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Kitchen v. Leach

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

May 10, 2017

DAVE LEACH et al., Defendants.


          Janet T. Neff United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has granted Plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996), the Court is required to dismiss any prisoner action brought under federal law if the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c) . The Court must read Plaintiff's pro se complaint indulgently, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), and accept Plaintiff's allegations as true, unless they are clearly irrational or wholly incredible. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992).

         Applying these standards, the Court will dismiss Defendant J. Daugherty because Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against him. The Court will also dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff's First Amendment and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) claims premised upon his allegation that the vegan menu imposes a substantial burden on his religious beliefs will be dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Court will serve the complaint against Defendants Leach and Willard, but only with respect to the remaining claims against them: Plaintiff's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims premised upon his allegation that the vegan menu causes him gastro-intestinal distress such that it interferes with his religious practices.

         Plaintiff has also filed a motion for the appointment of counsel (ECF No. 3). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion.


         I. Factual allegations

         Plaintiff William Kitchen III, who identifies himself as William “Ash-Shahir” Kitchen, is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility (AMF) in Baraga, Michigan. The events of which Plaintiff complains have occurred at AMF and at Plaintiff's previous placement, the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility (ICF) in Ionia, Michigan. Plaintiff sues Dave Leach, Special Activities Coordinator for the MDOC; Patricia Willard, State Dietician for the MDOC; and J. Daugherty, Food Supervisor at ICF. All three Defendants are sued in their official capacities. Defendants Leach and Willard are also sued in their personal capacities.

         Plaintiff is a Muslim prisoner. He has requested a Halaldiet, a diet that is consistent with Islamic dietary laws. Defendant Leach authorized Plaintiff to receive MDOC religious meals.

         The MDOC offers one religious meal plan. Plaintiff describes the plan as a non-lacto, strict vegetarian diet. The diet is soy oriented; it is non-dairy and offers no meat protein. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Leach and Willard developed the diet to satisfy the Judaic, Islamic, and Buddhist dietary restrictions. A Halal diet, however, does not preclude dairy or meat. Plaintiff explains:

Halal means that which is authorized by Islamic Law (figh). The Halal dietary restrictions regarding animals are as follow[s]: Animals such as cow, sheep, goat, deer, moose, chicken, duck, game birds, etc. are all Halal but they must be Zabihah (slaughtered according to Islamic Rites) in order to be suitable for consumption. Once slaughtered one must pronounce the name of Allah Ta'ala or recite a blessing which contains the name of Allah Ta'ala.

(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.3-4.)

         The MDOC religious diet causes Plaintiff gastro-intestinal distress. The gastrointestinal distress, Plaintiff claims, disrupts Plaintiff's state of purity and cleanliness required for the conduct of his daily religious rituals. Plaintiff contends that the disruption presents a perpetual burden on the exercise of his prayer rites. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants Leach and Willard have been deliberately indifferent to his medical complications.

         Plaintiff attaches documents to his complaint that indicate he brought to the attention of Defendants Leach and Willard that Halal does not preclude meat or dairy and that Defendants are effectively making him eat a Buddhist diet. Plaintiff indicates he also brought to the attention of Defendant Willard the gastro-intestinal distress brought on by his consumption of the MDOC vegan diet. (Compl. Exh. D, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.15.) She noted that a high fiber diet can cause intestinal side effects when a person is not used to it. (Id.) She recommended consuming at least 80 ounces of water per day and getting daily exercise to help alleviate the symptoms. (Id.) Plaintiff does not indicate whether Defendant Willard's recommendation proved helpful or whether he followed the recommendation. ICF healthcare personnel recommended over-the-counter medicine for Plaintiff's gastro-intestinal problems, but Plaintiff reported that the medicine did not help. (Compl. Exh. E, F, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.17-18.)

         Plaintiff sues Defendant Daugherty because the styrofoam tray in which he received his religious meals was marked “kosher” or with a “k.” Plaintiff states this improperly identified him as a Jew. Plaintiff contends that to accept, answer, or allow that identification is prohibited in Plaintiff's religion. Plaintiff's rejection of the designation and the “kosher” sign on his cell door led to verbal altercations with guards. Plaintiff suffered this practice at ICF and continues to suffer the practice at MSP.

         Plaintiff attaches to his complaint communications with Defendant Daugherty, including one communication specifically directed to this practice. Defendant Daugherty states: “They should be marking it as a Religious tray and I have addressed this with the workers from the Religious kitchen.” (Compl. Exh. J, ECF No. 1-1, PageID.27.) Plaintiff does not reveal whether Defendant Daugherty's efforts corrected the problem at ICF. In any event, according to Plaintiff, the practice continues at MSP.

         Plaintiff seeks a declaration that the actions of Defendants violate the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise, as well as a deliberate violation of section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection. In addition to that declaration, Plaintiff asks that the Court enjoin Defendants Leach and Willard from using a strict vegetarian diet as the Halal diet but to instead offer an alternative menu that suits Plaintiff's medical and religious criteria. Plaintiff asks the Court to enjoin Defendant Daugherty to stop identifying Plaintiff's trays as “kosher.”[1] Finally, Plaintiff seeks an award of punitive damages against Defendants Leach and Willard in the amount of $500.00 each.

         II. Failure to state a claim

         A complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails “‘to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's allegations must include more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). The court must determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Although the plausibility standard is not equivalent to a “‘probability requirement, ' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)); see also Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that the Twombly/Iqbal plausibility standard applies to dismissals of prisoner cases on initial review under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b)(1) and 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the federal Constitution or laws and must show that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Street v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996). Because § 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994).

         III. Eig ...

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