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Green v. Hawkinberry

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2014

MUWSA GREEN, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBRA A. HAWKINBERRY, CCPM, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER[1]

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

Presently pending is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants (ECF No. 26), to which Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 27). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Procedural History

Plaintiff, Muwsa Green, pro se , is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at SCI-Fayette. This case was initiated on August 22, 2013, when Plaintiff submitted a handwritten Complaint. However, the case was administratively closed the next day as Plaintiff had failed to either file an application seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis or to pay the requisite filing fee. The case was reopened on October 3, 2013, after Plaintiff had completed the necessary in forma paupris application.

Thereafter, on December 9, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 21). Plaintiff was ordered to either file an Amended Complaint or a response in opposition on or before January 21, 2014. Plaintiff timely filed an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 25), to which Defendants' have filed the instant Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 26).

In his handwritten Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has named the following defendants: Brian D. Coleman, Superintendent of SCI Fayette; Debra A. Hawkinberry, SCI Fayette Facility CCPM; Frank Lewis, SCI Fayette "facility reverend;" Dorina Varner, Chief Grievance Officer with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC"); and Efrain Reisner, SCI-Fayette "facility Rabbi." All Defendants are sued in their individual and official capacities. As relief, Plaintiff seeks only prospective relief in that he requests to be awarded a "kosher bag" and that the Court order Defendants to change their policy to "let prisoners practice their religion under a class I status."

Plaintiff generally alleges the denial of his First Amendment rights to freely exercise his religion by being denied a "kosher bag" in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C § 2000cc-1(a). Although the Amended Complaint contains a paucity of facts, it appears that Plaintiff is claiming that while confined in the restricted housing unit (RHU/SMU) at SCI Fayette, his request for a religious diet has been repeatedly denied. Plaintiff claims that all Defendants have placed substantial and unreasonable burdens on his ability to freely exercise his religion. The Amended Complaint also states that Defendants Coleman and Hawkinberry have created a policy that allows "constitutional violation to occur." Amended Complaint, at ¶ 13.[2]

Attached to the Amended Complaint are the following documents: (1) Form DC-135A, Inmate's Request to Staff Member, dated February 5, 2013, in which Plaintiff requests an explanation from Defendant Superintendent Coleman as to why he has been denied participation in the "Jewish fest on 2-24-2013." Superintendent Coleman responds, "speak with your unit team, there was a recent change to the DC ADM 819"; (2) Form DC-135A, Inmate's Request to Staff Member, dated April 20, 2012, in which Plaintiff requests a kosher diet. Defendant Frank Lewis responds on April 23, 2012, informing Plaintiff, "you are not able to have a nondairy kosher meal. You could apply for no animal products diet;" (3) Form DC-135A, Inmate's Request to Staff Member, dated August 21, 2013, in which plaintiff requests from the Jewish Rabbi an explanation of why kosher food is mandatory; and (4) a publication entitled, "Rosh Hashanah in a Nutshell - rintable Rosh Hashanah Guide 2013."[3]

Defendants have filed the instant Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 26)[4] and Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 27). The matter is ripe for disposition.

Standard of Review

1. Pro Se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall , 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance").

In a § 1983 action, the court must liberally construe the pro se litigant's pleadings and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer , 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs , 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)).[5] See also Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Since this is a § 1983 action, the [pro se] plaintiffs are entitled to relief if their complaint sufficiently alleges deprivation of any right secured by the Constitution.") (quoting Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver , 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. ...


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