United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge
Efrain Hildalgo (“Hildalgo”) is a prisoner at SCI
Forest. (Docket No. 5 at p. 2). Acting pro se,
Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the following defendants: the Pennsylvania Department
of Corrections (“DoC”); Mr. Bailey, spiritual
advisor and master of ceremonies of Native American services
at SCI Forest; Mr. McGowen, SCI Forest's chaplain; Mr.
Overmeyer, superintendent at SCI Forest; Ms. Haupt, unit
manager at SCI Forest; Ms. Dorina Varner, DoC's chief
grievance coordinator; Mr. Klemm, DoC's head of religious
departments; and C.C.P.M. Ireland. (Id. at pp. 2, 6).
Hildalgo claims that Defendants violated his rights under the
First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the Religious Land
Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”),
the Fort Stanwix and Fort Harmer treaties, and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. (Id. at ¶¶
17-18, 24-26). As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and
punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive
responded to Hildalgo's claims by filing a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 29). They argued that
Hildalgo's lawsuit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment
and that the individual defendants (except for Bailey) were
not personally involved in the alleged violations of federal
law Hildalgo alleged. (Docket No. 30 at pp. 3, 6). Since the
filing of this case and the motion to dismiss, counsel has
entered her appearance on behalf of Plaintiff. On January 6,
2017, Plaintiff, through counsel, filed a brief in opposition
to the pending dispositive motion. (Docket # 61).
considering the complaint (Docket No. 5), Defendants'
brief in support of their motion to dismiss (Docket No. 30),
and Hildalgo's opposition brief to the motion to dismiss
(Docket No. 37), the Court will grant the motion to dismiss
(Docket No. 29) in part and deny it in part.
following well-pleaded facts, taken from Plaintiff's
pro se complaint, will be taken as true in the
motion-to-dismiss context. Erickson v. Pardus, 551
U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
attended Native American services overseen by Bailey at SCI
Forest. (Docket No. 5 ¶ 1). On September 30, 2014,
Bailey announced that the services would be styled after
Lakota practices and prisoners who disagreed “were told
to leave.” (Id.). Bailey instructed Hildalgo
to smudge; Hildalgo refused because his nation, the Mohawks,
do not smudge with sage. (Id. at ¶¶ 2,
14). Bailey responded that Hildalgo was not allowed to
participate because he refused to smudge. (Id. at
American religious practices dictate that when many nations
come together, “it is up to the individual to decide
whether . . . he or she chooses to smudge with the herbs
being used.” (Id. at ¶ 12). For smudging,
“the herbs used are different for all [n]ations.”
(Id. at ¶ 11). The Native Americans at SCI
Forest are “told to follow a Lakota teaching”
even though members of many other tribes are there.
(Id. at ¶ 13). Hildalgo also averred that the
DoC “receives financial assistance from the [f]ederal
government to accommodate religious activities pursuant
to” RLUIPA. (Id. at ¶ 20).
returned to the prison chapel at 1:00PM on September 30,
2014. (Id. at ¶ 5). But before he could enter,
Bailey stopped him and remarked that they needed to talk.
(Id.). Bailey reiterated that he is the master of
ceremonies and that Hildalgo “was to go into services
and smudge” and asked him if he understood.
(Id. at ¶ 6). Hildalgo again refused because
his people do not smudge with sage. (Id. at ¶
7). Bailey responded “I don't care[;] you will
smudge or you must leave.” (Id.). Immediately
following this, Hildalgo asked to speak with McGowen, SCI
Forest's chaplain. (Id. at ¶ 8). McGowen
stated that “he supports whatever Mr. Bailey
two weeks later, Hildalgo filed a grievance regarding
Bailey's behavior after contacting Haupt and Overmeyer;
C.C.P.M. Ireland denied the grievance. (Id. at
¶ 21). Hildalgo appealed to Overmeyer, who upheld
Ireland's grievance denial. (Id. at ¶ 22).
Following these setbacks, Hildalgo appealed to Chief
Grievance Coordinator Varner and Klemm. (Id. at p.
2; ¶ 23). Varner and Klemm also upheld the grievance
denial. (Id. at ¶ 23). The result of these
events is that Hildalgo was “banned from participating
in Native American [s]ervices and removed from the [p]rison
[c]all out sheet.” (Id. at ¶ 15).
Standard of Review
Pro Se Litigants
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, 520-21 (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 litigant's
unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v.
MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex
rel. Montgomery v. Brierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.
1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully
drawn and should be read “with measure of
tolerance”). 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), overruled on other grounds by Abdul-Akbar
v. McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307, 310 (3d Cir. 2001); 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. 1990) (same). Because the complaint was filed by
Plaintiff as a pro se litigant, this court may
consider facts and make inferences when appropriate.
Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss
defendant's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may be
treated as either a facial or factual challenge to the
court's subject matter jurisdiction. Gould Elecs.,
Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000)
(citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan
Ass'n., 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). In
reviewing a facial attack, which addresses a deficiency in
the pleadings, the court must only consider the allegations
on the face of the complaint, taken as true, and any
documents referenced in the complaint, viewed in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff. Id.;
Turicentro, S.A. v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 303 F.3d
293, 300 (3d Cir. 2002), overruled on other grounds by
Animal Sci. Prods. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d
462, 467-68 (3d Cir. 2011). “The plaintiff must assert
facts that affirmatively and plausibly suggest that the
pleader has the right he claims ...