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Muhammad v. Brumfield


September 12, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a ". . . short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.


Plaintiff brings this action under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Plaintiff names the following as defendants: Brumfield, Miles, Nasir, and Sisto.*fn1 Plaintiff states that he requested access to religious services for "Nation of Islam for Saturday and Sunday" and to "be allow" to teach specific religious doctrines. Plaintiff indicates that his request was granted at the first, second, and third levels, but that he is nonetheless being denied the right to practice his religious beliefs due to prison officials' "untrue and falsified statements with disregard for establish rules and regulations." Plaintiff seeks various forms of injunctive relief.

Documents attached to plaintiff's complaint provide more information as to the basis for his claim. A June 24, 2007, Director's level response to plaintiff's inmate grievance describes his claim as follows:

It is appellant's position that his religious needs are not being met at California State Prison, Solano (SOL). The appellant states his Muslim faith is the Lost Found Nation of Islam and not the Nation of Islam. The appellant states that [he] is a minister and he is requesting to be allowed to conduct Lost Found Nation of Islam services and to order from Lost Found Nation of Islam vendors. The appellant wants to be allowed to fast in the month of December.

The June 24th response indicates that the following decision was rendered at the second level:

The reviewer found that it has been explained to the appellant that Chaplain Nasir is available to sponsor the appellant's religious group activities as he is versed in the various religious activities within the Muslim culture. The appellant has been directed to provide Chaplain Nasir with information regarding the vendor the appellant is requesting and the items the appellant seeks. The appellant has not been restricted from fasting. The appellant's central file reflects that he was denied recognition as a Senegalese Wolof Muslin and he has not been appointed as a minster as he claims. The appellant has been advised that every inmate has the right to practice their individual religious beliefs; as long as it is done within the established regulations and does not threaten[] the security of the institution. Staff have also informed the appellant that he may request to receive religious items; however, he must order them through the institutional chaplain. Staff indicates that the only restriction placed on the ordering of artifacts is that any item must be approved through the chaplain and that it must not threaten the security of the institution.

At the Director's level, plaintiff's issue was referred to the Religious Review Committee for further consideration.

In the complaint, plaintiff confirms that he was informed that Chaplain Nasir is available to sponsor plaintiff's religious practice. He also states that, while his request to fast during the month of December was granted, he was not permitted to conduct separate services from those held for Nation of Islam members. Plaintiff adds:

Defendants prison guard Lieutenant Norris,*fn2 Associate Warden J.D. Brumfield, Custody Captain M.B. Miles, and Muslim Chaplain Abdul R. Nasir has been systematically [denying] Plaintiff his right to religious artifacts, and Kosher/Halal food by the deliberate erroneous abuse of defendant Abdul R. Nasir. While other religious faith groups are allowed to practice there belief in worship observance and teaching, receive religious artifacts and offer prayer in congregation and with a fundamental disregard for the law and section 3of the Religious Land Use and Institutional Act of 2000. . . .

Plaintiff asserts that defendants' conduct has resulted in a substantial burden on his religious experience.


It appears that the basis of plaintiff's claim is that he is not being permitted to serve as a minister for his faith, which he calls "Lost Found Nation of Islam," and which he claims is different from the Nation of Islam. He claims that this, as well as denial of artifacts and certain foods, apparently specific to "Lost Found Nation of Islam," has resulted in a substantial burden on the practice of his faith. However, plaintiff has not alleged in any specific terms what each of the named defendants did to burden the practice of his religion. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege an actual connection or link between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Rather, the plaintiff must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988).

Because plaintiff's failure to establish the required causal connection can potentially be cured, plaintiff will be provided an opportunity to amend the complaint. In doing so, plaintiff should keep the following principles in mind. The United States Supreme Court has held that prisoners retain their First Amendment rights, including the right to free exercise of religion. See O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); see also Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). Thus, for example, prisoners have a right to be provided with food sufficient to sustain them in good health and which satisfies the dietary laws of their religion. See McElyea v. Babbit, 833 F.2d 196, 198 (9th Cir. 1987). In addition, prison officials are required to provide prisoners facilities where they can worship and access to clergy or spiritual leaders. See Glittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 4 (3rd Cir. 1970). Officials are not, however, required to supply clergy at state expense. See id. Inmates also must be given a "reasonable opportunity" to pursue their faith comparable to that afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972).

However, the court has also recognized that limitations on a prisoner's free exercise of rights arise from both the fact of incarceration and valid penological objectives. See McElyea, 833 F.2d at 197. For instance, under the First Amendment, the penological interest in a simplified food service has been held sufficient to allow a prison to provide orthodox Jewish inmates with a pork-free diet instead of a completely kosher diet. See Ward v. Walsh, 1 F.3d 873, 877-79 (9th Cir. 1993). Similarly, prison officials have a legitimate penological interest in getting inmates to their work and educational assignments. See Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930, 38 (9th Cir. 2001) (analyzing Muslim inmates' First Amendment challenge to prison work rule).

While free exercise of religion claims originally arose under the First Amendment, Congress has enacted various statutes in an effort to provide prisoners with heightened religious protection. See Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 994 (9th Cir. 2005). Prior to these congressional efforts, prison free exercise claims were analyzed under the "reasonableness test" set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987); see e.g. O'Lone, 382 U.S. at 349. The first effort to provide heightened protection was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") of 1993. However, the Supreme Court invalidated that act and restored the "reasonableness test." See City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997); see also Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir. 1997) (recognizing that the United States Supreme Court's decision in City of Boerne invalidated RFRA and restored the "reasonableness test" as the applicable standard in free exercise challenges brought by prison inmates).

Congress then enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") in 2000 ". . . in response to the constitutional flaws with RFRA identified in City of Boerne." Guru Nanak Sikh Soc. of Youba City v. County of Sutter, 456 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2006). Under RLUIPA, prison officials are prohibited from imposing "substantial burdens" on religious exercise unless there exists a compelling governmental interest and the burden is the least restrictive means of satisfying that interest. See id. at 986. RLUIPA has been upheld by the Supreme Court, which held that RLUIPA's "institutionalized-persons provision was compatible with the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and concluded that RLUIPA 'alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise.'" Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 994 (quoting Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 2117 (2005)). Congress achieved this goal by replacing the "reasonableness test" articulated in Turner with the "compelling government interest" test codified in RLUIPA at 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). See id.

It is not clear whether a prisoner must specifically raise RLUIPA in order to have his claim analyzed under the statute's heightened standard. In Alvarez v. Hill, the Ninth Circuit held that, if a complaint contains "factual allegations establishing a 'plausible" entitlement to relief under RLUIPA, [plaintiff has] satisfied the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." 518 F.3d 1152, 1157 (9th Cir. 2008); but see Henderson v. Terhune, 379 F.3d 709, 715 n.1 (9th Cir. 2004) (declining to express any opinion about whether plaintiff could prevail under RLUIPA because plaintiff brought his claim under the First Amendment only). Therefore, it is possible for a prisoner's complaint to raise both a First Amendment claim and RLUIPA claim based on the same factual allegations. In other words, even if the plaintiff does not specifically invoke the heightened protections of RLUIPA, he may nonetheless be entitled to them. Under Henderson, however, the plaintiff's claim may be limited to the less stringent Turner "reasonableness test" if the plaintiff specifically brings the claim under the First Amendment only.

Under both the First Amendment and RLUIPA, the prisoner bears the initial burden of establishing that the defendants substantially burdened the practice of his religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith. See Freeman v. Arpaio,125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir. 1997) (analyzing claim under First Amendment); see also Warsoldier, 418 F.3d 989, 994-95 (9th Cir. 2005) (analyzing claim under RLUIPA). While RLUIPA does not define what constitutes a "substantial burden," pre-RLUIPA cases are instructive. See Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 995 (discussing cases defining "substantial burden" in the First Amendment context). To show a substantial burden on the practice of religion, the prisoner must demonstrate that prison officials' conduct ". . . burdens the adherent's practice of his or her religion by pressuring him or her to commit an act forbidden by the religion or by preventing him or her from engaging in conduct or having a religious experience which the faith mandates." Graham v. Commissioner, 822 F.2d 844, 850-51 (9th Cir. 1987). The burden must be more than a mere inconvenience. See id. at 851. In the context of claims based on religious diets, a plaintiff must prove that prison officials refused to provide a diet which satisfies his religious dietary laws or that the available prison menu prevented him from adhering to the religious dietary laws mandated by his faith. See Bryant v. Gomez, 46 F.3d 948, 949 (9th Cir. 1995).

Under the First Amendment "reasonableness test," where the inmate shows a substantial burden the prison regulation or restriction at issue is nonetheless valid if it is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. See Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Turner, 482 U.S. at 89). In applying this test, the court must weight four factors: (1) whether there is a rational connection between the regulation or restriction and the government interest put forward to justify it; (2) whether there are available alternative means of exercising the right; (3) whether accommodation of the asserted religious right will have a detrimental impact on prison guards, other inmates, or the allocation of limited prison resources; and (4) whether there exist ready alternatives to the regulation or restriction. See id.; see also Allen v. Toombs, 827 F.2d 563, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).

Under RLUIPA, the government is required to ". . . meet the much stricter burden of showing that the burden it imposes on religious exercise is 'in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.'" Green v. Solano County Jail, 513 F.3d 992, 986, 989 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2) and 2(b)); see also Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 994-95. Prison security is an example of a compelling governmental interest. See Green, 513 F.3d at 989 (citing Cutter, 125 S.Ct. at 2113 n.13). In establishing that the regulation or restriction is the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling governmental interest, prison officials must show that they actually considered and rejected the efficacy of less restrictive means before adopting the challenged practice. See Green, 513 F.3d at 989 (citing Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 999).


Because it is possible that the deficiencies identified in this order may be cured by amending the complaint, plaintiff is entitled to leave to amend prior to dismissal of the entire action. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff is informed that, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, following dismissal with leave to amend, all claims alleged in the original complaint which are not alleged in the amended complaint are waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987). Therefore, if plaintiff amends the complaint, the court cannot refer to the prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. See Local Rule 15-220. An amended complaint must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. See id.

If plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, plaintiff must demonstrate how the conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant is involved, and must set forth some affirmative link or connection between each defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. See May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Finally, plaintiff is warned that failure to file an amended complaint within the time provided in this order may be grounds for dismissal of this action. See Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1260-61; see also Local Rule 11-110. Plaintiff is also warned that a complaint which fails to comply with Rule 8 may, in the court's discretion, be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(b). See Nevijel v. North Coast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 673 (9th Cir. 1981).

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1) is dismissed with leave to amend; and

2. Plaintiff shall file a first amended complaint within 30 days of the date of service of this order.

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