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Wright v. Bibens

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 2, 2018

IAN WRIGHT, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL BIBENS, et al. Defendants.


          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         On November 16, 2017, the plaintiff, Ian Wright, an inmate currently confined at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center (“Corrigan”) in Uncasville, Connecticut, brought a civil action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Chief of Food Services Michael Bibens, District Food Service Manager Testa, Food Production Manager John/Jane Doe, Food Service Supervisor Kulp, Food Service Supervisor Jackson, and Commissioner of Correction Scott Semple, all of whom are employees of the Connecticut Department of Correction (“DOC”). The plaintiff is suing all six defendants in their individual and official capacities for violating his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq. (“RFRA”). He seeks monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief. On January 25, 2018, this court granted his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. See Order (ECF No. 12). For the following reasons, his complaint is dismissed without prejudice.

         I. Relevant Legal Principles

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, 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. 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 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.” Bell Atlantic, 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). 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).

         II. Factual Allegations

         The plaintiff is a member of the Rastafarian religion and has been incarcerated since 2000. Compl. ¶ 17. The religion requires its practitioners to be vegetarians. Id. When he began his incarceration in 2000, the plaintiff was approved to receive “common-fare meals” under DOC Administrative Directive 10.18(3)(A). Id. at ¶¶ 6-7, 17. A common-fare meal is a diet “which meets all nutritional requirements and reasonably accommodates recognized religious dietary restrictions.” Id. at ¶ 9.

         On September 22, 2017, the plaintiff was transferred from Cheshire Correctional Institution to Corrigan. Compl. ¶ 19. Upon arrival, the plaintiff informed Corrigan staff that he had been approved to receive common-fare meals because of his religious dietary restrictions and would like to continue to receive such meals while at Corrigan. Id. Thereafter, the plaintiff was escorted to the A-Unit at Corrigan. Id. at ¶ 20.

         The next day, during meal time, the plaintiff was served a regular diet tray by “prison officials.” Compl. ¶ 21. The plaintiff refused the meal and explained to the officials that he was supposed to receive a common-fare meal. Id. The plaintiff was denied common-fare meals that day. Id. He instructed the on-shift correctional officer to contact the kitchen supervisor and inform him or her of the issue regarding his common-fare meals. Id. at ¶ 22. The officers contacted the supervisor, but the supervisor informed them that the plaintiff was not on the common-fare meal list and was not approved to receive a common-fare meal. Id.

         The plaintiff continued to refuse regular meals from September 23 to September 26 and was never served a common-fare meal. Compl. ¶ 23. On September 29 (or September 24, the handwriting suggests it could be either), the plaintiff spoke with defendant Jackson, who informed the plaintiff that he was not on the approved list to receive common-fare meals. Id. at ¶ 24. The plaintiff also sent a written Inmate Request Form explaining his need to receive common-fare meals. Id. at ¶ 27. Defendant Kulp responded to the request, stating that he had added the plaintiff to the common-fare meal list. Id. Kulp requested that the plaintiff inform him of any issues thereafter regarding his meals. Id.

         At some point, the plaintiff was evaluated by medical staff at Corrigan regarding his request for treatment sent on September 23, 2017, which had complained of dizziness due to not eating. Compl. ¶ 29. His evaluation showed that he had lost eight pounds since the last time he was weighed. Id.

         III. Analysis

         The plaintiff claims that the defendants violated his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments and RFRA by denying him common-fare meals from September 23 to September 26, 2017. The United States Supreme Court has held that RFRA is unconstitutional as applied to States. City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 519 (1997). It applies only to the federal government and its officers. Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 281 (2011). Therefore, the plaintiff cannot sue the defendants, all state employees, under RFRA.[1]

         With respect to his constitutional claims, the plaintiff has failed to allege how each defendant was personally involved in the actions that gave rise to his claims. It also appears from the complaint that he has since been placed on the common-fare meal list and, thus, his requests for declaratory and injunctive relief also fail.

         A. Person ...

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