United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
LEONARD C. JEFFERSON, Plaintiff,
IMAM FARID ANSARI, Islamic Chaplain at Rhode Island's Department of Corrections [RIDOC; BARRY WEINER, Assistant Director of Rehabilitative Services at RIDOC; JEFFREY ACETO, then-Deputy Warden now-Warden of RIDOC's Maximum Security Unit; MATTHEW KETTLE, then-Warden of Maximum Security now-Assistant Director of Operations at RIDOC; ASHBEL T. WALL, then-Director of RIDOC; and PATRICIA COYNE FAGUE, Acting-Director of RIDOC, Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
§ 1983 case, brought pro se by a prisoner
serving a life-without-parole sentence at the Adult
Correctional Institutions (“ACI”), has had a long
history before the Court. It began as a sprawling
sixty-five-page, 452-paragraph, nine-Count “Verified
Complaint with Jury Demand, ” most of which was
dismissed in August 2018, ECF No. 27, leaving only
Plaintiff's First Amendment Free Exercise claim that he
has been denied his right freely to practice the Islamic
religion. Jefferson v. Raimondo, C.A. No. 17-439
WES, 2018 WL 3873233, at *3, *18 (D.R.I. Aug. 15, 2018)
(“Jefferson v. Raimondo”). As directed
by the Court, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint
focused on his desire to attend weekly Jumu'ah services
and to engage in certain rituals of Ramadaan and Eid in a
congregate setting. ECF No. 32 (“FAC”).
seeks monetary damages for the deprivation of access to these
religious practices, as well as injunctive relief. It names
various senior officials of Rhode Island Department of
Corrections (“RIDOC”). With respect to the claim
for money damages, Defendants Imam Farid Ansari (the ACI Islamic
chaplain), Barry Weiner (Assistant Director of Rehabilitative
Services) and Warden Jeffrey Aceto are sued in their
individual capacities. With respect to the claim for
injunctive relief, the FAC names the former Warden and
current Assistant Director Matthew Kettle, and the former and
current RIDOC Directors, A.T. Wall and Patricia Coyne-Fague,
who are sued in their official capacities. The FAC's
request for an injunction asks the Court to order the
implementation of a protocol to allow Muslim prisoners to
attend inmate-led weekly Jumu'ah services and to practice
specific rituals associated with Ramadaan and Eid. Plaintiff
supported the FAC's request for an injunction with a
motion for preliminary injunction filed on January 7, 2019.
ECF No. 41.
filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) and
12(b)(6). ECF No. 37. The motion was referred to me for
report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).
the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,
U.S. Const. amend. I, the FAC alleges that RIDOC unreasonably
burdened the sincerely held religious beliefs of Plaintiff, a
Muslim prisoner, during a period of several months after the
ACI unexpectedly lost its Imam and was trying to bring a new
Imam on board, which finally happened in May 2017. FAC
¶¶ 17-26. Then, after Imam Ansari became the
ACI's Muslim chaplain, the FAC alleges that he failed to
conduct services every week in Plaintiff's area of the
ACI because he was leading services in other areas, that
RIDOC officials continued refusing to permit inmate-led
services to be conducted when the Imam was unavailable, and
that RIDOC officials prohibited congregate performance of
“Salatul Maghrib” (the ritual sunset prayer with
prostrations) during 2018 Ramadaan (although Muslim prisoners
were allowed to pray at the dining table and to have special
fast-breaking meals in their cells). Id.
the focus of this report and recommendation is on the FAC,
the Court cannot ignore that, over the period since the
religious matters raised in the FAC have been in issue, based
on guidance from the U.S. Supreme Court, e.g.,
Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U.S. 352, 859 (2015), this Court
has issued a number of decisions addressing religious
practice at the ACI. See, e.g., Jefferson v.
Wall, 2017 WL 6459447, at *1; Harris v. Wall,
217 F.Supp.3d 541, 562 (D.R.I. 2016); Vangel v. Aul,
C.A. No. 15-43L, 2015 WL 5714850, at *6 (D.R.I. June 19,
2015), adopted, C.A. No. 15-43L, 2015 WL 5714855
(D.R.I. Sept. 29, 2015). As the law has evolved, RIDOC has
been appropriately responsive to these decisions, calibrating
its rules and protocols in recognition that, while “the
fact of incarceration and the valid penological objectives of
deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and
institutional security justify limitations on the exercise of
constitutional rights by inmates, ” DeHart v.
Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 50-51 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Pell
v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822-23 (1974)),
“reasonable opportunities must be afforded to all
prisoners to exercise the religious freedom guaranteed by the
First and Fourteenth Amendment.” Cruz v. Beto,
405 U.S. 319, 322 n.2 (1972). For example, in another case
brought by Plaintiff, Jefferson v. Wall, the Court
noted RIDOC's adoption in late 2017 of a new operating
procedure permitting the wearing of the kufi by Muslim
prisoners; based on this policy change, Plaintiff's
motion seeking a preliminary injunction in Jefferson v.
Wall was denied. 2017 WL 6459447, at * 1-2.
filed the FAC in September 2018, a little over three months
after Imam Ansari began as the new ACI Muslim chaplain. FAC
¶ 3. Immediately after he started, and despite
Plaintiff's complaints, the Imam told Plaintiff that he
could not lead Jumu'ah services weekly because of his
duties in other parts of the ACI. Id. ¶ 28.
After Plaintiff submitted the FAC, in January 2019, he filed
a motion for preliminary injunction, which asked for an
interim order addressing the rituals raised in the FAC,
including weekly Jumu'ah services and 2019 Ramadaan and
Eid congregate rituals. ECF No. 41. However, less than two
months later (during which period, no action was taken by the
Court), on February 21, 2019, Plaintiff advised the Court of
his desire to withdraw the motion for preliminary injunction.
ECF No. 48. His representation to the Court is material:
Imam Farid Ansari has recruited community religious
volunteers to conduct weekly Jumu'ah Prayer Services, and
it appears that the Imam is working to create a 2019-Ramadaan
program which includes the observance of all ritual acts of
worship which Plaintiff sought via his motion for a
Id. at 1. In this filing, Plaintiff also represented
that he would resubmit the motion “in the event that
RIDOC prohibits Plaintiff from performing all of the
traditional ritual acts worship, during the 2019 observance
of Ramadaan, that have been observed by prisoners for decades
in other prison systems.” Id. Almost eight
months have passed, yet no motion has been resubmitted. In
reliance on Plaintiff's representations, on August 28,
2019, the Court denied the preliminary injunction motion as
DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
motion to dismiss the FAC focuses on its factual sufficiency.
Citing the Supreme Court's canonical holding in
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-79 (2009), they
argue that the FAC lacks factual allegations (as opposed to
legal conclusions) sufficient to state a plausible claim of a
First Amendment deprivation because it fails to specify a
religious practice Plaintiff was deprived of
“unnecessarily and for no legitimate penological
reason, ” FAC ¶ 48; to the contrary, the FAC
confirms that Plaintiff was broadly afforded the opportunity
to exercise his faith, as the Free Exercise Clause of the
First Amendment requires. Hudson v. Spencer, No.
15-2323, 2018 WL 2046094, at *3 (1st Cir. Jan. 23, 2018).
Defendants point out that the FAC recites RIDOC's many
accommodations to Islamic religious practice, including:
Defendant Weiner's active and ultimately successful
search for a new Imam, FAC ¶¶ 20, 25, 29-30;
Defendant Imam Ansari's willingness to listen to
Plaintiff's religious concerns, id. ¶¶
26-28; the Imam's challenge, with scarce resources, of
balancing the need for services at Maximum Security with the
needs of inmates in other areas of the ACI, id.
¶¶ 28, 31; RIDOC's reliance on the Imam's
religious interpretation of Ramadaan rituals in determining
its approach in 2018, id. ¶ 63; and Defendant
Aceto's communications reminding Plaintiff of his right
during Ramadaan to pray at the dining table and take a
special meal in his cell, id. ¶¶ 23, 50.
as Defendants point out, the FAC is conclusory, replete with
statements such as: “Defendants . . . unnecessarily
deprived Plaintiff of the opportunity to attend weekly
Jumu'ah Prayer Services . . . by acting in manners which
substantially burdened (to the extent of extinguishing)
Plaintiff's Free Exercise right, ” id.
¶ 90; “Defendants . . . unnecessarily deprived
Plaintiff of the opportunity to perform the Iftar . . .
ritual of Ramadaan in 2018 . . . in violation of
Plaintiff's free exercise rights, ” id.
¶ 101; and “Defendants . . . acted intentionally
and with callous disregard for Plaintiff's clearly
established constitutional rights, ” id.
¶¶ 91, 102.
on these arguments, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss the
FAC pursuant to ...