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Frankie Luzano v. James A. Yates

December 12, 2011


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


Screening Order

I. Screening Standard

Plaintiff Frankie Luzano, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 3, 2010. The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity and/or against an officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Plaintiff's complaint, or any portion thereof, is subject to dismissal if it is frivolous or malicious, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). While a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences." Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To state a viable claim for relief, Plaintiff must set forth factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

II. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Summary of Allegations

Plaintiff, an American Indian, is currently incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP). He alleges that his rights to the free exercise of his religion and to equal protection of the laws were violated by Defendants Yates, Fisher, Myers, and Duran's refusal to accommodate his repeated requests for access to the sweat lodge for "religious ritual purification purposes." (Doc. 1, Comp., 4:16-17.) Plaintiff alleges that his requests were either ignored or rebuffed by staff, who told him that he and others could only use the sweat lodge under the supervision of a Native American chaplain or a religious volunteer sanctioned by the tribe; neither was available at PVSP.

Plaintiff alleges that he is qualified to conduct sweat lodge purification ceremonies, but Defendants Yates, Fisher, and Myers refused his offer to do so and told him that he and other Native Americans could conduct their ceremonies on the exercise yard during outdoor recreation release. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants allow Odinists, Muslims, Wiccans, and other faith groups to hold their ceremonies inside the chapel or in other protected areas, and none of those groups is required to hold their ceremonies outside on the yard in the midst of other inmates' recreational activities.

B. Free Exercise Claim

1. Legal Standard

Inmates retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348, 107 S.Ct. 2400 (1987) (quotation marks omitted); Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2008). The protection of the Free Exercise Clause is triggered when prison officials substantially burden the practice of an inmate's religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct which he sincerely believes is consistent with his faith. Shakur, 514 F.3d at 884-85. However, because lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, Shakur, 514 F.3d at 884 (citing O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 348) (quotation marks omitted), any impingement on an inmate's constitutional rights is valid if it is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest, id. (citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254 (1987)) (quotation marks omitted).

At the pleading stage, the Court cannot determine whether an alleged infringement into a protected right is reasonably related to a penological purpose, Barrett v. Belleque, 544 F.3d 1060, 1062 (9th Cir. 2008), and to state a claim, Plaintiff need only demonstrate an infringement into a sincerely held belief which is religious in ...

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