Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Richard v. Strom

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 7, 2019

ALI RICHARD, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN R. STROM, NANCY O'BRASKEY, REVEREND WILLIAMS, KARL LEWIS, JOHN ALDI, SCOTT ERFE, MICHAEL BIBENS, WILLIAM MULLIGAN, DEPUTY WARDEN MUDANO, COMMISSARY SERVICE MANAGER FAILLA, COUNSELOR SUPERVISOR BLANCHARD, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER WHITE, and MAILROOM PERSONELL NORTON, Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Ali Richard, currently incarcerated at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield, Connecticut, commenced this civil rights action against defendants Steven R. Strom, Nancy O'Braskey, Reverend Williams, Karl Lewis, John Aldi, Scott Erfe, Michael Bibens, William Mulligan, Deputy Warden Mudano, Commissary Service Manager Failla, Counselor Supervisor Blanchard, Correctional Officer White, and Mailroom Officer Norton. The first ten defendants are members of the Religious Review Committee (“the Committee defendants”). By Initial Review Order filed November 19, 2018, familiarity with which is assumed, the Court dismissed the Amended Complaint in part. Doc. 8. The remaining claims are RLUIPA[1] claims against all defendants relating to Plaintiff's purchase of a fez and a religious book; First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, First Amendment Establishment Clause, and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause claims against the Committee defendants relating to Plaintiff's request to purchase a fez; and First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and federal and state law retaliation claims against defendants Blanchard, White and Norton (“the Mailroom defendants”) relating to Plaintiff's purchase of a religious book. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's First Amendment claims for damages against the Committee defendants on the ground that they are protected by qualified immunity, and plaintiff's claim against the Mailroom defendants under Article first, section 14 of the Connecticut Constitution. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted.

         I. Facts

         The relevant factual allegations from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, as recounted in the Initial Review Order in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are recited below.

         Plaintiff is a Moorish-American and diligently practices his Moorish religion. Doc. 6 ¶ 20. The staff at MacDougall-Walker permit inmates of the Moorish Science religion to practice their faith individually using books, religious newspapers, audio recordings, and other items. Id. ¶ 21.

         On or about December 14, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a written request to Defendant Williams, the Director of Religious Services for the Department of Correction, seeking to purchase a fez to be used during religious practice. Id. ¶ 22. In the Moorish religion, a fez is believed to symbolize spiritual and physical aspects of life and to provide spiritual protection. Id. ¶ 23. It is an “essential component of the Moorish religion and a requirement for all Moorish practitioners.” Id.

         On February 5, 2018, Plaintiff received written notification from Defendant Lewis that all ten members of the Religious Review Committee (the “Committee”)-Defendants Strom, O'Braskey, Williams, Lewis, Aldi, Erfe, Bibens, Mulligan, Mudano, and Failla (the “Committee Defendants”)-had denied his request to purchase the fez due to safety and security concerns. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff appealed the decision, arguing that the fez is an essential component of his religion and that the security concerns were unfounded. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff also noted that the Committee had previously approved requests from Nation of Islam and Five Percenter inmates to purchase crowns, which were similar to the fez in design. Id. The appeal was denied. Doc. 6 ¶ 26. As a result, Plaintiff contends that he has been unable to freely and fully practice his religion. Id. ¶ 27.

         During this time, Plaintiff had been communicating with K. Bin Bey, the Grand Mufti of the Moorish Science Temple of America. Id. ¶ 28. On February 16, 2018, Plaintiff received a letter from the Grand Mufti. Id. ¶ 29. Mailroom personnel White and Norton had torn the return address from the envelope. Id. ¶¶ 29, 32. Plaintiff immediately reported the issue to the unit officer delivering the mail and submitted a written informal complaint to the deputy warden. Id. ¶ 30. Defendant Blanchard, the mailroom supervisor, responded to Plaintiff's complaint and assured him that it would not happen again. Id. ¶ 31. On March 23, 2018, Plaintiff received another letter from the Grand Mufti. Id. ¶ 33. Again, the return address had been torn off the envelope. Id. Plaintiff filed a grievance which was denied initially and on appeal. Id. ¶¶ 34-35.

         Plaintiff also alleges that he ordered a book entitled “Nationality, Birthrights, and Jurisprudence” in January 2018. Doc. 6 ¶ 39. The book “explains the legal process for becoming a Moorish-American, which the plaintiff must claim as his nationality in order to be recognized as a member of the Moorish Science Temple of America.” Id. ¶ 40. Staff at MacDougall-Walker did not permit the book to enter the facility, telling the Plaintiff that the Media Review Committee had placed the book on the rejection list on July 21, 2015 based on safety and security concerns. Id. ¶ 41. Plaintiff appealed the decision and, on July 9, 2018, the Director of Security at MacDougall-Walker informed him that the book had been re-evaluated and the Media Review Committee's prior rejection overturned. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. However, Defendants Blanchard, White and Norton (the “Mailroom Defendants”) returned the book to the vendor allegedly in retaliation for the Plaintiff previous complaints regarding mail issues, falsely claiming that they did not receive the Plaintiff's appeal within the time permitted for filing. Id. ¶¶ 44-45.

         II. Standard of Review

         To withstand a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to 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 the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Although detailed factual allegations are not required, Keller v. Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., 751 F.3d 64, 70 (2d Cir. 2014), mere “labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Plaintiff must, at a minimum, “plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In determining whether a plaintiff has met this standard, the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007).

         With respect to pro se litigants, it is well-established that "[p]ro se submissions are reviewed with special solicitude, and 'must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Matheson v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 706 Fed.Appx. 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017) (quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006)). See also Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013) (same); Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-02 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special rules of solicitude for pro se litigants); Boykin v. KeyCorp., 521 F.3d 202, 214 (2d Cir. 2008) ("A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007))); Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) ("In reviewing a pro se complaint, the court must assume the truth of the allegations, and interpret them liberally to raise the strongest arguments [they] suggest[ ]."). Despite being subject to liberal interpretation, 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 Iqbal, 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).

         III. Discussion

         There are three remaining groups of claims: RLUIPA claims relating to Plaintiff's purchase of a fez and a religious book against all Defendants; First Amendment First Amendment Establishment Clause, and Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause claims against the Committee defendants in connection with Plaintiff's request to purchase a fez; and First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and federal and state law ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.