United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division
J. QUIST, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) at the Alger Correctional Facility (LMF)
in Munising, Alger County, Michigan. The events about which
he complains, however, occurred at the Chippewa Correctional
Facility (URF) in Kincheloe, Chippewa County, Michigan, and
the Muskegon Correctional Facility (MCF) in Muskegon,
Muskegon County, Michigan. Plaintiff sues MDOC Special
Activities Coordinator Steven Adamson and former Special
Activities Coordinator David M. Leach, together with the
following current or former URF Officials: Former Warden
Jeffrey Woods; Former Deputy Warden Connie Horton; and
Chaplain Dave Rink. He also sues MCF Chaplain K. Pelky and
MCF Deputy Warden D.M. Steward.
complaint covers several distinct issues and
events. Plaintiff first alleges that, on October
4, 2016, he transferred to URF from the Oaks Correctional
Facility. Upon arrival, Plaintiff sent letters to Defendants
Woods and Rink, asking to be placed on the list for a
religious diet and attaching documentation showing that he
had been approved to receive kosher meals since 2012.
Defendants Woods and Rink, however, took no action in
response to his letters. Plaintiff was not placed on the
October 22, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Step-I grievance,
complaining that he was being denied his religious diet.
(Attach. to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.18.) He indicated in
the grievance that he had sent Defendant Rink several kites
about the matter, without response. No. action was taken on
the Step-I grievance. Receiving no response, Plaintiff filed
a Step-II grievance on December 1, 2016. Defendant Woods
responded to the grievance on December 10, 2016, noting that
the Step-I grievance response was untimely and concluding
that Plaintiff had been approved for the diet but had not
been placed in the callout system upon his transfer.
Defendant Woods indicated that Plaintiff would immediately be
placed on the list for religious meals as of December 10,
2016. (Id., PageID.19-20.)
alleges that, prior to the Step-II response, he was
interviewed by Defendant Rink on December 9, 2016. At that
time, Defendant Rink admitted that he had received the Step-I
grievance, but he had misplaced it somewhere. Defendant Rink
advised Plaintiff that he would be placed on the
religious-diet list the next day. Plaintiff began receiving
his religious diet, as promised, on December 10, 2016.
complains that the deprivation of his religious diet for two
months violated his rights under the First Amendment's
Free Exercise Clause and under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §
next complains about alleged religious violations that
occurred in January 2018. Plaintiff alleges that he became
aware of a “Jewish Program” at the Macomb
Correctional Facility (MRF), which purportedly is sponsored
by the Aleph Institute. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5.)
According to Plaintiff, the sponsored program included
religious services led by a rabbi and the provision of a
kosher diet that was not the vegan diet provided to all
prisoners receiving a religious diet at URF. Plaintiff
attaches the affidavits of three prisoners who had been at
MRF and claimed knowledge of the program. (See
Attach. to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.25-27.)
requested a transfer to MRF, so that he could participate in
the Jewish Program, by writing to the unspecified Special
Activities Coordinator and Chaplain Rink. Plaintiff was
denied a transfer. On January 22, 2018, Plaintiff wrote a
Step-I grievance, alleging that he was fully qualified to
participate in the program and that his religious needs would
be better fulfilled in the program. He contended that, in
denying him a transfer, Defendants were violating his rights
under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by preventing him
from freely practicing his religion and subjecting him to
discrimination. (Attach. to Compl., ECF No. 22, PageID.21.)
January 31, 2018, Defendant Rink interviewed Plaintiff on the
grievance. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rink implicitly
acknowledged the existence of a Jewish Program at MRF, but
informed Plaintiff that unknown staff had told Rink that
Plaintiff would not be transferred to MRF. Defendant Rink
advised Plaintiff that he supported the decision denying
Plaintiff's request to transfer, because “the MDOC
[wa]s tired of [Plaintiff] and his continuous litigating . .
. .” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.5.) In the grievance
response issued that same day, Defendant Rink indicated that
transfer was not required by the law, because Plaintiff
received religious accommodations at URF that allowed him to
practice his faith, including the space and time for a Jewish
service, adequate religious library callouts and reading
material, and a religious diet. Rink stated that neither the
constitution nor prison policy guaranteed Plaintiff a right
to transfer to a facility that had a special Jewish program.
(Attach. to Compl., ECF No. 1-1, PageID.22.)
appealed the grievance denial to Step II. (Id.,
PageID.24.) Defendant Horton responded to his grievance on
February 16, 2018, finding the Step-I response to be
appropriate and supported by policy. Defendant Horton
concluded that Defendant Rink had properly found under
applicable policy that URF was providing Plaintiff the
necessary elements for his Jewish service. (Id.,
PageID.23.) Horton's response implied that a special
Jewish Program existed at MRF.
appealed to Step III. Defendant Leach responded that the
religious meal program at MRF was no different than the one
provided at URF. (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.6.) Plaintiff
contends that Defendant Leach's response was inaccurate
in representing that the program was the same. In addition,
he contends that, while URF permits him to attend a scheduled
religious service, he does not have a consistent opportunity
to participate in group religious services, because so few
prisoners attend the scheduled time for services.
December 17, 2018, Plaintiff wrote Defendant Adamson, again
asking to be transferred to MRF to participate in the Jewish
Program. Adamson did not respond. Plaintiff filed a grievance
on January 21, 2019, complaining that Defendants Adamson and
Rink had failed to respond to his request to be transferred.
Defendant Rink denied the grievance at Step I on May 28,
interim, on February 14, 2019, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant
Pelky at MCF, again asking to be transferred to
Defendant Pelky denied Plaintiff's response and allegedly
included false statements in his response to Plaintiff's
grievance. Plaintiff apparently appealed his grievance
through Step III. The Step-III grievance was denied on April
asserts that, by denying his transfer to MRF, Defendants
violated his rights to equal protection and to freely
exercise his religion, in violation of the First and
Fourteenth Amendments and the RLUIPA. He also contends that
that Defendants denied him the right to transfer in
retaliation for the exercise of his right to petition
government by filing grievances and civil rights complaints.
final set of allegations, Plaintiff asserts that, on March 3,
2019, and again on March 5, 2019, he mailed requests to be
placed on the list for participation in the Fast of Esther.
On March 7, Defendant Chaplain Pelky responded, stating the
I received two kites from you requesting that you be added to
the list for a meal bag during the Fast of Esther on
3/20/2019. I received both of these kites on 3/7/2019;
However, the deadline for submitting your name to central
office was 3/5/2019. It is consequently not possible for me
to add your name to this list.
(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.8.) Plaintiff complains that the
kites were submitted in a timely manner, but, because
Defendant Pelky did not work Monday through Wednesday, he did
not see the kites until after the deadline.
March 14, 2019, Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Deputy Warden
Steward about Defendant Pelky's refusal to place him on
the list for participation in the fast. Plaintiff argued that
Defendant Pelky had failed to post the deadline for
participating in the fast. Defendant Steward responded that
the prison had no intention of posting anything and that
Plaintiff should be aware of his own upcoming religious holy
days. Plaintiff also insisted that there was no valid reason
for the deadline, as the food items involved-bread, fruit,
peanut butter and jelly, cold cereal, and milk-were always in
the kitchen. When Plaintiff told Steward that he was writing
a grievance, Steward allegedly became angry and threatened to
have Plaintiff transferred.
contends that the failure to provide him a meal bag on the
Fast of Esther violated his religious rights under the First
Amendment and RLUIPA. He also argues that Defendants Pelky
and Steward violated prison policy when they failed to post
the deadline for receiving a meal bag for the Fast of Esther.
April 30, 2019, four days after Plaintiff's civil trial
in Colvin v. Morefield, No. 1:15-cv-70, Plaintiff
was transferred to LMF. Plaintiff claims that the transfer
was ordered in retaliation for Plaintiff's grievances and
complaints, in violation of the First Amendment.
seeks substantial compensatory and punitive damages, together
with an injunction directing that he be transferred to MRF.
Failure to State a Claim
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)).
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).
2016 Denial of Religious Diet
first set of allegations, Plaintiff contends that he was
denied his religious diet for two months by the actions and
inactions of Defendants Woods, Rink, Horton, and Leach.
Specifically, he alleges that he wrote to both Defendants
Woods and Rink when he arrived at URF, notifying them of his
approval for the religious diet, but they failed to ensure
that he was placed on the religious-diet list. In addition,
he argues that Defendant Rink neglected to respond to his
Step-I grievance promptly. Plaintiff was not interviewed by
Rink until Plaintiff filed a Step-II grievance with Defendant
Woods. At that point, he alleges, Defendant Rink told him
that he had misplaced the Step-I grievance, and Rink
immediately authorized Plaintiff's placement on the list.
Woods acknowledged that the Step-II grievance had not been
responded to in a timely fashion, but he found that the
matter was now resolved because Plaintiff had been placed on
the list. Plaintiff appealed his grievance to Step-III, which
was denied by Defendant Leach. Plaintiff argues that the
deprivation of his religious meals for two months violated
his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First
Amendment and RLUIPA. He also alleges that the failure to
place him on the religious-diet list violated his right to
equal protection. Finally, he alleges that Defendant Horton,
as then-Deputy Warden, should have known that Plaintiff was
to be placed on the religious-diet list, as she had printed a
history of Plaintiff's religious-menu approval, showing
that Plaintiff was approved for the religious diet in 2012.
(Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4; Attach. to Compl., ECF No. 101,
allegations against Defendants Rink, Woods, Horton, and Leach
sound in negligence. It is well established that negligent
conduct will not state a constitutional claim under §
1983. See Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330
(1986) (holding that the protections of the Due Process
Clause of the constitution are not “triggered by a lack
of due care by prison officials.”) (citing Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (“Medical
malpractice does not become a constitutional violation merely
because the victim is a prisoner . . . .”), and
Baker v. McCollum, 443 U.S. 137, 1464 (1979)
(holding that false imprisonment does not violate the
Fourteenth Amendment simply because the defendant is a state
official). Numerous courts have recognized that a prison
official's negligent interference with a prisoner's
religious diet does not violate the constitution. See
Colvin v. Caruso, 605 F.3d 282, 293-94 (6th Cir. 2010)
(holding that isolated incidents of negligence by prison
officials in implementing kosher food requirements is not
actionable under the First Amendment); Gallagher v.
Shelton, 587 F.3d 1063, 1069 (10th Cir. 2009) (isolated
acts of negligence in providing kosher diet do not support a
free-exercise claim); Lovelace v. Lee, 472 F.3d 174,
201 (4th Cir. 2006) (“[Plaintiff] must assert conscious
or intentional interference with his free exercise rights to
state a valid claim under § 1983.”) (citing
Daniels, 474 U.S. at 330). Because “negligent
acts by officials causing unintended denials of religious
rights do not violate the Free Exercise Clause, ”
Lovelace, 472 F.3d at 201, Plaintiff fails to state
a free exercise claim against Defendants Rink, Woods, and
Leach arising out of the 2016 failure to provide Plaintiff
with religious meals.
free exercise claim against Defendants Woods, Leach, and
Horton fails for an additional reason. Government officials
may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of
their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior or
vicarious liability. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676;
Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs.,
436 U.S. 658, 691(1978); Everson v. Leis, 556 F.3d
484, 495 (6th Cir. 2009). A claimed constitutional violation
must be based upon active unconstitutional behavior.
Grinter v. Knight, 532 F.3d 567, 575-76 (6th Cir.
2008); Greene v. Barber, 310 F.3d 889, 899 (6th Cir.
2002). The acts of one's subordinates are not enough, nor
can supervisory liability be based upon the mere failure to
act. Grinter, 532 F.3d at 576; Greene, 310
F.3d at 899; Summers v. Leis, 368 F.3d 881, 888 (6th
Cir. 2004). Moreover, § 1983 liability may not be
imposed simply because a supervisor denied an administrative
grievance or failed to act based upon information contained
in a grievance. See Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d
295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999). “[A] plaintiff must plead
that each Government-official defendant, through the
official's own individual actions, has violated the
Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.
Plaintiff has failed to allege that Defendants Woods, Horton,
and Leach engaged in any active unconstitutional behavior.
Accordingly, he fails to state a claim against them for this
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), provides that
“[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on
the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to
[a prison] . . . unless the government demonstrates that
imposition of the burden on that person: (1) is in
furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is
the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
governmental interest.” Id.; see also
Haight v. Thompson, 763 F.3d 554, 559-60 (6th Cir.
RLUIPA claims against Defendants Woods, Rink, Horton, and
Leach fail for several reasons. First, the RLUIPA does not
authorize damages actions against state actors in their
individual capacities. Cavin v. Mich. Dep't of
Corr., 927 F.3d 455, 460 (6th Cir. 2019); Haight v.
Thompson, 763 F.3d 554, 570 (6th Cir. 2014); see
also Washington v. Gonyea, 731 F.3d 143, 145-46 (2d Cir.
2013); Stewart v. Beach, 701 F.3d 1322, 1334-35
(10th Cir. 2012); Sharp v. Johnson, 669 F.3d 144,
153 (3d Cir. 2012); Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868,
886-89 (7th Cir. 2009); Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d
182, 186-89 (4th Cir. 2009); Sossamon v. Texas, 560
F.3d 316, 327- 29 (5th Cir. 2009); S ...