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Sabir v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 19, 2017

RAFIQ SABIR, Plaintiff,
v.
D.K. WILLIAMS, ET AL. Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTION TO REOPEN AND AMEND COMPLAINT

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Rafiq Sabir (“Plaintiff” or “Mr. Sabir”) has moved the Court to reopen his case and accept his Amended Complaint. Mot. to Amend, ECF No. 15.

         For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED. The Amended Complaint is DISMISSED in part but may proceed against the two defendants in their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On May 8, 2017, Mr. Sabir, an inmate currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut (“FCI Danbury”), filed a Complaint pro se under Bivens v. Seven Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1871), and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3) against Warden D.K. Williams and Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) Director Thomas Kane[1] (together “Defendants”) in their official capacities as employees of the BOP for injunctive and declaratory relief. Compl., ECF No. 1. Mr. Sabir claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) by prohibiting him and other Muslim inmates from engaging in group prayer outside the chapel at FCI Danbury. See Id. at 9. On June 29, 2017, the Court dismissed the Complaint without prejudice because Mr. Sabir failed to pay the required $400 filing fee. See ECF Nos. 7, 8.

         On July 21, 2017, Mr. Sabir moved to reinstate his Complaint after paying the required filing fee. Mot. to Reopen, ECF No. 9. The Court granted Mr. Sabir's motion, but nevertheless dismissed the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Ruling on Mot. to Reopen and Initial Review Order (“Initial Review Order”), ECF No. 11. The Court ruled that the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bivens, 403 U.S. at 389, does not authorize suits against federal officials in their official capacities for injunctive or declaratory relief. See Initial Review Order at 4-5 (citing Tyus v. Newton, 13 Civ. 1486 (SRU), 2015 WL 5306550, *5 (D. Conn. Sep. 10, 2015), Holliday v. Augustine, 14 Civ. 855 (SRU), 2015 WL 136325, *3 (D. Conn. Jan. 9, 2015), and Khan v. United States, 217 F.Supp.2d 409, 413 (E.D.N.Y. 2003)). Moreover, even if Mr. Sabir had sued Defendants for monetary damages, his claims were nonetheless barred by sovereign immunity. See Id. at 5 (citing Pimental v. Deboo, 411 F.Supp.2d 118, 125-26 (D. Conn. 2006)). Thus, the Court directed the Clerk to close the case.

         II. REVIEWABILITY OF AMENDED COMPLAINT

         On November 30, 2017, Mr. Sabir filed a second motion to re-open his case, ECF No. 15, and attached an Amended Complaint, ECF No. 15-1. Mot. to Amend Compl., ECF No. 15. Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

(1) A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within 21 days after serving it, or if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier. (2) In all other cases, a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.

         In the Amended Complaint, Mr. Sabir raises the same three claims against the same two defendants and seeks the same relief: (1) a declaration that Defendants' acts and omissions “violated [his] rights under the Constitution of the United States;” and (2) “[a] preliminary [i]njunction ordering Defendants . . . to rescind Program Statement 5360.09 and the related Institutional Supplement 5360.09 F Section 3.b.2 restricting group prayer to individual prayer or in pairs; and that they allow prayer in groups for the required prayers five times daily wherever [Mr. Sabir] happens to be at the time prayer becomes due.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41-42. He no longer, however, brings his claim under Bivens, 403 U.S. at 389. Instead, he now claims that the Court may provide him with declaratory and injunctive relief under the Administrative [Procedure] Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., the Declaratory Judgment Act (“DJA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Am. Compl. ¶ 1.

         The APA waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for claims against federal officers that seek non-monetary relief. Lipscomb v. Hufford, 14 Civ. 6562 (NSR), 2017 WL 3267732, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 28, 2017); see also Polanco v. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, 158 F.3d 647, 650-52 (2d Cir. 1998) (court should have construed complaint seeking only injunctive relief as arising under APA, not as Bivens action); Garrett v. Ask-Carlson, No. 15 CIV. 0723 PAC JCF, 2015 WL 5511914, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2015) (prisoner's request for restoration of visitation and commissary privileges is available remedy under APA); Berkun v. Terrell, 12 Civ. 706, 2012 WL 3233897, *3 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 6, 2012) (injunctive relief available under APA where inmate alleged warden of federal prison violated First Amendment); Kole v. Lappin, 551 F.Supp.2d 149, 153 (D. Conn. 2008) (reviewing prisoner's civil rights claims against federal officials in official capacities for injunctive relief). Although the DJA does not provide an independent cause of action or confer subject matter jurisdiction on the Court, it does “provide[] a form of relief for a substantive violation of law.” Schick v. Apker, 07 Civ. 5775 (SHS) (DF), 2009 WL 2016933, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 5, 2009); see also Gowanus Indus. Park, Inc. v. Hess Corp., 10 Civ. 5522 (JG) (JO), 2012 WL 273657, *17 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2012) (DJA “authorizes a federal district court, in a case of ‘actual controversy, ' to ‘declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought”) (quoting § 2201). Because Mr. Sabir is no longer pursuing a Bivens action and is now suing federal officials in their official capacities for injunctive and declaratory relief under the APA and DJA, the Court now has jurisdiction under § 1331 to accept and review his amended complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Therefore, in the interests of justice, the Court will GRANT Mr. Sabir's motion to reopen the case and review his amended complaint.

         III. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS IN AMENDED COMPLAINT

         On October 9, 2014, Mr. Sabir and other Muslim inmates were allegedly engaging in group prayer in a recreational area of FCI Danbury known as the auditorium. Compl. at ¶ 11. Near the conclusion of the prayer, the Amended Complaint contends that an officer entered the auditorium and confronted members of the group. Id. at ¶¶ 12‒13. He allegedly informed the inmates that group prayer was not permitted outside the chapel and warned them that violation of that policy could result in disciplinary action. Id. at ¶ 14. Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant North allegedly entered the auditorium. Id. at ¶ 15. The two officials allegedly informed the inmates that BOP policy restricted group prayer outside the chapel to two persons and that larger groups of inmates could only perform group prayer inside the chapel, regardless of their religious beliefs. Id. at ¶ 20.

         The Amended Complaint alleges that members of the group informed North that their policy prohibiting group prayer outside the chapel violated the First Amendment, the RLUIPA, and the RFRA. Id. at ¶ 16. They also allegedly informed the officials that their religion required them to pray in groups five times each day, and the chapel was not available to them for all five services. Id. at ¶ 21. North allegedly agreed to permit three inmates to pray together in the auditorium at that time but warned that future violations of the policy would result in disciplinary sanctions. Id. at ¶ 17.

         The chapel at FCI Danbury is allegedly located in the main recreation area and is accessible to inmates only when chapel staff are present. Compl. ¶ 22. Recreation staff, it is alleged, strictly enforce the group prayer policy in other recreational areas of the prison, including the recreation yard, weight room, gymnasium, bathroom, and video and music rooms. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. In some areas, however, including the medical unit, food services area, housing units, and laundry facilities, the group prayer policy is allegedly intermittently tolerated depending on which staff members are present. Id. at ...


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