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Spearman v. State

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

May 22, 2018

RUFUS L. SPEARMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF MICHIGAN et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Janet T. Neff, United States District Judge.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff initially filed this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. That court granted Plaintiff in forma pauperis status and then ordered the complaint served on all Defendants. Defendants responded with a motion to transfer venue to this Court. In the report and recommendation recommending the transfer, Magistrate Judge Patricia T. Morris acknowledged that service had been ordered erroneously in that the order was entered prior to the screening required by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321 (1996) (PLRA), 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 Plaintiff's complaint on grounds of immunity or for failure to state a claim against Defendants State of Michigan, MDOC, Stoddard, Napel, Woods, Bauman, and Place.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         On September 22, 2000, the Wayne County Circuit Court sentenced Plaintiff to life imprisonment for first-degree murder. He is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Muskegon County, Michigan.

         Plaintiff is suing the State of Michigan, the MDOC, MDOC Correctional Facilities Administration (CFA) Deputy Director Thomas Finco, MDOC CFA Special Activities Coordinator David M. Leach, Unknown Parties (identified as the members of the Chaplaincy Advisory Council[1]), Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) Warden Cathleen Stoddard, Marquette Branch Prison (MBP) Warden Robert Napel, Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) Warden Jeffrey Woods, Alger Correctional Facility (LMF) Warden Catherine S. Bauman, and Baraga Correctional Facility (AMF) Warden Shane Place. Plaintiff is suing these Defendants for their role in failing to recognize his religion-the Science of Nuwaubu-and for burdening his exercise of that religion. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendants have: (1) refused to recognize the Science of Nuwaubu religion and thereby denied Nuwaubians the benefits and privileges afforded to other religious groups; (2) denied Plaintiff a religious diet; (3) denied Plaintiff primary religious literature; (4) and refused to permit Plaintiff to participate in the Ramadan fast. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 12, PageID.47.)

         Plaintiff's amended complaint tracks his efforts to exercise his religion beginning in June of 2013 while he was incarcerated at LMF. On June 19, 2013, he wrote LMF Chaplain J. Kent requesting institutional purchase of Nuwaubu primary religious materials through the Prisoner Benefit Fund (PBF). (Id., PageID.51.) On June 20, 2013, Chaplain Kent responded, informing Plaintiff that only religious groups recognized by the MDOC and authorized to conduct group religious services were entitled to PBF funding. (June 20, 2013 Memo., ECF No. 12, PageID.131.) Chaplain Kent's response to Plaintiff's request was entirely consistent with the relevant MDOC policy directives.

         MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150 spells out the benefits of religious group recognition:

The Department recognizes religious groups for the purpose of identifying those groups authorized to conduct group religious services and attend group religious activities and for identifying authorized personal religious property prisoners belonging to the religious group may possess . . . . Attachment A identifies those religious groups recognized by the Department that are authorized to conduct group religious services and attend group religious activities as well as all authorized personal religious property members of that religious group may possess. Attachment B identifies those religious groups recognized by the Department that are not authorized to conduct group religious services or attend group religious services but whose members are authorized to possess personal religious property. Prisoners are allowed to possess personal religious reading material of any religion as set forth in Paragraph II.

         MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150 (eff. 9/15/2015) ¶ I.[2] The Nuwaubu religion is not recognized by the MDOC. The MDOC has set up the following process to recognize religions:

A prisoner or group of prisoners belonging to a religious group not recognized by the Department may request Department recognition of that group by submitting a written request to the Warden or designee. The request shall include information regarding the group's religious beliefs and practices. The Warden shall ensure all requests and supporting documents are referred to the CFA Special Activities Coordinator for review through the appropriate chain of command. The CFA Special Activities Coordinator shall present the material to the CAC for additional review, if needed. The CFA Special Activities Coordinator shall forward his/her recommendation, and that of the CAC if applicable, to the Deputy Director for a final determination.
The Deputy Director shall make the final decision as to whether a religious group will be granted Department recognition, and if so, whether group religious services and activities and personal religious property will be allowed. The group shall be granted recognition if it is determined to be a bona fide religious group with beliefs and practices not adequately represented by an existing recognized religious group, based on any recommendation received from the CAC. The decision whether to allow the group to conduct group religious services and activities, and whether to allow personal religious property, shall be based on whether the practice of the religion or possession of the property item would pose a custody and security threat. The decision whether to allow the group to conduct group religious services and activities also shall be based on the number of prisoners identified as belonging to the religious group. All Assistant Deputy Directors (ADD) and Wardens shall be advised of the final decision.

Id., ¶¶ K, L.

         With regard to reading material the directive further provides: “Prisoners are allowed to receive religious reading material through the mail and from the institutional Chaplain. . . includ[ing] reading materials about a religious group not granted recognition by the Department.” Id., ¶ HH.

         With regard to religious diets, the policy directive provides:

The Department offers a vegan menu to meet the religious dietary needs of prisoners . . . . The Vegan menu shall comply with Kosher and Halal religious tenets. A prisoner who believes the Vegan menu does not meet his/her religious dietary needs may request an alternative menu. An alternative menu will be developed and provided only with approval of the Deputy Director and only if it is determined that the Vegan menu does not meet the religious dietary needs of the prisoner. All religious menus shall meet the minimum nutritional standards set forth in PD 04.07.100 “Offender Meals.” A prisoner may eat from a Vegan menu only with approval of the CFA Special Activities Coordinator. Approval shall be granted only if it is necessary to the practice of the prisoner's designated religion, including the prisoner's sincerely held religious beliefs. To request approval, the prisoner must submit a written request to the Warden or designee, who shall obtain information regarding the prisoner's request and religious beliefs prior to referring the request to the CFA Special Activities Coordinator. The CFA Special Activities Coordinator shall notify the Warden or designee of the decision. The Warden shall ensure that the prisoner is notified. A prisoner whose request is denied shall not be allowed to submit another request to eat from that religious menu for at least one year.
* * *
[P]risoners shall be permitted to observe religious fasts and feasts that are necessary to the practice of their religion, as approved by the CFA Special Activities Coordinator and set forth in the Handbook of Religious Groups. A prisoner or group of prisoners who wants to observe a religious fast or feast that has not already been approved by the CFA Special Activities Coordinator must submit a written request to do so to the Warden or designee, which shall include information regarding the religion's beliefs and practices. The Warden or designee shall refer the request and supporting documents to the CFA Special Activities Coordinator through the appropriate chain of command for approval. The CFA Special Activities Coordinator shall present the material to the CAC for additional review, if needed. Approval shall be granted only if the fast or feast is necessary to the practice of a bona fide religion and ...

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