United States District Court, D. Connecticut
INITIAL REVIEW ORDER
Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.
Lazale Ashby, a convicted prisoner currently incarcerated at
the Northern Correctional Institution ("Northern")
in Somers, Connecticut, has filed a civil rights action
pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against
nine Connecticut Department of Correction ("DOC")
officials: former Commissioner Scott Semple, Commissioner
Rollin Cook, Director William Murphy, Director Charles
Williams, former Warden Nick Rodriguez, District
Administrator Murphy, Chaplain Wright, Warden Giuliana
Mudano, and Captain Gregorio Robles (collectively, "the
Defendants"). Doc. 1 (Complaint) ¶¶ 8-16.
Ashby claims that the Defendants violated his Fourteenth
Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the
laws, his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion,
and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. Id.
¶¶ 66-70. He seeks monetary, injunctive, and
declaratory relief. Id. at 4, 15-17. On August 1,
2019, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel granted
Ashby's motion to proceed in forma pauperis.
Court now reviews Ashby's Complaint to determine whether
his claims may proceed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the
following reasons, the Complaint is DISMISSED IN PART.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review a
prisoner's civil complaint and dismiss any portion that
"(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief."
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2). Although
highly detailed allegations are not required, the Complaint
must "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to 'state a claim 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." Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. This plausibility standard is not a
"probability requirement, " but imposes a standard
higher than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully." Id.
undertaking this analysis, the Court must "draw all
reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor, assume
all well-pleaded factual allegations to be true, and
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief." Faber v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 648
F.3d 98, 104 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks
omitted). However, the Court is "not bound to accept
conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as
factual conclusions, " id., and "a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do, " Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Consequently, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of
a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,
do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555). Ultimately, "[d]etermining whether a
complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a
context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Id. at 679.
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 F.App'x 24, 26 (2d Cir. 2017)
(quoting Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470
F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (per curiam)). See also
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ("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.'" (internal citations
omitted)). This liberal approach, however, does not exempt
pro se litigants from the minimum pleading
requirements described above: A pro se
plaintiff's complaint still must "'state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Mancuso v. Hynes, 379 F.App'x 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) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted), and the Court may not
"invent factual allegations" that the plaintiff has
not pleaded, id.
describes his religion as Akemety Shefe Pohrul (Kemetic).
Pl.'s Ex. G (Doc. 1 at 29). On March 3, 2018, Ashby wrote
a letter to Director Williams requesting approval for a
religious diet, wardrobe, and accessories, but received no
response. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 18-19. On March 29, he wrote to
the food services kitchen supervisor requesting a vegan diet
in accordance with his religious requirements. Id.
at ¶ 20; Pl.'s Ex. A (Doc. 1 at 19). The supervisor
later informed him that food services can only approve a
regular diet or common fare meal plan, and that any other
special diets must be approved by the medical unit or
religious services department. Pl.'s Ex. A. Ashby sent a
second written request to Director Williams on April 13 about
his religious diet, wardrobe, and accessories, but again did
not receive a response. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 22-23.
4, 2018, Ashby filed a Level-1 administrative grievance
regarding the lack of responses from Williams. Doc. 1 ¶
24; Pl.'s Ex. B (Doc. 1 at 20). In the grievance, Ashby
wrote a list of the items he needed to comply with his
religion, including a "vegan diet, yoga mat, Daishiki,
Mala Beans, Frankincense Oil, " and various other
wardrobe accessories. Pl.'s Ex. B. He contended that the
lack of a vegan diet option in DOC facilities "forces
[him] to modify his religious behavior and violate [his]
religious beliefs." Id. Four days later, he met
with Director Williams and Chaplain Wright regarding his
requests. Doc. 1 ¶¶ 25-26. Williams agreed to
provide Ashby with "a kemetic vegan diet and also agreed
to approve [his] necessary wardrobe and
accessories." Id. ¶ 27. On July 27, Warden
Rodriguez denied his Level-1 grievance based on Williams'
decision to develop a plant-based diet by September 15, 2018,
and because Ashby failed to request the other religious items
on a proper religious order request form. Id. ¶
28; Pl.'s Ex. B. Ashby filed a Level-2 appeal from
Rodriguez's decision but did not receive a response. Doc.
1 ¶ 29.
September 7, 2018, Ashby submitted a religious order request
form to Chaplain Wright with instructions to deliver it to
Director Williams. Doc. 1 ¶ 30. The order listed four
specific concerns regarding his diet: (1) the protein
requirements of the approved meal; (2) that his meals must be
entirely plant-based and may not contain any sauces, gravies,
or seasonings; (3) the meals may not contain any fermented
foods, and any soy used must be derived from "soy sprout
or actual soybean"; and (4) the food tray must be
wrapped "to avoid any third party issues."
Pl.'s Ex. D (Doc. 1 at p.23). Director Williams responded
to Ashby's four concerns as follows:
(1) Before any diet plan is approved a nutritionist must
approve it for all these concerns.
(2) At this time I do not know what the meals plans will be
but it will be all plant based.
(3) I am not aware of any fermented foods being part of the
diet. Soy is an important source of protein so I am sure it
will be used in some ways.
(4) We do not normally wrap the food in plastic wrap. I am
not sure at all what you mean by "third party
issues" but I am sure you will not have any problems.
Pl.'s Ex. E (Doc. 1 at 24). Williams' response did
not satisfy Ashby's concerns. Doc 1, ¶ 33.
waited until October 1, 2018, but no religious diet had been
approved. Id. ¶ 34. On November 30, Chaplain
Wright informed him that a "non-animal diet" had
been approved for him and that he should write to the kitchen
staff at Northern. Id. ¶ 35. Thereafter, on
January 14, 2019, Ashby wrote to the kitchen supervisor at
Northern requesting that he be placed on the "non-animal
diet" for religious purposes. Id. ¶ 36.
The staff approved his request and provided him with a
"non-animal diet" menu. Id. ¶ 37;
Pl.'s Ex. F (Doc. 1 at pp. 25-28). After reviewing the
menu, however, Ashby learned that the "non-animal
diet" did not satisfy his religious dietary
requirements. Id. ¶ 38.
January 14 and 15, 2019, Ashby wrote to Director Williams
explaining his concerns with the "non-animal diet"
menu and again requesting a religious wardrobe and
accessories from an outside vendor. Doc. 1 ¶¶
39-40; Pl.'s Exs. G, H (Doc. 1 at 29-30). Specifically,
he requested an all-black Daishiki pant suit, yoga mat/rug,
four-ounce bottle of Frankincense oil, and black mud-cloth
Kufi from the "African Village Market." Pl.'s
Ex. G. With respect to the "non-animal diet, "
Ashby wrote that his religion required an organic, raw, and
"kemetic" vegan diet, and that he cannot eat
gravies, sauces, oils, dressings or seasonings that are
listed on the "non-animal diet" menu. Pl.'s Ex.
H. Ashby also complained about the orange beverage served
with dinner and the egg-free dinner. Id.
later, on January 17, Ashby filed another Level-1 grievance
regarding Williams' denial of his religious diet. Doc. 1
¶ 41; Pl.'s Ex. I (Doc. 1 at 31). Ashby wrote that
Williams had "agreed to develop a religious diet for
[him]" and that the "non-animal diet" that had
been approved for him did not satisfy his religious
requirements. Pl.'s Ex. I. The next day, Ashby wrote a
second letter to Williams challenging the newly instituted
Dayroom Feeding Policy in the 1-West Unit at Northern. Doc. 1
¶ 42; Pl.'s Ex. K (Doc. 1 at 33). Among other
provisions, the policy stated that, aside from three other
inmates, Breton, Campbell, and Cobb, all inmates in the
1-West Unit must consume their meals in the dayroom and would
not be given meal trays in their cells. Pl.'s Ex. J (Doc.
1 at 32). In his letter to Williams, Ashby contended that the
policy infringed on his ability to practice his religion,
which required him to eat on the floor in a "Lotus"
position only at 12:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., say a blessing
before eating, and wash his hands. Doc. 1 ¶ 42;
Pl.'s Ex. K. Ashby also filed a Level-1 grievance on
January 22, challenging the new policy. Doc. 1 ¶ 43;
Pl.'s Ex. L (Doc. 1 at p.34).
January 30, Ashby received a response from Williams regarding
his second request for religious attire and accessories. Doc.
1, ¶ 44; Pl.'s Ex. M (Doc. 1 p.35). Williams stated
that he could not locate the outside vendor that Ashby had