January 2015, defendant Qubaisy made regular announcements at Franklin that all Muslim inmates interested in participating in Ramadan activities had to sign up by May 4, 2015. (Quabaisy Decl. ¶ 4). This announcement was consistent with a DOCCS policy requiring 45 days notice to allow for adequate preparation of group religious activities, as outlined in a January 14, 2015 memorandum that was allegedly posted in each housing unit at Franklin. (LaClair Decl. ¶ 12). Plaintiff denies that the memorandum was ever posted in his housing unit, but does not dispute that he was aware of defendant Qubaisy's announcement. (Dkt. No. 59, “Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts” ¶ 43-47).

         On June 15, 2015, plaintiff submitted a letter to defendant Qubaisy, asking to be placed on the list of Ramadan participants. (Qubaisy Decl. ¶ 4; Dep. at 70). That same day, defendant Wilder denied plaintiff's request to participate in Ramadan, because he had missed the May 4, 2015 registration deadline. (Dep. at 70; Dkt. No. 53-1 at CM/ECF p. 36).

         C. Ramadan 2016

         On March 26, 2016, plaintiff signed a Religious Meal Form, and initialed the section confirming his request to participate in “All other Department approved religious diets/menus that are available for my religion of record.” (Dkt. No. 1-1, at CM/ECF p. 41; Dkt No. 53-1. at CM/ECF p. 58). This same section warns that an inmate who fails to comply with the applicable requirements may be removed from participation. (Id.) Plaintiff also made a timely request to participate in Ramadan activities.[3]

         In 2016, the holy month of Ramadan began on June 6. (Dkt. No. 1-1, at CM/ECF p. 49; Dkt. No. 53-1, at CM/ECF p. 66). Plaintiff attended group activities for the first ten days of Ramadan, but testified that some other inmates did not take the holy month seriously, and they distracted from what was “supposed to be a religious atmosphere.” (Dep. at 116). He chose to stay in his housing unit, and he did not participate in the Ramadan meals on several days. (Id.) Instead, plaintiff fasted on his own, and prepared his own meals. (Dep. at 116-17). After plaintiff missed the group meal on June 16, 2016, he was called to defendant Wilder's office for counseling. (Dep. at 117). Defendant Wilder reminded plaintiff of his obligation to attend and the potential consequences of not attending the meals. (Wilder Decl. at 7). He was also advised that if he missed a religious meal “through no fault of [his] own, ” he should “submit a written notice to the Food Service Administrator and the Coordinating Chaplain immediately outlining the reason the meal(s) was missed.” (Dkt. No. 53-7, at CM/ECF p. 37, Wilder Decl., Ex. G). Plaintiff refused to sign the form acknowledging that he had received this counseling. (Dep. at 118).

         Plaintiff also missed Ramadan meals held between June 19 and 22, 2016. (Dep. at 116). Each missed meal subjected plaintiff to an increasing scale of penalties, which ultimately resulted in “removal” from religious meals for sixty days as of June 28, 2016. (Dkt. No. 53-7, at CM/ECF p. 39; Wilder Decl., Ex. H). Defendant Wilder prepared a memorandum advising plaintiff of this removal, which also advised that “[t]his does not remove you from participation in Ramadan, but excludes you from receiving the Ramadan Meal.” (Id.) This removal prevented plaintiff from receiving Ramadan meals for the remainder of the holy month. He was permitted to reapply for permission on August 26, 2016, but did not do so. (Dep. at 123). He was subsequently transferred to other DOCCS facilities, before being released from DOCCS custody on January 9, 2018. (Dkt. Nos. 46, 52, 68).

         II. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate where there exists no genuine issue of material fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d 263, 272-73 (2d Cir. 2006). “Only disputes over [“material”] facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). It must be apparent that no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party for a court to grant a motion for summary judgment. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994).

         The moving party has the burden to show the absence of disputed material facts by informing the court of portions of pleadings, depositions, and affidavits which support the motion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party must move forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d at 273. In that context, the nonmoving party must do more than “simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). However, in determining whether there is a genuine issue of material fact, a court must resolve all ambiguities, and draw all inferences, against the movant. See United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962); Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F.3d at 272.

         III. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

          A.Legal Standards

The Prison Litigation Reform Act, (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. §1997e(a), requires an inmate to exhaust all available administrative remedies prior to bringing a federal civil rights action. The exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and regardless of the subject matter of the claim. See Giano v. Goord, 380 F.3d 670, 675-76 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). Inmates must exhaust their administrative remedies even if they are seeking only money damages that are not available in prison administrative proceedings. Id. at 675.

         The failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that must be raised by the defendants. Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 216 (2007); Johnson v. Testman, 380 F.3d 691, 695 (2d Cir. 2004). As an affirmative defense, it is the defendants' burden to establish that plaintiff failed to meet the exhaustion requirements. See ...

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