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Lamavis A. Comundoiwilla v. M.S. Evans

February 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Lamavis A. Comundoiwilla ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On August 5, 2010, Defendants Alamedia*fn1 and Woodford filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. #40.) Defendants Chapman, Lopez, and Todd joined the motion to dismiss on September 1, 2010. (Doc. #43.) Plaintiff filed an opposition on December 2, 2010. (Doc. #50.) Defendants filed a reply on December 13, 2010. (Doc. #51.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will recommend that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted.

I. Background

A. Plaintiff's Claims

This action proceeds on Plaintiff's second amended complaint filed on July 17, 2009. (Doc. #28.) Plaintiff alleges that he is an orthodox Muslim and his religious beliefs require him to wear facial hair and shoulder-length hair. However, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations ("CDCR") prohibited inmates from growing facial hair or shoulder-length hair. While incarcerated at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, California ("CCITehachapi"), Plaintiff received a rules violation report ("RVR") on December 16, 2003, because his hair did not conform with prison regulations. Plaintiff was placed on "C status" and lost a number of privileges.

Between December 30, 2003 through September 30, 2004, Plaintiff wrote numerous letters to Defendants Alamedia, Woodford, Evans, Todd, and Lopez informing them of his religious grooming requirements and his belief that CDCR policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Plaintiff received two more RVRs for failing to comply with CDCR grooming policies in December 2004 and January 2005. Plaintiff was found to have violated the RVRs on February 25, 2005. Plaintiff was placed on C status on March 9, 2005, during a hearing chaired by Defendant Chapman. Plaintiff remained on C status until his transfer to Calipatria State Prison on March 2, 2006.

The Court screened Plaintiff's second amended complaint on February 23, 2010. (Doc. #30.) The Court determined that Plaintiff stated cognizable claims against Defendants Alamedia, Woodford, Evans, Todd, Lopez, and Chapman for violating RLUIPA. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and declaratory relief.

B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Defendants argue that this action should be dismissed because they are entitled to qualified immunity and declaratory relief since they have eliminated the grooming policies in dispute and there is no need for any prospective relief. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff cannot recover monetary damages against Defendants in their individual capacities under RLUIPA.

II. Discussion

A. Qualified Immunity

Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials 'from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S. Ct. 808, 815 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "The protection of qualified immunity applies regardless of whether the government official's error 'is a mistake of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on mixed questions of law and fact.'" Id. (quoting Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551, 567 (2004) (Kennedy, J., dissenting)). Questions regarding qualified immunity should be resolved at the earliest possible stage in litigation because qualified immunity serves as an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability. Id.

In Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), the Supreme Court mandated a two-step sequence for resolving claims of qualified immunity. First, a court must decide whether the facts alleged by a plaintiff set forth a violation of a constitutional right. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Second, if the plaintiff has satisfied the first step, the court must decide whether the right at issue was "clearly established" at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. If the defendant did not violate a clearly established constitutional right, the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity from plaintiff's claims. Pearson, 129 S. Ct. at 816 (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). However, the Supreme Court has since held that the Saucier sequence is not mandatory in all cases and courts may resolve the "clearly ...

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