United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
J. JONKER, CHIEF JUDGE
a civil rights action brought by a state prisoner under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and RLUIPA. 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 claims
under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act (RLUIPA). Plaintiff's claims for violation of his
First Amendment free exercise rights, claims for violation of
his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, and
state-law tort claims remain.
is presently incarcerated with the Michigan Department of
Corrections (MDOC) at the Oaks Correctional Facility (ECF) in
Manistee, Michigan. The events about which he complains,
however, occurred at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional
Facility (LRF) in Muskegon Heights, Michigan, the Marquette
Branch Prison (MBP) in Marquette, Michigan, and the Carson
City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Carson City, Michigan.
Plaintiff sues an unknown John/Jane Doe Transfer Coordinator
from LRF, Prison Counselor Fred Governor from MBP, DRF
Corrections Officers Unknown Palmer, Unknown Zavala, Unknown
McMurphy, and Unknown Maurer, and DRF food service worker
alleges that he is an adherent of Buddhism. He follows the
Buddhist dietary laws. To accommodate that exercise of his
religious beliefs, the MDOC provides a vegan diet in several
of its correctional facilities, including LRF and DRF, but
not MBP. MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150 ¶ OO.
July of 2018, the LRF Transfer Coordinator transferred
Plaintiff from LRF to MBP. Plaintiff contends the transfer
was a deliberate and knowing attempt to burden the free
exercise of his religion.
MDOC did not transfer Plaintiff on a whim. This Court, in
connection with Plaintiff's action in Gordon v.
Rondeau et al., No. 2:16-cv-89 (W.D. Mich.), ordered the
MDOC to produce Plaintiff at its Marquette courthouse for a
final pretrial/settlement conference. (2:16-cv-89, ECF No.
70.) Apparently, pursuant to the Court's writ of habeas
corpus ad testificandum, Defendant LRF Transfer Coordinator
effected the transfer to MBP. MBP is certainly the closest
MDOC facility to the Marquette courthouse; however, the next
two closest facilities-the Baraga Correctional Facility and
the Alger Correctional Facility-both offer a vegan diet
option. Plaintiff contends that, once he was approved for the
religious diet, the MDOC was required to provide the meals,
even if providing the meals required a transfer. MDOC policy
supports his claim. See MDOC Policy Directive,
05.03.150 ¶ OO.
Plaintiff arrived at MBP, he brought the religious diet issue
to the attention of Defendant Governor and demanded a
transfer. Defendant Governor refused for 16 days, stating:
“F**k your religious diet, that's the consequence
of suing the MDOC.” (Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID.11.)
Plaintiff alleges Defendant Governor's refusal to
transfer Plaintiff or arrange for Plaintiff to have a
religious diet placed a substantial burden on Plaintiff's
ability to practice his beliefs. His only options were to
starve or eat food in direct violation of those beliefs.
October 18, 2018, Plaintiff was transferred to DRF. He
received his religious diet for a couple of days, but on
October 20, Defendant Towns began refusing to send
Plaintiff's religious diet to his unit and instructed
other staff to also refuse. Plaintiff contends that
corrections officers, including Defendant Palmer, confirmed
for Towns that Plaintiff was approved to eat the religious
diet. Nonetheless, Towns denied Plaintiff his religious diet
until October 30 when Plaintiff's grievance regarding the
matter was reviewed.
alleges that the remaining defendants, Palmer, Zavala,
McMurphy, and Maurer, conspired to discriminate against him
because of his religion by refusing to call him out for his
prison job for three months.
contends that the defendants' conduct was negligent
and/or rose to the level of an intentional tort under state
law. He claims that the corrections officer defendants
violated his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.
Finally, Plaintiff claims that all of the Defendants
interfered with Plaintiff's right to freely exercise his
religion and also violated RLUIPA. Plaintiff asks the Court
to enter a declaratory judgment finding that Defendants'
actions violated Plaintiff's rights and he seeks
compensatory and punitive damages.
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