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Al-bukhari v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 17, 2017




         Plaintiff 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, 2016.

         Under 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).

         I. Allegations

         On June 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.

         Al-Bukhari 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.

         II. Analysis

         Al-Bukhari 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.

         Al-Bukhari 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).

         The 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 Cir. 2003).

         Al-Bukhari 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.

         IV. Conclusion

         All 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 proceed ...

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