United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
RUFUS L. SPEARMAN, Plaintiff,
STATE OF MICHIGAN et al., Defendants.
T. Neff, United States District Judge.
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).
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.
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,
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), 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,
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.
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.
Policy Directive 05.03.150 (eff. 9/15/2015) ¶
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.
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.
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 ...