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Steven Anthony Castro, Jr v. Kenny Kailin

January 24, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge



On December 22, 2011, plaintiff Steven Anthony Castro, Jr. ("Plaintiff") filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the "Complaint") against various defendants. For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.*fn1

Congress mandates that district courts initially screen civil complaints filed by a prisoner seeking redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if the Court concludes that the complaint (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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)-(2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).


Plaintiff alleges that two officials at Chuckawalla Valley State Prison ("CVSP"), where Plaintiff is currently incarcerated, violated his Constitutional rights: (1) Kenny Kailin, Community Partnership Manager; and (2) Tim Ochoa, Warden (collectively, "Defendants"). (See Complaint at 3). Plaintiff sues both Defendants in their individual and official *fn2 capacities. (Id.).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully discontinued the Native American sweat lodge ceremony at CVSP in violation of his "First Amendment right to religious freedom and equal protection under the 14th Amendment . . . based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (R.L.U.I.P.A.)." (Complaint at 4). According to Plaintiff, the sweat lodge ceremony is "central" to his religious beliefs. (Id.).

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that on June 28, 2011, Defendant Kailin announced that the prison was discontinuing indefinitely the "Native American Spiritual Program." (Id.). Defendant Kailin explained to Plaintiff that he had several grounds for the decision, including (1) health and safety concerns due to the temperature of the sweat lodge; (2) the lack of a Native American spiritual advisor to supervise the ceremony; (3) his understanding that "talking circles" are a sufficient substitute for the sweat lodge ceremony; (4) the need for instructions from the "Standardized Procedures Unit" ("SPU") on proper sweat lodge procedures; and (5) directions from the warden, Defendant Ochoa, to shut down the program. (Id. at 5-6). Plaintiff asserts that all of these grounds are based on misinformation or are pretextual. (Id.). Defendants were given copies of the CDC Operations Manual and Federal Bureau of Prisons Guidelines for Native American religious programs, but still have not permitted sweat lodge ceremonies to resume. (Id. at 6).

Plaintiff seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief requiring CVSP to "restore the weekly Native American Sweatlodge Ceremony" and the "Native American Spiritual Programs to full capacity"; to "provide [to inmates] a full and continual Native American Spiritual Program" as described in federal prison guidelines; to "appoint [an] overseer of Religious Programs" at CVSP to "monitor and enforce Federal regulations"; and to "audit monies received" by CVSP from federal sources for prisoner religious services. (Id. at 41). Plaintiff does not request monetary damages.


Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint due to defects in pleading. Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1128-29. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, as indicated below.

A. The Claims Against Defendants In Their Individual Capacity Must Be Dismissed

Plaintiff sues Defendants Kailin and Ochoa in both their individual and official capacities. (Complaint at 3). However, Plaintiff seeks only injunctive relief, which only CVSP as an institution can provide. (Id. at 41). A suit against a defendant in his individual capacity "seek[s] to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law. . . . Official-capacity suits, in contrast, generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S. Ct. 3099, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1985) (internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis added); see also Community House, Inc. v. City of Boise, Idaho, 623 F.3d 945, 966-67 (9th Cir. 2010) (an official capacity suit is treated as a suit against the entity). Plaintiff does not seek money damages, which is the relief available from a defendant sued in his individual capacity in a section 1983 action. Rather, ...

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