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Bender v. Snyder

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

May 22, 2019

THOMAS BENDER, Plaintiff,
v.
KEITH SNYDER et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          GORDON J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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 for failure to state a claim against Defendants Marshall and Lesatz.

         Discussion

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Baraga Correctional Facility (AMF) in Baraga, Baraga County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues Chaplain Keith Snyder, Deputy Warden Lincoln Marshall, and Warden Dan Lesatz.

         Plaintiff states that he is Catholic and his religious beliefs require him to receive the sacraments of penance (confession) and the Eucharist on a weekly basis. Plaintiff alleges that in April of 2018, he sent Defendant Snyder a request to be placed on the weekly call-out for Catholic worship services. Plaintiff was placed on call-out for the non-denominational worship service conducted by Defendant Snyder. Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Snyder, objecting that he was Catholic and needed to attend Catholic services, which included the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. Plaintiff's request was denied. On October 28, 2018, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendants Snyder and Lesatz, requesting to be placed on the call-out for the weekly Catholic services held in the 300 building, so that he could have access to Catholic clergy, make confession, and receive communion. Plaintiff also stated that if he could not attend services at AMF, he wished to be transferred to a prison where he could exercise his Catholic religious beliefs.

         On October 31, 2018, Defendant Snyder sent Plaintiff a memorandum denying his requests, stating:

As has been explained . . . it takes at least 5 requests to start a call-out and 4 to keep it going, we don't at present have a credentialed volunteer to lead a call-out, and one's access to call-outs of their declared religious preference is not a factor in where one locks. If I get at least five requests for Catholic call-out there will be a call-out. If we can get a volunteer qualified to minister the sacraments, you will have access to the sacraments. Even if neither of these conditions above can be met, you will necessarily be subject to whatever governs transfers, which I have also said I have neither functional understanding nor input in the process.

(ECF No. 1, PageID.4.)

         Plaintiff then sent another letter attempting to resolve the denial of his request to attend religious services in the 300 building chapel, where Plaintiff asserts there are ongoing, active Catholic worship services, which are conducted by a duly ordained Catholic priest. Plaintiff's request was not granted. Plaintiff states that MDOC policy allows for inter-complex travel and contact between prisoners of different security levels for a wide variety of situations and reasons. Plaintiff further states that MDOC policy requires a prison chaplain to initiate transfers for prisoners whose religious dietary needs cannot be met at their current facilities, and that this rationale also applies to religious needs for services.

         On November 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed a grievance on Defendants Snyder and Lesatz regarding the denial of Catholic services. Plaintiff's grievance was denied by the Assistant Deputy Warden on December 3, 2018. On December 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed a step II grievance appeal, which was denied by Defendant Lesatz on December 10, 2018. On December 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed a step III grievance appeal, which was denied by the MDOC legal affairs division on January 7, 2019.

         Plaintiff sent requests to be transferred for religious reasons to Defendant Marshall on November 1, 2018, November 23, 2018, and December 5, 2018. Plaintiff did not receive a response. Plaintiff filed a grievance on Defendant Marshall on December 6, 2018, which was denied on December 12, 2018. Plaintiff's step II and III appeals were also denied. Plaintiff claims that Muslim and Protestant prisoners are allowed to attend group worship, and that the denial of his ability to do so violates his right to equal protection.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants' conduct violated his First Amendment right to practice his religion and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as damages.

         II. Failure ...


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