United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 14, 2005.
RAHEEM CHAMIR McCLELLAN and LENNOX DAVID, Plaintiffs
PIKE COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss
(Doc. 21) the complaint filed by plaintiff Lennox David ("David")
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged infringement of his
First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by defendants,
officials of the Pike County Correctional Facility
("PCCF").*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the motion
will be granted.
I. Statement of Facts
Every Friday, the Muslims at PCCF assemble in one of the
facility's rooms for a prayer service. (Doc. 1, p. 14). However,
on Friday, November 12, 2004, during Islam's holy month of
Ramadan, David and other Muslims incarcerated at PCCF were denied
the use of the facility's multi-purpose room for "Jumu'ah" prayer services because the room was being used for a graduation
ceremony.*fn2 David subsequently requested that the Muslims
be allowed to hold the service in a cell. However, consistent
with PCCF'S religious practices policy, the request was denied
because non-inmate visitors to the facility were attending the
ceremony and, due to security concerns, inmates were not allowed
to congregate elsewhere in the facility during the
ceremony.*fn3 Defendants offered a time and place to hold
the service the following morning but, according to David,
Jumu'ah can only be held on Friday. (See Doc. 1 at 2, 4). David
was informed that the unavailability of the room was an
oversight, and that in the future he and other Muslims would be
accommodated. (Doc. 1 at 14, 17).
The instant action was commenced in November 2004. Thereafter,
David was transferred to the York County Prison. He has recently
notified the Court that he has been removed from this country to
Trinidad. (Doc. 33). David alleges a violation of his First
Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion, and seeks
compensatory damages and injunctive relief. Defendants
subsequently filed the instant motion to dismiss, which is now
ripe for disposition. II. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal
of a claim that fails to assert a basis upon which relief can be
granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In the context of a motion to
dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all of
the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Langford v. City of
Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Nami v.
Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). Although the court is
generally limited in its review to the facts alleged in the
complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record,
orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in
the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran &
Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In
re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d
The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a
claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that "no relief could be
granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent
with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A.,
534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged
sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant on notice
of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action."
Langford, 235 F.3d at 847. Further, the court must grant leave
to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient.
See Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). III. Discussion
As noted above, David seeks injunctive relief. A prisoner lacks
standing to seek injunctive relief if he is no longer subject to
the alleged conditions he seeks to challenge. See Weaver v.
Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 27, n. 13 (3d Cir. 1981) (stating
prisoner's transfer from the prison moots claims for injunctive
and declaratory relief with respect to prison conditions); see
also Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, (1983) (stating that
a plaintiff seeking equitable relief must demonstrate that his
injury is likely to be repeated). Defendants argue that David is
no longer entitled to injunctive relief because he has been
transferred from PCCF. The Court agrees. David now resides in
Trinidad and it is highly unlikely that the injury will be
Nor is David entitled to compensatory damages. The only actual
injuries alleged are pain and suffering, or a mental or emotional
injury. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) predicates a prisoner's claim
for mental or emotional injury, suffered while in custody, on a
showing of accompanying physical injury. A
"less-than-significant-but-more-than-de minimis physical injury
as a predicate to allegations of emotional injury" is required in
order to pursue such a claim. Mitchell v. Horn, 318 F.3d 523,
536 (3d Cir. 2003). David does not allege an accompanying
physical injury, not even a de minimis physical injury.
Consequently, his claim for compensatory damages is barred by §
1997e(e) and is subject to dismissal. However, the § 1997e(e) bar does not apply to claims for
nominal damages. Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir.
2000). "Claims seeking nominal or punitive damages are typically
not `for' mental or emotional injury but rather `to vindicate
constitutional rights' or `to deter or punish egregious
violations of constitutional rights,' respectively." Mitchell,
318 F.3d at 533, citing id. Although David does not
specifically seek nominal damages, the allegations of the
complaint are consistent with such a claim. The court is
therefore compelled to liberally interpret the complaint to
include a request for nominal damages, Batista v. Weir,
340 F.2d 74, 87 (3d Cir. 1965) (stating that it is not necessary to
allege nominal damages), and address the merits of the claim.
While prisoners retain the right to a reasonable opportunity to
exercise their religious beliefs while incarcerated, see Cruz
v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972), the mere assertion of a
burden on a religious belief does not automatically trigger the
protections afforded by the First Amendment. DeHart v. Horn,
227 F.3d 47, 51 (3d Cir. 2000). An inmate alleging that actions
taken by prison officials violate his or her exercise of religion
must establish an actual infringement upon a sincerely held
religious belief. See Sherbert v. Varner, 374 U.S. 398,
403-04 (1963); Africa v. Pennsylvania, 662 F.2d 1025, 1029-30
(3d Cir. 1981). Further, the policy or practice in question is
only deemed an unconstitutional restraint if it is not
"reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner
v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).
In the matter sub judice, David complains of a single
incident of infringement on his religious belief in Jumu'ah.
Given that the religious needs of David and other Muslims were regularly accommodated by PCCF in that they
were able to attend prayer services every Friday, this isolated
incident had a negligible impact on David's right to practice his
religion, and did not rise to constitutional proportions.
Further, it is clear from the record that defendants'
infringement on that right was reasonably related to a legitimate
penological interest, and that defendants offered to accommodate
David and the other Muslims the following morning. See
Turner, 482 U.S. at 90 (stating that reasonableness of prison
regulation is to be considered in light of availability of
alternative accommodations). Although David argues that the
proposed accommodation was inadequate because his religion does
not allow him to postpone observation of Jumu'ah, he fails to
recognize that he was not completely deprived of religious
exercise in that he was free to engage in individual
prayer.*fn4 The logistics of incarceration and an
institution's legitimate penological objectives, including
institutional security, require and justify limitations on
numerous privileges and rights. See O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); see also Monmouth County
Corr. Inst. Inmates v. Lanzaro, 834 F.2d 326 (3d Cir. 1987).
Indeed, the stringent times at which Jumu'ah is to be held make
it difficult for prison officials to assure that Muslims are able
to attend that service. See O'Lone, at 351-52 (holding that regulation prohibiting returns of inmates working
outside the institution during the work day to attend Jumu'ah
services did not violate the First Amendment).
While we in no way minimize the central importance of Jumu'ah
to David, we are unwilling to hold that prison officials are
required by the Constitution to sacrifice legitimate penological
objectives on every occasion to accommodate all religious
services. See O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 351-52. The court simply
cannot substitute its judgment for the judgment of prison
officials on the "difficult and sensitive" scheduling matters of
prison administration. Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 588
(1984). Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss will be
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 14th day of September, 2005, upon consideration
of defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 21), and for the reasons
set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED
1. The motion to dismiss (Doc. 21) is GRANTED.
2. The claims of plaintiff Lennox David are
3. The Clerk of Court is directed to DROP plaintiff
Lennox David as a party in the above-captioned case.
4. Any appeal form this order is DEEMED frivolous and
not in good faith. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).
© 1992-2005 VersusLaw Inc.