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Cooper v. Beard

July 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kosik


I. Background

Bruce X. Cooper, an inmate currently confined at the State Correctional Institution at Frackville (SCI-Frackville), Pennsylvania, originally filed this action in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania. On March 30, 2007, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal in this court. In the civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff names the following Department of Corrections defendants: Jeffrey Beard, Secretary; Sharon Burkes, Chief Grievance Officer; and Ulrich Klemm, Administrator of Religions and Voluntary Services. Also named as defendants are SCI-Frackville employees Robert Shannon, Superintendent, and Chaplain Barry Brown, Director of Religions. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq., by failing to allow him to freely practice his choice of religion - -Muhammad's Temple of Islam (also referred to as the Nation of Islam). On April 3, 2007, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 2.) The motion is presently before the court for consideration. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Allegations in the Complaint

In his complaint, Plaintiff claims to be a follower of the Islamic beliefs as taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah, who came in the person of Master W. Fard Muhammad. He contends that Defendants are depriving him of his right to freely practice his choice of religion and only provide him with the opportunity to participate in a Sunni/Shiite program that does not follow the teachings of Muhammad. He specifically contends that Defendants have failed to provide him with separate services and Ramadan fasts that abide by his religion. He further points out that the Islamic representative in the prison is titled an "Iman" and that there are only "ministers" in Muhammad's Temple of Islam.

Plaintiff states that he believes he has exhausted all available remedies, and sets forth the exhaustion efforts he has pursued. He states that on November 6, 2006, he filed a grievance wherein he requested separate services, reading material, outside guest speakers and cassettes. He also requested the ability to fast in December. He states that his grievance was denied on November 13, 2006, and he appealed the denial to Defendant Shannon on the same date. Shannon denied his appeal on November 21, 2006. Plaintiff thereafter states he immediately appealed to the Central Office level where Defendant Burks subsequently denied his appeal on December 21, 2006. (Doc. 1, Notice of Removal, Ex. D Compl. at ¶ 15.) In filing this action alleging the violation of his constitutional rights, he requests declaratory, injunctive and special damages relief. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis of failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. They further contend that Defendant Beard is subject to dismissal in that the complaint contains no allegations of personal involvement on Beard's part.

III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows for dismissal of a claim or claims for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. . . ." In evaluating whether a claim is subject to dismissal, the court must accept all material allegations of the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Mariana v. Fisher, 338 F.3d 189, 195 (3d Cir. 2003). A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears "beyond doubt that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 44-46 (1957); see also Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004).*fn1 A litigant should be granted leave to amend, but not if amendment would be inequitable or futile. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir. 2004).

IV. Discussion

A. Exhaustion

Defendants maintain that the complaint is subject to dismissal on the basis of failure to properly exhaust administrative remedies. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), exhaustion of administrative remedies is required for all actions concerning prison conditions brought under federal law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Woodford v. Ngo, 126 S.Ct. 2378 (2006). The "exhaustion requirement applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve general circumstances or particular episodes, and whether they allege excessive force or some other wrong." Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 532 (2002). The PLRA also mandates that inmates "properly" exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. Woodford, 126 S.Ct. At 2387. "Proper exhaustion demands compliance with an agency's deadlines and other critical procedural rules because no adjudicative system can function effectively without imposing some orderly structure on the course of its proceedings." Id. at 2386. Failure to substantially comply with procedural requirements of the applicable prison's grievance system will result in a procedural default of the claim. Spruill, 372 F.3d at 227-32 (3d Cir. 2004).

A prisoner does not have to allege in his complaint that he has exhausted administrative remedies. Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910, 921 (2007). Failure to exhaust available administrative remedies is an affirmative defense. As such, it must be pleaded and proven by the Defendants. Id.; Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 111 (3d Cir. 2002).

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has an Inmate Grievance System which permits any inmate to seek review of problems that may arise during the course of confinement. 37 Pa. Code § 93.9(a) (West 2003); see also, DC-ADM 804, Inmate Grievance System Policy. After an attempt to resolve any problems informally, an inmate may submit a written grievance to the prison Grievance coordinator for initial review. An inmate may appeal the decision of the Grievance coordinator to the Superintendent of the institution, and can finally appeal to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. See Booth v. Churner, 206 F.3d 289, 292 n.2 (3d Cir. 2000)(discussing Pennsylvania's Inmate Grievance System).

Department of Corrections Administrative Directive 819 addresses the DOC's policies with respect to religious activities. The purpose of this policy statement is to establish procedures to accommodate inmates' religious beliefs while they are in DOC custody. DC-ADM 819 (VI)(G) addresses the matter of accommodations and the procedure to be employed for requesting a religious accommodation. The procedure encompasses the following. A request for an accommodation must be made via a DC-52 Inmate Religious Accommodation Request Form and submitted to the Facility Chaplaincy Program Director (FCPD). The inmate must obtain written information from his outside faith group that describes the goals, beliefs and practices of the group and supply this information to the FCPD for review. The Religious Accommodation Review Committee*fn2 shall review each inmate's request for a religious accommodation within 45 days of receipt, and forward a recommendation to the affected Regional Deputy Secretary. The Regional Deputy Secretary shall, within 15 days of receiving the recommendation from the Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services/designee, approve/disapprove the request and notify the Director of the Bureau of Inmate Services of the decision. Thereafter, within 10 days, the Director of Bureau of Inmate Services shall inform the Facility Manager and the FCPD of the requesting facility of the determination and make sure copies of all final determinations are provided to all Deputy Secretaries and Facility Managers. The FCPD shall be responsible for informing the inmate of the outcome of the request no later than 10 working days from the date that the ...

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