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Ryan Board v. Weston

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

August 22, 2019

RYAN BOARD, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN WESTON et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          HONORABLE PAUL L. MALONEY JUDGE.

         This is a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). 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 Defendant McLean from the action and will dismiss Plaintiff's free exercise claim for failure to state a claim against the remaining Defendants. The Court also will dismiss for failure to state a claim Plaintiff's request for damages under RLUIPA against the remaining Defendants.

         I. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) at the Chippewa Correctional Facility (URF) in Kincheloe, Chippewa County, Michigan. The events about which he complains occurred at that facility. Plaintiff sues the following URF officials: Food Service Workers (unknown) Weston and (unknown) Burnette; Sergeant Burnhart; Business Manager Edson Forrester; Correctional Officer Sherri Newcomb; and Grievance Coordinator Mike McLean.

         Plaintiff is a practicing Sunni Muslim. A central tenet of his belief is that he must pray five times each day at the following times: Fajr (early morning); Zuhr (immediately after the sun begins to decline in the afternoon); Asr (late afternoon); Maghrib (sunset); and Ishe (full dark).

         Plaintiff interviewed with Defendant Weston for a job assignment as a food service worker on February 1, 2019. During the interview, Plaintiff explained his need to pray at the appropriate times. Defendant Weston told Plaintiff that it would not be a problem and that he could either pray at the work site or return to his unit for prayer. Plaintiff took the position with this understanding.

         On February 2, 2019, however, Defendant Weston informed Plaintiff that, according to Defendant Correctional Officer Newcomb, Plaintiff was not permitted to either conduct his prayers in the kitchen or return to his unit for prayer. Plaintiff took his concerns to Correctional Officer Rolison, who was working at the front desk. Plaintiff took Defendant Weston with him. After discussion, Rolison and Weston permitted him to go to his unit for prayer. Weston informed Plaintiff, however, that he would call Defendant Sergeant Burnhart to clarify if the practice was allowed. After conferring with Burnhart, Defendant Weston told Plaintiff that, under the rules, Plaintiff could neither pray on the work site nor return to his cell. Defendant Weston told Plaintiff that, if Plaintiff did not work without breaking for prayer, Weston would fire him, place him on “Double 0” or “00” status (under which Plaintiff would be restricted to his room from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., seven days a week and would lose all privileges during those hours) and issue a misconduct charge. Alternatively, Weston suggested, Plaintiff could just quit and be placed on 00 status.

         On February 4, 2019, Plaintiff spoke to Food Service Supervisor Albonza (not a Defendant), who told Plaintiff, “Don't worry about it, I p[re]fer you prayed here, but don't get caught, or just go back and offer prayer.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.4.) When Plaintiff attempted to leave for prayer, however, Defendant Forrester stopped him, saying that they had just had a meeting on the issue and that nobody was allowed to leave for prayer or pray on the work site. Plaintiff explained that Albonza had given him permission to leave, but Defendant Forrester responded that he ran the kitchen and that, if Plaintiff was caught performing prayers in the kitchen, he would be fired.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance on February 4, 2019, complaining about both the February 2 and February 4 incidents. Plaintiff complains that the grievance was not investigated and that he sought a Step-II grievance form after 30 days, because he had received no response to the Step-I grievance.

         Plaintiff continued to miss his prayers during his work shifts between February 2 and February 8, 2019. On February 9, 2019, Defendant Burnette called him to work overtime. Plaintiff refused the overtime, because he needed to offer prayer. Defendant Burnette gave Plaintiff a direct order to work. Plaintiff asked to speak with Food Service Supervisor Savior. Plaintiff explained to Savior that he had taken the job after being told he would be allowed to pray in the kitchen or go back to his cell to pray. Plaintiff complained that he now had been threatened with being disciplined and placed on 00 status. Savior apologized for inconveniencing Plaintiff and told him that they would find someone else to work overtime but that Plaintiff must come during his regular work detail at 2:15 p.m.

         As Plaintiff started to leave, he was stopped by Defendant Newcomb. Plaintiff explained that he had permission from Savior to leave for prayer. Defendant Newcomb stated, “‘If you go back, I will write you up,' because work details override any religious ten[e]ts or beliefs.” (Id., PageID.5.) Newcomb then stated that she would write him up for getting Savior to allow him to return to his cell. Plaintiff asked if Defendant Newcomb was firing him or placing him on 00 status, and she responded that she was.

         Plaintiff returned to his cell and wrote a grievance about Burnette and Newcomb. On February 10, 2019, Defendant Newcomb issued a Class-II misconduct ticket for disobeying a direct order. Plaintiff was found guilty of the misconduct on February 13, 2019. As a result of the misconduct proceeding, Plaintiff was given three days of top lock, which resulted in the loss of his prison job. Plaintiff wrote both the food service director and the classification director, explaining the issue and requesting a meeting. Plaintiff also filed a grievance against Defendant Newcomb, complaining that she had issued the false misconduct ticket in retaliation for Plaintiff's grievances. Defendant McLean rejected the grievance as duplicative.

         Plaintiff complains that Defendants' refusals to allow him to pray at work or to be excused from work to pray violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the RLUIPA. Plaintiff also contends that Defendants Newcomb and McLean retaliated against him for filing grievances by writing a misconduct ticket against him or rejecting his grievances.

         For relief, Plaintiff seeks only compensatory and punitive damages.

         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 ยง 1983 is a method for vindicating federal rights, not a source of substantive rights itself, the first step in an action ...


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