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Joseph Heim v. Shirley Moore

April 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Caputo)


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Joseph Heim, a state prisoner, filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. (RLUIPA), after prison officials took five and a half months to accommodate his request for a diet conforming to his religious beliefs.*fn1 Doc. 12, Am. Compl. Named as defendants are the following Department of Corrections (DOC) employees: John Kelly, Superintendent of SCI-Camp Hill; James McGrady, Superintendent of SCI-Retreat; Rev. Anne Myers; Rev. Larry Mills; Rev. John Ritchey; and Dorina Varner, DOC's Chief Grievance Officer. Also named as a Defendant is the DOC's Religious Accommodation Committee (RAC). The Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. Mr. Heim seeks only monetary relief.

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint based on sovereign immunity; lack of personal involvement; and Plaintiff's failure to state a First, Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment claim. Doc. 20. Mr. Heim has filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motion. Defendants elected not to file a reply brief in support of their motion. For the following reasons the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part, and denied, in part.

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). The pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," but "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or a 'formalic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). More than the "unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation" is required. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id., 556 U.S. at , 129 S.Ct. at 1950.

Thus, when examining the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must conduct a three-part analysis to determine whether a claim survives a motion to dismiss. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1947-50, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). The "inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

Finally, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); Giles v. Kearney, 571 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir. 2009). However, under no circumstance is a court required to accept bald assertions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. See In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc. Sec. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002); Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). Pro se litigants are to be granted leave to file a curative amended complaint even when a plaintiff does not seek leave to amend, unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher--Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007). However, a complaint that sets forth facts which affirmatively demonstrate that the plaintiff has no right to recover is properly dismissed without leave to amend. Grayson v. Mayview State Hospital, 293 F.3d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. Allegations of the Amended Complaint

Mr. Heim's Amended Complaint is not the model of clarity, but what is clear is that he feels a substantial burden was placed on his free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA, that his Equal Protection rights have been violated in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that he has suffered from malnourishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, all because he experienced an excessive delay in his receipt of a Kosher diet consistent with his religious principles. He claims he requested, but was denied, a Kosher diet from October 19, 2010, through March 31, 2011. Doc. 12, Am. Compl. at p. 7.*fn2 He believes the Defendants should have temporarily granted him a Kosher while his request for a religiously compliant diet was under consideration by the Religious Accommodation Committee (RAC).

Mr. Heim grieved the denial of a Kosher diet to SCI-Camp Hill's Superintendent, John Kelly. Superintendent Kelly denied the grievance. His appeal to the Chief Grievance Officer, Dorina Varner, was also denied. Id. at p. 6. He avers that his receipt of a Kosher diet was further delayed because Rev. Myers lost his paperwork requesting a religious accomodation for almost three months. Id. at p. 11. At some point in time Mr. Heim was transferred to SCI-Retreat. Mr. Heim started receiving Kosher meals on March 31, 2011. Id. at p. 7.

IV. Discussion

A. Mr. Heim May Not Maintain Claims for Monetary Damages Against Defendants in their Official Capacities.

The Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state and its agencies in federal court that seek monetary damages. See Pennhurst v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 907, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984); A.W. v. Jersey City Public Schools, 341 F.3d 234, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). Suits against state officials acting in their official capacities are really suits against the employing government agency, and as such, are also barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25-27, 112 S.Ct. 358, 361-62, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991); Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 2312, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 ...

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