United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Ja Qure Al-Bukhari, currently incarcerated at Northern
Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, filed this
casepro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Al-Bukhari
alleges that the defendants violated his First Amendment
right to freely exercise his religion and his rights under
the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, by denying him
religious books. Al-Bukhari names as defendants the
Department of Correction, Warden Edward Maldonado, Captain
Robles, Counselor Morrison and Correctional Officer Melendez.
The complaint was scanned at the correctional facility and
was received by the court on July 27, 2016. Al-Bukhari's
motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on August 17,
section 1915 A of Title 28 of the United States Code, I 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. Id. In reviewing a pro se
complaint, I assume the truth of the allegations, and
interpret them liberally to "raise the strongest
arguments [they] suggest." Abbas v. Dixon,
480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). Although detailed
allegations are not required, the complaint must include
sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the
claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to
demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Bell Atlantic v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory
allegations are not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead
"enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. Nevertheless, it is well-established that
"\p]ro 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).
28, 2016, Al-Bukhari was transferred to Northern Correctional
Institution ("Northern"). On July 1, 2016,
defendant Melendez delivered some of Al-Bukhari's
personal property. Although he delivered several legal and
religious books, he did not deliver Al-Bukhari's Quran
and other Islamic books. When Al-Bukhari complained,
defendant Melendez told Al-Bukhari that the withheld books
were hard-covered and had to be "grandfathered"
into the facility and approved by defendant Robles.
wrote numerous inmate requests to defendants Maldonado,
Robles, Morrison and Melendez concerning his religious books.
The defendants failed to properly address his requests and
take corrective action. Al-Bukhari was previously confined at
Northern from November 19, 2015 through May 3, 2016. During
that time he was permitted to have the Quran and the other
religious books under the grandfathering provision. Other
inmates at Northern generally are permitted to have
hard-covered religious books.
includes three counts in his complaint: (1) all defendants
have substantially burdened his religious exercise by not
timely giving him the religious books in violation of the
First Amendment; (2) all defendants have violated his right
to free exercise of religion in violation of RLUIPA; and (3)
defendants Department of Correction and Maldonado have
violated his rights under the First Amendment by creating or
allowing the continuance of a policy under which he was
denied his right to freely exercise his religion and failed
to adequately supervise and train subordinates.
names the Department of Correction as a defendant. The
Department of Correction is a state agency and, therefore,
not considered a person within the meaning of section 1983.
See Will v. Michigan Dep't of Police, 491 U.S.
58, 70-71 (1989); see also Francilme v. Department of
Correction, 2014 WL 5420789, at *3 (D. Conn. Oct. 22,
2014) (holding that Department of Correction is not a person
within the meaning of section 1983). Thus, all claims against
the Department of Correction are dismissed pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1).
First Amendment guarantees the right to free exercise of
religion. Prisoners do not relinquish that right when they
are incarcerated. See O 'Lone v. Estate
o/Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) ("Inmates
clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment,
including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free
exercise of religion." (internal citations omitted)). A
prisoner's First Amendment right to free exercise of
religion, however, is not absolute. It is "subject to
valid penological concerns, including those relating to
institutional security." Johnson v. Guiffere,
2007 WL 3046703, at *4 (N.D.N.Y.Oct. 17, 2007). Thus, I must
balance the prisoner's right to exercise his religion
against the state's interest in administering the prison
system. See Ford v. McGirmis, 352 F.3d 582, 588 (2d
alleges that the denial of his Quran and other religious
books violated his First Amendment right to religious
exercise and his rights under RLUTPA. He challenges both the
actual deprivation of his religious materials and the
warden's continuation of the policy under which the books
were withheld. I cannot balance the competing interests
without further development of the record. Accordingly, those
claims will proceed at this time.
claims against the Connecticut Department of Correction are
DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). The First
Amendment, RLUIPA and supervisory liability claims will