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Allen v. Kunkel

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 2, 2018

CHRISTOPHER M. ALLEN Plaintiff,
v.
CAPTAIN J. KUNKEL, et al. Defendants.

          RULING RE: MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT (Doc. No. 13) AND REVIEW OF AMENDED COMPLAINT

          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge.

         On February 20, 2018, the plaintiff, Christopher M. Allen (“Allen”), an inmate currently housed at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution (“MWCI”) in Suffield, Connecticut, filed a complaint pro se pursuant to title 42, section 1983 of the United States Code against Captain J. Kunkel, Correctional Counselor Jessica Bennet, and Correction Officer Irizarry. This court issued its Initial Review Order on March 13, 2018, dismissing all claims against Bennet but permitting Allen's free exercise of religion claims under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article First, section 3 of the Connecticut Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, to proceed against Kunkel and Irizarry. Initial Review Order (Doc. No. 7) at 12. Kunkel and Irizarry have not yet submitted their responses to the Complaint.

         On March 26, 2018, Allen filed the instant Motion for Leave to File a Joinder of Claims and Additional Counts, which this court construes as a motion to amend his Complaint. Motion to Amend (“Mot. to Am.”) (Doc No. 13). He attached a proposed amended complaint which adds similar religious freedom claims against ten new defendants: Steven Strom, Attorney O'Brasky, Reverend Williams, Director Karl Lewis, Counselor Supervisor John Aldi, Warden Scott Erfe, Director Michael Bibens, Warden William Mulligan, Deputy Warden Mudano, and Commissary Service Manager Failla. Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) (Doc. No. 13-1) at ¶¶ 7-16. All of these defendants are state officials and are being sued in their individual and official capacities. Id. Allen also seeks to add a claim that Kunkel and Irizarry violated his “right to choose a nationality under Article 15(1) and (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Id. at ¶ 39.

         The court first addresses Allen's Motion to Amend, which is granted, and then reviews his Amended Complaint as mandated by Title 28 section 1915A of the United States Code.

         I. MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT

         A plaintiff may amend his complaint once as a matter of right within twenty-one days after service of the complaint or within twenty-one days after service of a responsive pleading (i.e., an answer or a motion to dismiss), whichever is earlier. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(A) and (B); Gaughan v. Rubenstein, 261 F.Supp.3d 390, 399 (S.D.N.Y. 2017). In all other cases, a plaintiff may amend a complaint only with the court's leave. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). The court's permission to amend a complaint “shall be freely given when justice so requires.” Id. It is generally appropriate to grant a motion to amend unless there is an “apparent or declared” reason not to, such as “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). “This relaxed standard applies with particular force to pro se litigants.” Pangburn v. Culbertson, 200 F.3d 65, 70 (2d Cir. 1999).

         In this case, Allen is entitled to amend his Complaint as a matter of right because he filed his Motion to Amend (Doc. No. 13), with Proposed Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 13-1) within twenty-one days after service of the initial Complaint (Doc. No. 1). Therefore, the court grants his Motion to Amend the Complaint.

         II. REVIEW OF AMENDED COMPLAINT

         Pursuant to title 28 section 1915A of the United States Code, this court must review civil complaints filed by prisoners 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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. A 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. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. See 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. 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)).

         A. Factual Allegations

         Allen makes substantially the same factual allegations against Kunkel, Irizarry, and Bennet in his Amended Complaint that he made in his original Complaint, as follows:

         Allen is a devout Moorish-American and diligently practices his Moorish religion. Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 13) at ¶ 22. The staff at MWCI permits inmates of the Moorish Science religion to practice their faith on an individual basis with books, religious newspapers, audio recordings, and other items. Id. at ¶ 23. The staff also allows individual clergy visits on occasion. Id.

         Another Moorish-American inmate gave Allen a list of books on their religion but told him that one of the books, Nationality, Birthrights, and Jurisprudence by Bandele El-Amin, was not approved for inmate access by the Media Review Committee (“MRC”) at MWCI. Am. Compl. at ¶ 24. This book explains the legal process for becoming a Moorish-American, which Allen must claim as his nationality in order to be recognized as a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Id. at ¶ 31 n.1. Captain Kunkel is the head of the MRC and Irizarry is a committee member. Id. at ¶ 29. Allen submitted an inmate request to C.T.O. Perry inquiring about the book, and Perry responded by confirming that it was on the MRC's rejection list. Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.

         Upon further investigation, Allen learned that the MRC did not approve the book because it “encourages and/or instructs on the commission of criminal activities.” Am. Compl. at ¶ 27. Offended by the MRC's reasoning, Allen filed a grievance claiming that banning the book abridged his right to freely practice his religion. Id. at ¶ 28. Kunkel, Irizarry, and Bennet, the grievance coordinator, “ignored [Allen's] grievance.” Id. at ΒΆ 29. ...


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