United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge
Michael Davis is confined at the Osborn Correctional
Institution. He has filed a complaint pro se and
in forma pauperis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff names two defendants, Religious Facilitator Dr.
Charles Williams and Correctional Officer Hutton. He alleges
that his rights to the free exercise of his religion were
violated when his name was removed on the basis of false
pretenses from the list of prisoners who could attend
religious services. He also alleges that he was denied due
process when his grievances regarding defendants' actions
went unanswered. After an initial review, I conclude that the
complaint should be served on both defendants.
following allegations from plaintiff's complaint are
accepted as true for purposes of the Court's initial
review. On August 8, 2016, plaintiff was notified that Dr.
Williams removed his name from the religious services list at
the request of Correctional Officer Hutton. Doc. #1 at 5
(¶ 1). A week earlier, plaintiff had a verbal
altercation with defendant Hutton during which he called her
a “man bitch.” Following the altercation,
defendant Hutton fabricated several incidents involving
plaintiff. Id. at 5 (¶ 2).
notice indicated that plaintiff had been removed from the
religious services list because he had ripped pages from a
bible, and had passed notes and been disruptive during
religious services-all allegations that, according to
plaintiff, were false. Id. at 5 (¶ 3).
Plaintiff submitted a request to meet with defendant Williams
to discuss the matter. He received no response.
then filed a grievance, which was rejected because defendant
Williams had not responded to his request. Id. at 5
(¶ 4). Plaintiff filed a grievance appeal which was
denied on technical grounds. Id. at 6 (¶ 5).
Plaintiff then filed another appeal, to which he did not
receive a response despite formally requesting one.
Id. at 6 (¶ 6). Meanwhile, defendants'
actions have prevented plaintiff from practicing his
religion; defendants have also falsely stated that plaintiff
is homosexual and beyond redemption. Id. at 6
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court must review prisoner
civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint
that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. The
Court must accept as true all factual matters alleged in a
complaint, although a complaint may not survive unless its
factual recitations state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face. See, e.g., Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Mastafa v. Chevron Corp.,
770 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2014) (same). Nevertheless, it is
well-established that “pro se complaints ‘must be
construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest
arguments that they suggest.'” Sykes v. Bank of
Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting
Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471,
474 (2d Cir. 2006)); see also Tracy v. Freshwater,
623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules
of solicitude for pro se litigants).
contends that he has been denied the right to exercise his
religion without being afforded due process. He claims that
he did not receive any disciplinary charges for alleged
misconduct that would justify removal of his name from the
religious services list.
First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause applies to a
prisoner's sincerely held religious belief. See Ford
v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 588 (2d Cir. 2003)
(Sotomayor, J.). “To prevail on a First Amendment
claim, a plaintiff must show that he has a sincerely held
religious belief, that it was substantially burdened, and
that defendants' conduct was not reasonably related to
some legitimate penological interest.” Barnes v.
Furman, 629 Fed. App'x 52, 55 (2d Cir.
allegations, taken as true, demonstrate a substantial burden
on a sincerely held religious belief. The Court must
“resist the dangerous temptation to try to judge the
significance of particular devotional obligations to an
observant practitioner of faith.” McEachin v.
McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 201 (2d Cir. 2004). Instead,
the Court must ask whether the state has put
“substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his
behavior and violate his beliefs.” Id. at 202
n.4. Here, defendants have allegedly not only put pressure on
plaintiff to modify his behavior-they have allegedly
prevented him from attending religious services. Plaintiff
states that he does “not feel right with the gospel,
fellowship, and brotherhood out of [his] life” and
feels “the defendants are forcing [him] away from his
religion.” Doc. #1 at 6 (¶ 10). Such actions,
along with their effects, amount to a substantial burden,
particularly in light of the Second Circuit's indication
that “demonstrating such a burden is not a particularly
onerous task.” McEachin, 357 F.3d at 202.
the Court must consider whether the complaint plausibly
alleges facts to show that defendants' actions are
“reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests.” Holland v. Goord, 758 F.3d 215,
222 (2d Cir. 2014). Plaintiff alleges that he is being
excluded from religious services on false pretenses and that
defendants are spreading false statements about his sexual
orientation, presumably to prejudice others in his religion
against him. There is no legitimate governmental objective in
excluding plaintiff from religious services for false or
improper reasons. Accordingly, the First Amendment claim as
alleged may proceed at this time.
also claims that his due process rights were violated when he
failed to receive responses to his grievances. The Fourteenth
Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a
State shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty,
or property, without due process of law.” U.S. Const.,
Amdt. 14, § 1. The “standard analysis” for a
claim of a violation of procedural due process
“proceeds in two steps: We first ask whether there
exists a liberty or property interest of which a person has
been deprived, and if so we ask whether the procedures
followed by the State were constitutionally
sufficient.” Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216,
219 (2011) (per curiam).
discussed above, plaintiff has plausibly alleged a violation
of his free exercise rights. An individual's right to
free exercise may arguably constitute the liberty interest
protected by the due process clause. See, e.g.,
Means v. Nevada Dep't of Corr., 2010 WL 3982035,
at *2 (D. Nev. 2010); Lovelace v. Bassett, 2008 WL
4452638, at *3 (W.D. Va. 2008); but see Ali v. West,
2017 WL 176304, at *5 (W.D. Wisc. 2017) (declining to
recognize that denial of a prisoner's right to free
exercise of religion is a deprivation of a liberty interest
for purposes of a due process claim). “Whenever process
is constitutionally due, no ...