United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION TO DISMISS
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Sabir and James Conyers (collectively
“Plaintiffs”) have sued D.K. Williams and Herman
Quay in their individual and official capacities and Hugh
Hurwitz in his official capacity (collectively
“Defendants”) for declaratory and injunctive
relief, compensatotory, nominal, and punitive damages, costs,
and attorney's fees for violations of the First Amendment
and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §
2000bb et seq (“RFRA”). Second
Amended Complaint, ECF No. 36 (“Second Am.
Compl.”), at 13-15.
have moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint, Motion to
Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. 54. Defendants have
since supplemented their motion to dismiss twice because the
Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred Mr. Conyers to a lower
security institution, see First Motion to Supplement
Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 72, and Mr. Sabir to another
federal facility based on his alleged participation in a
hunger strike, see Second Motion to Supplement
Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 76.
foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the
motion to dismiss, GRANTS the first
supplemental motion to dismiss, and DENIES
the second supplemental motion to dismiss.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
to Plaintiffs, “[a] central tenent of Islam is the
obligation for adult Muslims to pray-perform
salah-five times each day.” Second Am. Compl.
at ¶ 1. And “[m]any Muslims also believe that it
is vital to perform salah in a group setting if
there are other Muslims in the vicinity during prayer
times.” Id. The Friday early afternoon payer
allegedly is the most important and “many Muslims
believe must be prayed in a congregation.” Id.
at ¶ 19. For these practitioners, “engaging in
congregational prayer with the maximum number of practicing
Muslims possible is required because such prayers multiplies
the blessings and utility of prayer.” Id.
to Plaintiffs, the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution
(“FCI Danbury”) is comprised of three
institutions: (1) “Federal Prison Camp Danbury, a
minimum-security prison housing approximately 194
persons;” (2) “Federal Satellite Low Danbury, a
low-security all-female facility housing approximately 115
persons; and (3) “FCI Danbury, a low-security [Federal
Board of Prisons] facility housing approximately 836
incarcerated persons.” Id. at ¶ 27.
Plaintiffs allege that the FCI Danbury facility has several
recreational facilities that “includes a recreation
yard, weight room, gymnasium, bathroom, wellness room,
hobbycraft, music room, video viewing area with game tables,
the chapel facilities, and several offices.”
Id. at ¶ 29. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege that
“the medical area, food services, educational and
housing facilities, laundry, the barber shop, and the prison
work program area” are all accessible to incarcerated
Plaintiffs state that they are practicing Muslims that
“share the sincerely-held belief that their religion
requires them to engage in daily congregational prayer
whenever possible.” Id. at ¶ 2. Mr. Sabir
claims that he has been a practicing Muslim for forty years
and resided at FCI Danbury from June 2014 until July 12,
2019. Id. at ¶ 12; Declaration of Cheryl
Magnusson, Ex. A, ECF No. 76-1. Mr. Conyers claims that he
has been a practicing Muslim for twenty-one years and resided
at FCI Danbury from September 2016 until June 20, 2019.
Second Am. Compl. at ¶ 13; Declaration of Cheryl
Magnusson, Ex. A., ECF No. 72-1. Plaintiffs allege that
“approximately 150 of the persons incarcerated at FCI
Danbury currently identify as Muslim.” Compl. at ¶
the Federal Bureau of Prisons allegedly does not have a
formal policy banning congregational prayer, Plaintiffs
allege that “the warden of each correctional faciltiy
within [the Federal Bureau of Prisons] is tasked with
determining whether any specific religious practice
jeopardizes the facility's safety and security.”
Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiffs allege that “the
warden is authorized to temporarily restrict the practice
and/or identify an alternative practice.” Id.
March 24, 2014, Maureen Baird, then-Warden of FCI Danbury,
allegedly “issued a policy that categorically limited
the ability of Plaintiffs and other Muslim incarcerated
pesons to engage in congregational prayer.”
Id. at ¶¶ 3 (citing FCI Danbury
Institution Supplement No. DAN 5360.09F § 3(b)(2));
¶ 30 (citing the text of the “Policy”). The
Policy prohibits prayer in groups of more than two in all
parts of FCI Danbury, except the chapel facility.
Id. Due to limited chapel availability, Plaintiffs
allege that “the Policy effectively bans congregational
prayer in FCI Danbury, making it impossible for Plaintiffs
and other Muslim incarcerated person to perform
salah in accordance with their sincerely held
religious beliefs.” Id. at ¶ 3.
October 2014, while engaged in prayer with several other
incarcerated persons in FCI Danbury's auditorium, Mr.
Sabir alleges that a corrections officer dispersed the group
and warned Mr. Sabir that he would face discipline if he
violated the prison policy by engaging in congregational
prayer. Id. at ¶ 5. Mr. Sabir alleges that he
and his fellow inmates “conducted themselves
peacefully, respectfully, and cooperatively, and they did not
interfere with other incarcerated persons or the functioning
and operation of FCI Danbury.” Id. at ¶
36. When told that further congregational prayer would result
in discipline, Mr. Sabir and other incarcerated persons
allegedly “informed the corrections officers that their
religion demanded they engage in congressional prayer five
times a day and that the chapel facility was not available
for them during all those times.” Id. at
¶ 40. But Plaintiffs allege that corrections officers
merely reiterated the terms of the Policy. Id. Since
the incident, Mr. Sabir alleges that he has been
“fearful that if he engages in daily congregational
prayer he will be subjected to discipline and
sanction.” Id. at ¶ 41.
Spring 2017, Plaintiffs allege that “officials at FCI
Danbury circulated a flyer to the incarcerated persons which
cited to the Policy and stated that ‘group prayer of 3
or more is restricted to the Chapel' and ‘Staff
Will be Enforcing this Policy.'” Id. at
April 2018, Plaintiffs allege that “another group of
Muslim incarcerated persons were threatened with discipline
for engaging in congregational prayer in violation of the
Policy.” Id. at ¶ 5. Plaintiffs allege
that several staff members approached “several Muslim
incarcerated persons who were engaged in congregational
prayer and informed them that they would be issued
disciplinary write-ups and face other sanctions if they
continued to engage in congregational prayer.”
Id. at ¶ 45.
also allege that “at least two other Muslim
incarcerated persons at FCI Danbury have filed grievances
against the Policy and its restriction on congregational
prayer.” Id. at ¶ 46.
these and other incidents, Plaintiffs allege that
“Plaintiffs and other Muslim incarcerated persona at
FCI Danbury are unable to adhere to their sincerely-held
religious beliefs and engage in daily congregational prayer,
” which “imposes a substantial burden on
Plaintiff's exercise of religion.” Id. at
allege that FCI Danbury, a low-security facility, otherwise
allows incarcerated persona a high degree of personal
autonomy. Id. at ¶ 28. Indeed, Plaintiffs
allege that “[m]any of the housing units do not have
locks on the doors of the living quarters.”
Id. Plaintiffs also allege that incarcerated persons
“routinely gather in large groups for prison-approved
activities such as inmate-led fitness classes, card games,
and sports, some of which can involve over 20 incarcerated
persons at a time.” Id.
FCI Danbury permits congregational prayer in the chapel
facility, Plaintiffs allege that there is limited access to
the facility, which “is only open when chapel staff are
present and the facility's rooms are not already occupied
or reserved by other individuals.” Id. at
¶ 32. Plaintiffs also allege that the prison staff apply
the Policy strictly in recreational areas but not in other
areas, with the application of the Policy varying widely
based on the staff members working at that time. Id.
at ¶¶ 47, 50.
his time at Federal Medical Center Devens, Mr. Sabir alleges
that the Warden permitted open congregational prayer
throughout the facility and without restriction. Id.
at ¶ 25. Mr. Conyers alleges that incarcerated persons
at other Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities,
“including Federal Medical Center Butner, Federal
Prison Camp at Fort Dix, ” permitted daily
congregational prayer. Id. at ¶ 26.
maintain a “sincerely-held religious belief that if two
or more Muslims are together at a time of required prayer,
they must pray together behind one prayer leader; and that it
is not possible to break up into smaller groups.”
Id. at ¶ 23. Due to their inability to perform
congregational prayer, Plaintiffs allege that they
“have been forced to choose between acting in
accordance with their sincere religious beliefs and facing
discipline at the prison, including possible solitary
confinement and loss of other privileges, ” which the
Plaintiffs allege has caused them mental and physical stress.
Id. at ¶ 44.
allege that they have exhausted all grievance processes and
administrative remedies available to them. Id. at
8, 2017, Mr. Sabir, then proceeding pro se, filed a
Complaint in this case. Complaint, ECF No. 1.
same day, Mr. Sabir moved to proceed in forma
pauperis and to appoint counsel. Motion for Leave to
Proceed in forma pauperis, ECF No. 2; Motion to
Appoint Counsel, ECF No. 3.
25, 2017, the Court denied the motion to appoint counsel and
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.
Order, ECF No. 5.
5, 2017, Mr. Sabir moved for class action status. Motion for
Class Action Status, ECF No. 6.
29, 2017, the case was dismissed because Mr. Sabir failed to
pay the filing fee. Order Dismissing Case, ECF No. 7.
21, 2017, Mr. Sabir moved to re-open the case. Motion to
Reopen Case, ECF No. 9.
October 19, 2017, the Court granted the motion to re-open the
case, but dismissed the case in an initial review order.
Order, ECF No. 11.
November 30, 2017, Mr. Sabir moved to amend his Complaint.
Motion to Amend, ECF No. 15.
December 19, 2017, the Court granted Mr. Sabir's motion
to re-open the case and amend his Complaint, allowing Mr.
Sabir's First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration
Act claims to proceed against Defendants in their official