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Ryan Stevens v. James A. Yates

January 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Seng United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Ryan Stevens ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has consented to jurisdiction by a Magistrate Judge. (ECF No. 6.)

Plaintiff initiated this action on February 17, 2010. Plaintiff's Complaint is currently before the Court for screening. No other parties have appeared in the action.

The Court finds that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim.


The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 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, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Facial plausibility demands more than the mere possibility that a defendant committed misconduct and, while factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. at 1949-50.


Plaintiff is a state prisoner currently confined at Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP"). He brings this action alleging violations of his First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion, his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Plaintiff names the following individuals as defendants: 1) Warden Yates, 2) Lieutenant McCoy, 3) Lieutenant Mills, 4) Sergeant Ward, 5) Lieutenant Smith, 6) D-Yard Sergeant Arrodando, 7) Correctional Officer Mendenhall, 8) Community Resources Manager WK Myers,*fn1 9) Associate Warden of Central Operations K.R. Nash, 10) Correctional Officer Mendoza, 11) Muslim Chaplain Michael Salam at Avenal State Prison, 12) investigative officers known and unknown, 13) Fresno FBI, and 14) Chaplain Brian Philips. These Defendants were employed at PVSP at the time of the incidents alleged.

Plaintiff alleges as follows:

Plaintiff is a Muslim inmate currently incarcerated at PVSP. He alleges religious profiling by prison staff and fellow inmates at PVSP. (Compl. at 6.) This profiling is so extensive that the Fresno FBI participates and Muslim inmates' families have been impacted. (Id.) The behavior that Plaintiff has been subject to amounts to harassment and has risen to the level of a "Muslim terrorist witch hunt." (Id.)

Staff at PVSP have searched inmates' cells and removed permissible religious property including religious CDs given to Plaintiff by the former Muslim chaplain, Defendant Salam. (Id.) "They" have removed inmates' clothing, pictures and books that are not banned. (Id. at 7.) "They" have placed informants at religious services. (Id.) The FBI has come to PVSP to question informants and Muslim inmates. (Id.) There is a system in place for rewarding informants. (Id.) The informants are of questionable backgrounds and have dubious motivations for informing on fellow prisoners. (Id.) PVSP staff members who gathered information from the informants know that many of them have disciplinary problems. (Id.) PVSP nevertheless uses this information and passes it on to the Fresno FBI without advising the FBI that the informants may have ulterior motives. (Id.) Plaintiff cannot present evidence of this because it is confidential. (Id. at 8.)

One inmate has admitted to Muslim inmates that he advised the Marine Corps in writing that Muslim inmates (including Plaintiff) asked how to make bombs. (Compl. at 8.) He did this in the hope that the Marine Corps would provide him with an alibi and say he was wrongly convicted. (Id.) All of these events have occurred at PVSP D-Yard, which is full of emotionally and mentally unstable prisoners who are encouraged by staff to imagine accusations against Muslim inmates. (Compl. at 8.)

PVSP staff has never heard Plaintiff or any other Muslim inmates make anti-American or terrorist-friendly statements. (Compl. at 9.) Over the last three or four years, no Muslim in the D-Yard has been a problem or given any indication of having been radicalized. (Id.)

Muslims at PVSP are constantly denied their right to worship. (Compl. at 9.) They cannot worship without fear of being called "traitors" and "terrorists" or other names. (Id.) They become the subject of FBI files because of their faith. (Id.) There is a general atmosphere of hate which instills fear among Muslims, Plaintiff included. (Id.) Muslims cannot practice their faith without fear of bing harassed, threatened, labeled terrorists, or investigated by the FBI. (Id.) Muslim inmates' families have been questioned or harassed by the FBI. (Id.)

All of the named Defendants, in addition to some unknown individuals, have been involved in this scheme to make Muslim inmates ill at ease at PVSP. (Compl. at 10.)

Defendant McCoy has been a central figure in religious profiling. (Compl. at 10.) Defendant McCoy was involved in having the FBI question Plaintiff and his family, and he has constantly questioned another inmate about Plaintiff being a Muslim. (Id.) Defendant McCoy and Defendant Arrodando have questioned another inmate about Plaintiff. (Id.) Defendant McCoy is on a Muslim witch-hunt. (Id.)

Plaintiff and others are being denied the "freedom of religion and the practice thereof." (Compl. at 11.) Plaintiff and other Muslim inmates practice their religion with the fear of being labeled terrorists and having their families questioned. (Id.) They have permissible religious items removed from their cells. (Id.) They are concerned about being put on watch-lists based on unreliable information. (Id.)

Worshiping under these conditions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and it falls short of RLUIPA standards. (Compl. at 11.) Plaintiff and other inmates at D-Yard cannot worship under these conditions; they fear retaliation. Administrative appeals on the issue have been unsuccessful.*fn2 PVSP staff seem to know what is in the grievances and make it unpleasant for inmates until the grievances are dropped. (Id.) Alternatively, inmates are put into Administrative ...

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