The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure
On February 18, 2004, plaintiff Kevin Bowman, a prisoner confined at SCIFrackville, Frackville, Pennsylvania, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(a), in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. On September 23, 2004, the district court transferred the matter to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. At that time the court denied defendants' motion to dismiss based on venue, but stayed for our determination the substantive grounds of defendants' motion to dismiss. The matter proceeded in an orderly pre-trial course before United States Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion.
By order dated September 14, 2005, we granted defendants' motion to dismiss the original complaint in part and allowed plaintiff to file an amended complaint.
On October 24, 2005, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. In the amended complaint plaintiff stated three separate counts: (1) a section 1983 claim asserting a violation of his rights protected by the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause;
(2) a claim asserting a violation of RLUIPA pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(a); and (3) a claim for declaratory relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202.
By order dated January 6, 2006, we granted defendants' motion to dismiss in part, dismissing Count I against defendants Beard and Sobina and dismissing Count III as to all defendants.
Now before the court is defendants' May 22, 2006 motion for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative, for summary judgment as to all remaining claims. Defendants filed a brief in support and statement of undisputed facts on May 24, 2006. Plaintiff has not filed a brief in opposition. For the following reasons we will grant defendants' motion.
A. Judgment on the Pleadings and Failure to Exhaust
The defendants have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings or in the alternative a motion for summary judgment. In the defendants' motion they direct the court to Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2004), in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that when a prisoner fails to exhaust under the PLRA the action should be dismissed without prejudice, and a defendants' motion to dismiss should be treated as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) because failure to exhaust administrative remedies is an affirmative defense under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Id. at 223 n.2.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) governs motions for judgment on the pleadings. That rule indicates that when "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). Defendants have attached to their motion a series of exhibits that the court has considered. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held in Spruill that a court may ...