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Evans v. Brown

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 26, 2017

EDMOND G. BROWN, et al., Defendants.


          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison (“SQSP”) and a practicing Muslim, has filed the instant pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that prison officials at SQSP have denied him the opportunity to participate in the prison's “Ramadan Diet Program, ” in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs and in violation of his constitutional rights and those guaranteed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. Dkt. 1 at 4. He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         In his complaint, Plaintiff names the following Defendants: Governor of the State of California Edmund G. Brown, Jr.; California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDRC”) Secretary Scott Kernan; SQSP Muslim Chaplain Q. Kawsar Hossain; SQSP Appeals Coordinator L. Rangel; and SQSP Correctional Officer C. Koenig. Id. at 5. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as monetary and punitive damages. Id. at 8-10.

         Venue is proper because certain events giving rise to the claims are alleged to have occurred at SQSP, which is located in this judicial district. See 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).


         A. Standard of Review

         A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Legal Claims

         1. Religious Practices Claims

         As mentioned above, Plaintiff is a practicing Muslim incarcerated at SQSP. He has been practicing Muslim since February 9, 2003. As part of his religious beliefs, Plaintiff must eat only Halal food. Because SQSP does not offer Halal food, Plaintiff received a CDCR-issued “Religious Diet Card” granting him access to a vegetarian “Religious Diet” and the “Jewish Kosher” meal plan, because “vegetarian and/or Kosher” food is the only acceptable substitute to eating strictly Halal recognized by his Muslim faith. Dkt. 1 at 5, 7, 14, 20. However, Plaintiff contends that as a result of obtaining these “Religious Diet Card[s]” and attending Jewish Services, Defendants have denied him of his right to participate in the 30-day “Ramadan Meal Plan” because of “[his] Jewish Diet.” Id. at 7, 22.

         In the present complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have denied him of the right to participate in the “Ramadan Meal Program” for the past two years. Id. at 22. Plaintiff has attached to his complaint copies of his requests to participate in the meal program, which include the grievances Plaintiff submitted to Defendants Hossain, Rangel, and Koenig, as well as Defendants' responses and explanations with regards to the decision to deny Plaintiff's request for entry into the Ramadan Meal Program. Id. at 13, 28, 33. As explained by a memorandum authored by SQSP Warden Ron Davis, and subsequently provided to Plaintiff in July 2015, Plaintiff's aforementioned request was denied as follows: “The Religious Diet Program Agreement (CDC 3030A) states you may change your religious diet no more than once each year. It further states that you will eat only those food items served as part of the Religious Diet Program, which you indicated as the Jewish Kosher specific menu.” Id. at 38. Thus, Plaintiff claims that Defendants “determined the Ramadan once a year diet in the month of Ramadan is reserved exclusively for Muslims who did not have a court order[ed] diet.” Id. at 4. He argues that “[t]his religious discrimination is based upon violating Plaintiff's [rights under the] First and Fourtee[nth] Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the [RLUIPA] . . . .” Id.

         Giving it the liberal construction to which it is entitled, the complaint states cognizable claims for violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, First Amendment Establishment Clause, Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, and rights under ...

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