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Hays v. Gastelo

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 24, 2019

BLAIR HAYS, Plaintiff,
J. GASTELO, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff alleges violations to his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion.

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a “. . . short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.


         Plaintiff names the following defendants: (1) J. Gastelo, the prison warden; (2) J. Bonnifield, Community Resource Manager; (3) J. Stout, a correctional officer; (4) John Doe One, a correctional officer; (5) John Doe Two, a correctional officer; (6) John Doe Three, a correctional officer; and (7) Jane Doe; a food manager. The allegations outlined in the complaint may be summarized as follows:

         In 2013, while imprisoned at Calipatria State Prison (Calipatria), Plaintiff received a Religious Meat Alternative (RMA) Identification Card permitting him to receive special meals based on his religious needs. In July 2018, Plaintiff transferred to the California Men's Colony (CMC), but the prison refused to recognize his Calipatria RMA Identification Card. Plaintiff alleges Defendants Stout, John Does One, Two, and Three, refused to serve him religious meals from July 2018 to December 2018 because he was not on the CMC's Institutional Approved Dietary List (IADL), despite his Calipatria RMA Identification Card. Plaintiff did not find out until December 2018 that an appeal might be necessary to gain placement on the IADL. On December 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed an appeal and was placed on the IADL that day.


         Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his First Amendment right to exercise his religion in the following ways: (1) failing to honor the Calipatria RMA Identification Card; (2) requiring new arrival inmates wait thirty days to be placed on the IADL; (3) failing to notify Plaintiff of the thirty-day waiting period; and (4) exceeding the thirty-day waiting period.

         For reasons discussed below, Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable claim against Defendants Stout, John Does, and Jane Doe. The court finds Plaintiff states valid First Amendment claims against Defendants Gastelo and Bonnifield for unconstitutional policies but insufficiently alleges any further claims against them.

         The United States Supreme Court has held that prisoners retain their First Amendment rights, including the right to free exercise of religion. See O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); see also Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). Thus, for example, prisoners have a right to be provided with food sufficient to sustain them in good health and which satisfies the dietary laws of their religion. See McElyea v. Babbit, 833 F.2d 196, 198 (9th Cir. 1987). In addition, prison officials are required to provide prisoners facilities where they can worship and access to clergy or spiritual leaders. See Glittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 4 (3rd Cir. 1970). Officials are not, however, required to supply clergy at state expense. See id. Inmates also must be given a “reasonable opportunity” to pursue their faith comparable to that afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972).

         However, the court has also recognized that limitations on a prisoner's free exercise rights arise from both the fact of incarceration and valid penological objectives. See McElyea, 833 F.2d at 197. For instance, under the First Amendment, the penological interest in a simplified food service has been held sufficient to allow a prison to provide orthodox Jewish inmates with a pork-free diet instead of a completely kosher diet. See Ward v. Walsh, 1 F.3d 873, 877-79 (9th Cir. 1993). Similarly, prison officials have a legitimate penological interest in getting inmates to their work and educational assignments. See Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930, 38 (9th Cir. 2001) (analyzing Muslim inmates' First Amendment challenge to prison work rule).

         While free exercise of religion claims originally arose under the First Amendment, Congress has enacted various statutes in an effort to provide prisoners with heightened religious protection. See Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 994 (9th Cir. 2005). Prior to these congressional efforts, prison free exercise claims were analyzed under the “reasonableness test” set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987); see e.g. O'Lone, 382 U.S. at 349. The first effort to provide heightened protection was the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. However, the Supreme Court invalidated that act and restored the “reasonableness test.” See City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997); see also Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir. 1997) (recognizing that the United States Supreme Court's decision in City of Boerne invalidated RFRA and restored the “reasonableness test” as the applicable standard in free exercise challenges brought by prison inmates).

         Congress then enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000 “. . . in response to the constitutional flaws with RFRA identified in City of Boerne.” Guru Nanak Sikh Soc. of Yuba City v. County of Sutter, 456 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2006). Under RLUIPA, prison officials are prohibited from imposing “substantial burdens” on religious exercise unless there exists (1) a compelling governmental interest and (2) the burden at issue is the least restrictive means of satisfying that interest. See id. at 986. RLUIPA has been upheld by the Supreme Court, which held that RLUIPA's “institutionalized-persons provision was compatible with the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and concluded that RLUIPA ‘alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise.'” Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 994 (quoting Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 2117 (2005)). Congress achieved this goal by replacing the “reasonableness test” articulated in Turner with the “compelling government interest” test codified in RLUIPA at 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). See id.

         It is not clear whether a prisoner must specifically raise RLUIPA in order to have his claim analyzed under the statute's heightened standard. In Alvarez v. Hill, the Ninth Circuit held that, if a complaint contains “factual allegations establishing a ‘plausible” entitlement to relief under RLUIPA, [plaintiff has] satisfied the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” 518 F.3d 1152, 1157 (9th Cir. 2008); but see Henderson v. Terhune, 379 F.3d 709, 715 n.1 (9th Cir. 2004) (declining to express any opinion about whether plaintiff could prevail under RLUIPA because plaintiff brought his claim under the First Amendment only). Therefore, it is possible for a prisoner's complaint to raise both a First Amendment claim and RLUIPA claim based on the same factual allegations. In other words, even if the plaintiff does not specifically invoke the heightened protections of RLUIPA, he ...

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