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Cejas v. Myers

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 10, 2014

ANDREW A. CEJAS, Plaintiff,
W.K. MYERS, et al., Defendants.


DENNIS L. BECK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Andrew Cejas ("Plaintiff") is a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1983. This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for violation of the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") against Defendants Yates, Walker, Myers, McGee, Fisher, Trimble, Foston, Van Leer and Pimentel.

On March 28, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss and motion for more definite statement. Plaintiff filed his opposition on May 19, 2014. Defendants filed their reply, along with evidentiary objections, on May 27, 2014. Plaintiff responded to the evidentiary objections on June 10, 2014. The motion is ready for decision pursuant to Local Rule 230(l).


A. Allegations in Second Amended Complaint

Plaintiff is incarcerated at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. The events at issue occurred while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP").

Plaintiff alleges that section 3210, of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations, requires an institution to make every reasonable effort to provide for the religious and spiritual welfare of all interested inmates, including affording inmates a reasonable accommodation to attend a scheduled religious service.

Plaintiff contends that he arrived at PVSP on August 23, 2007, and was housed in Facility D. In 2008, he was moved to Facility A because of a points increase.

On August 26, 2009, Plaintiff submitted a group appeal because he was not allowed to attend Buddhist services for 30 days while on C-status. The appeal was never answered.

Plaintiff also submitted an appeal in 2010 because he had not been getting his scheduled Buddhist service for years. He alleges that the problem' started when Defendant Chaplain McGee took over and would not show up for scheduled Buddhist services. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant McGee had his own opinions about Native Americans and Buddhists, and refused to show up for scheduled A Facility Buddhist services from 2009 to 2012. As services are not permitted without a chaplain, Plaintiff went for years without having access to the chapel, causing interference with the practice of his religion.

On January 27, 2011, Defendants Myers and Fisher denied the appeal at the First Level, stating that if there is no state chaplain or religious volunteer, they can gather on the recreational yard.

On April 4, 2011, Defendants Trimble and Myers denied the appeal at the Second Level, stating that Plaintiff was allowed to participate in Buddhist services and that there is a staff member designated to assist Buddhist members.

On July 19, 2011, Defendants Van Leer and Foston denied the appeal at the Director's Level, finding that PVSP provided Plaintiff with a thorough response.

On August 9, 2011, Plaintiff submitted a group appeal because he was on C-status again, and for these 120 days, he was denied the right to attend Buddhist services. Plaintiff contends that other religions were allowed to attend religious services while on C-status. He states that Defendant Walker allowed C-status Muslims to attend services and allowed C-status Jewish inmates to attend a holiday service. He also alleges that Defendants continue to allow relatively unsupervised access to the chapel to other inmates.

Defendant Trimble denied the appeal at the Second Level, explaining that Plaintiff was permitted to worship during his allotted program time based on his work group/privilege designation.

On December 29, 2011, Defendant Pimentel and Foston denied the appeal at the Third Level of Review by citing section 3201(a), of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations. Plaintiff contends that Defendants Fisher, Trimble, Foston, Van Leer and Pimentel knew of the violations and were in a position to correct them, but failed to do so.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Yates created and enforced the policy that prohibits C-status prisoners from attending religious services. Plaintiff states that Defendant Yates revised PVSP operations procedure number 107 in October 2009. The change addressed program modification when there is insufficient staff to fill all vacancies and directed that religious services shall continue as scheduled whenever medical, mental health and dental services are provided as scheduled. Contrary to OP 107, Facility A is denied chapel access while on modified program. Defendant Walker enforces the policy on A yard. He believes that an assertion of "security concern" is insufficient to prohibit C status prisoners from attending religious services.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Myers oversees all religious programs and approves chapel schedules. She also reviewed Plaintiff's appeal but did not correct the issues.

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff alleges violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and RLUIPA.

B. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)) (quotation marks omitted); Conservation Force v. Salazar , 646 F.3d 1240, 1241-42 (9th Cir. 2011); Moss v. U.S. Secret Service , 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The Court must accept the well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Daniels-Hall v. National Educ. Ass'n , 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010); Sanders v. Brown , 504 F.3d 903, 910 (9th Cir. 2007); Huynh v. Chase Manhattan Bank , 465 F.3d 992, 996-97 (9th Cir. 2006); Morales v. City of Los Angeles , 214 F.3d 1151, 1153 (9th Cir. 2000). Further, although the pleading standard is now higher, the Ninth Circuit has continued to emphasize that prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are still entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor. Wilhelm v. Rotman , 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. May 25, 2012); Watison v. Carter , 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); Hebbe v. Pliler , 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

C. Analysis


Defendants contend that Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim must be dismissed because he cannot state a RLUIPA claim for damages against state officials in their individual capacities. As Plaintiff's requests for injunctive relief against Defendants in their official capacities were dismissed pursuant to the January 2, 2014, screening order, Defendants argue that the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the claim.

Defendants are correct that this Court dismissed Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief because Plaintiff was no longer at the institution where the events complained of occurred. ECF No. 17, at 6. Moreover, pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, Plaintiff cannot sue Defendants for damages in their official capacity. Aholelei v. Dept. of Public Safety , 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).

Therefore, this leaves Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim proceeding as a claim for damages against Defendants in their individual capacity. Subsequent to the parties' briefing, the Ninth Circuit definitively held that a RLUIPA claim may not be maintained against prison officials in ...

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