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Peele v. Klemm

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 29, 2014

TYRONE PEELE, Plaintiff,
v.
ULLI KLEMM, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER[1]

SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Relevant Procedural History

Plaintiff Tyrone Peele, a prisoner incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania ("SCI-Forest") initiated this action by filing a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on July 8, 2013 [ECF No. 8]. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint on November 18, 2013 [ECF No. 14], which superseded the original complaint and is the operative pleading in this case. Named as Defendant is Ulli Klemm, the Religion, Volunteer, and Recreational Services Administrator for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ("DOC").

Although the amended complaint is a rambling, often incoherent narrative containing a number of quotes from the Quran and other Islamic texts, it is apparent that Plaintiff is claiming that his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, the First Amendment Establishment Clause, and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq ., have been violated as a result of a DOC policy that places restrictions on the rights of Muslim inmates to attend the two feasts of the Ramadan holiday.[2] In particular, Plaintiff challenges DOC policy DC-819, allegedly promulgated by Defendant, which: (i) restricts participation in the Eid-at-Fitr feast to those inmates who have participated in Ramadan for the entire month and who pay the cost of the feast with a cash slip that must be submitted by a certain advance date; (ii) restricts participation in the Eid-al-Adha feast to those inmates who participated in the yearly Ramadan services and who submitted a cash slip; and (iii) prohibits participation in either feast by inmates who are in disciplinary custody in the Restricted Housing Unit. As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, and compensatory and punitive damages.

On December 2, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, motion for a more definite statement [ECF No. 15], asserting, inter alia , that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff has since filed a brief in response to Defendants' motion, essentially re-asserting the allegations of the amended complaint. [ECF No. 22]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

The Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp. , 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan , 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D.Del. February 19, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips , 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556.

The Third Circuit Court has prescribed the following three-step approach to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal:

First, the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'

Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc. , 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011), citing Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947, 1950); see also Great Western Mining & Min. ...


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