United States District Court, D. Connecticut
CHRISTOPHER M. ALLEN Plaintiff,
CAPTAIN J. KUNKEL, et al. Defendants.
RULING RE: MOTION TO DISMISS (DOC. NO. 30)
C. Hall United States District Judge.
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 three Connecticut
Department of Correction (“DOC”) employees:
Captain J. Kunkel, Correctional Counselor Jessica Bennet, and
Correction Officer Irizarry. Complaint (“Compl.”)
(Doc. No. 1). Allen claimed that the defendants violated his
First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion, free
speech, and petition for redress of grievances, his rights
under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons
Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc-1, his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due
process, his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection
of the laws, and various provisions of the Connecticut
Constitution, for denying access to a Moorish religious book
entitled Nationality, Birthrights, and
Jurisprudence. Initial Review Order (Doc. No. 7) at 2-3.
March 13, 2018, this court issued its Initial Review Order
dismissing Allen's claims against Bennet. Id. at
12. The court permitted Allen's religious exercise claims
under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
and Article First, Section 3 of the Connecticut Constitution
to proceed against Kunkel and Irizarry in their individual
capacities for damages and in their official capacities for
equitable relief. Id. The court also permitted the
RLUIPA claim to proceed against Kunkel and Irizarry but only
in their official capacities for equitable relief.
March 26, 2018, Allen moved to amend his Complaint and add
another religious freedom claim against ten new state
officials: Steven Strom, Attorney O'Brasky, Reverend
Williams, Director Karl Lewis, Counsel Supervisor John Aldi,
Warden Scott Erfe, Director Michael Bibens, Warden William
Mulligan, Deputy Warden Mudano, and Commissary Service
Manager Failla. Ruling Re: Mot. to Amend Compl. (Doc. No. 15)
at 2. The claim against the new defendants was based on their
denial of Allen's request to purchase a “fez,
” a headdress which is an essential component of the
Moorish religion. Id. at 5. The court permitted the
joinder of the ten new defendants and permitted the First
Amendment free exercise claim, state constitutional claim,
and RLUIPA claim to proceed against them. Id. at 8.
3, 2018, all twelve defendants moved to dismiss Allen's
Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) (Doc. No. 16) in
its entirety on the ground that Allen failed to exhaust his
administrative remedies before commencing suit. Motion to
Dismiss (“Mot. to Dismiss”) (Doc. No. 30). With
respect to the claims regarding the denial of the book, the
defendants contend that Allen never completed the
administrative remedy process as set forth by DOC
Administrative Directive 9.6. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Mot. to
Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”) (Doc. No. 30-1) at
14-15. As for the claims regarding the fez, the defendants
argue that Allen filed his motion to amend the complaint and
join the claim against the ten new defendants before
completing the administrative remedy process. Id. at
15-17. They attached as exhibits to their motions copies of
the DOC Administrative Directives, the administrative remedy
requests and appeals written and filed by Allen, an affidavit
from Bennet, the Administrative Remedies Coordinator,
attesting to the results of all administrative remedy
requests and appeals filed by Allen, and records of all MWCI
inmate grievances and appeals from June to August 2017.
Defs.' Ex. 1-2, A-H (Doc. Nos. 30-2 - 30-3).
opposition to the motion, Allen does not dispute that he
failed to fully comply with the DOC's administrative
remedy procedure. See Obj. to Defs.' Mot. to
Dismiss (“Pl.'s Obj.”) (Doc. No. 34) at 7;
see also Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 18-20. Rather,
he claims that the failures were the result of his
“reasonable misunderstanding” of the procedure or
an “innocent misunderstanding of the rules, ” and
the defendants' refusal to answer his written requests
prohibits them from raising an exhaustion defense.
See Pl.'s Obj. at 5, 8-9. Allen attached to his
written objection his own Affidavit, an Affidavit from
another inmate stating that he witnessed Allen's attempt
to exhaust his claims, and copies of his administrative
grievances and appeals. Pl.'s Ex. 1-8 (Doc. No. 34). For
the following reasons, the court grants the Motion to
STANDARD OF REVIEW
survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when . . .
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are]
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The
plausibility standard is not a probability requirement; the
complaint must show, not merely allege, that the plaintiff is
entitled to relief. See id.
all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be
true, this tenet is ‘inapplicable to legal
conclusions.'” LaMagna v. Brown, 474
Fed.Appx. 788, 789 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft,
556 U.S. at 678). See also Amaker v. New York State Dept.
of Corr. Servs., 435 Fed.Appx. 52, 54 (2d Cir. 2011)
(same). Accordingly, the court is not “bound to accept
conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as
factual conclusions.” Faber v. Metro. Life Ins.
Co., 648 F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Rolon
v. Henneman, 517 F.3d 140, 149 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks omitted)). Consequently, “[t]hreadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555).
. . . the complaint was filed pro se, it must be
construed liberally with ‘special solicitude' and
interpreted to raise the strongest claims that it
suggests.” Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515
(2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Hill v. Curcione, 657 F.3d
116, 122 (2d Cir. 2011)). Nevertheless, a pro se
plaintiff's complaint still must “state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Mancuso v.
Hynes, 379 Fed.Appx. 60, 61 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678). Therefore, even in a
pro se case, “threadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.” Chavis v.
Chappius, 618 F.3d 162, 170 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted).
is a devout Moorish-American and diligently practices his
Moorish religion. Am. Compl. 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.
Moorish-American inmate gave Allen a list of books on their
religion but told him that one of the books, entitled
Nationality, Birthrights, and Jurisprudence and
written by Bandele El-Amin, was not approved for inmate
access by the Media Review Committee (“MRC”) at
MWCI. Am. Compl. at ¶ 24. Captain Kunkel is the head of
the MRC, and Irizarry is a committee member. Id. at
¶ 29. Allen submitted a written 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; Pl.'s
Ex. A (Doc. No. 1-1).
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 Level-1 grievance on June 8, 2017 claiming that
banning the book abridged his right to freely practice his
religion. Id. at ¶ 28; Pl.'s Ex. B (Doc.
No. 1-2). However, Kunkel and Irizarry “ignored
[Allen's] grievance” and failed to respond. Am.
Compl. at ¶ 29-30. On July 10, 2017, Allen filed a
Level-2 appeal of his grievance, which went unanswered.
Pl.'s Ex. B.
after learning about the rejection of the book, Allen
submitted another written request to Reverend Williams, the
Director of Religious Services for the DOC, seeking to
purchase a fez for religious practice. Am. Compl. at ¶
32. A fez is a headdress symbolizing spiritual and physical
aspects of life and is an essential component of the Moorish
religion. Id. at ¶ 34 n.2. On February 12,
2018, Allen received a written correspondence from Director
Lewis stating that all ten members of the Religious Review
Committee (“RRC”), Strom, O'Brasky, Williams,
Lewis, Aldi, Erfe, Bibens, Mulligan, Mudano, and Failla,
denied his request to purchase a fez “due to safety and
security concerns.” Id. at ¶ 34. Allen
filed a Level-1 grievance regarding the RRC's decision on
February 22, 2018, arguing that the fez was an essential
component of his religion and that their safety and security
concerns were unfounded, but his grievance was denied.
Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.