RUFFIN v. HINKLEY et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION re 11 Amended Complaint filed by DANIEL ONEIL RUFFIN, 13 Supplement to Amended Complaint filed by DANIEL ONEIL RUFFIN. Objections to R&R due by 9/8/2017. By MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOHN C. NIVISON. (CWP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
DANIEL ONEIL RUFFIN,
JOHN HINKLEY, et al.,
RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING AMENDED COMPLAINT
PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e), 1915A
In this action, Plaintiff Daniel Ruffin, an inmate presently incarcerated at the Maine
State Prison, alleges Defendants discriminated against him based on his religion, race, and
grievance activity, while he was incarcerated at the Knox County Jail.
Plaintiff’s original complaint was the subject of a prior order that dismissed some,
but not all, of the claims in Plaintiff’s complaint.
(Order Affirming and Adopting
Recommended Decision, ECF No. 19; see also Recommended Decision After Screening
Complaint, ECF No. 10.) Before the Court arranged for service of Plaintiff’s complaint,
Plaintiff filed motions to amend on June 8, 2017, and on June 15, 2017. (ECF Nos. 11,
13.) Plaintiff’s original complaint, therefore, has not been served. The Court construed
the two motions as one motion to amend and granted the motions “as a matter of course”
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15. (ECF Nos. 15, 16.)
In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff’s
amended complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff’s
amended complaint is subject to screening because he is “a prisoner seek[ing] redress from
a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. §
In its prior decision, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s claim related to the diet served
to Plaintiff at the Knox County Jail and dismissed Plaintiff’s due process claim regarding
the prison grievance process. The Court authorized Plaintiff to proceed on the following
claims: (1) a claim under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause, based on
allegations of disadvantageous treatment of Muslims as compared to Christians with
respect to the availability of religious items and programming; and (2) a claim of
discrimination in prison housing. (ECF No. 19.)
Through his amendments, Plaintiff introduces new allegations to support his claims
that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of religion and retaliated against
him on the basis of grievance activity. He evidently also attempts to assert a claim based
on his alleged lack of access to the courts.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure
meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing
an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss
the case at any time if the court determines,” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or
malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance
of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of
answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).
In addition to the review contemplated by § 1915, Plaintiff’s amended complaint is
subject to screening under the Prison Litigation Reform Act because Plaintiff currently is
incarcerated and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(a), (c). The § 1915A screening requires courts to “identify cognizable claims or
dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous,
malicious, or fails to state a claim …; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be
granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the
benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640
F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Although a pro se plaintiff’s complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is
“not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a
claim”, Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in
federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted
unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the
defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
First Motion to Amend
In the first motion to amend, Plaintiff repeated claims previously asserted in his
complaint,2 and he made the following additional assertions.
Access to court.
According to Plaintiff, he should have been able to
commence this litigation in January 2017, rather than in April 2017, but the complaint he
attempted to file in January was not mailed by Defendants Hinkley and Norweg, allegedly
because they were upset as the result of Plaintiff’s grievance activity. (ECF No. 11 ¶¶ 7 –
Inadequate diet during Ramadan. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Sheaff
violated Plaintiff’s rights under the Eighth Amendment because, during the first week of
Ramadan, Defendant Sheaff provided Plaintiff with only two meals per day, rather than
three. Plaintiff also states that the two meals were “cold.” (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff maintains
the service of the meals in this way was an “on the spot” policy that Defendant Sheaff
should have known was unconstitutional. (Id. ¶ 11.) On one occasion, Plaintiff refused
his morning meal. (Id. ¶ 13.)
Second Motion to Amend
In his second motion to amend, Plaintiff repeated certain claims and included the
following new allegations.
The facts set forth herein are derived from the amendments set forth in Plaintiff’s motions to amend.
As to the claims the Court previously dismissed, Plaintiff has repeated the claim related to service of pork,
but he has not alleged facts that would state an actionable claim. Plaintiff’s first motion to amend does not
reassert the grievance-related due process claim.
Discriminatory / retaliatory transfer. According to Plaintiff, in June 2017,
Defendant Hinkley arranged for Plaintiff’s transfer from the Knox County Jail because
Defendant Hinkley did not want to accommodate the religious practices of Muslim
prisoners.3 (ECF No. 13 ¶¶ 9, 23.) Defendants Heath and Palmer gathered Plaintiff’s
property for the transfer, but refused to give Plaintiff his religious items to take with him.
Inadequate diet during Ramadan. Plaintiff revised his allegations regarding
the receipt of two meals per day. Plaintiff asserted that he received two meals per day “for
3 1/2 days,” not for an entire week. (Id. ¶ 12.)
Retaliatory write up. Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant Heath wrote up
Plaintiff for refusing an order issued by Defendant Palmer. Plaintiff asserts the write up
was intended as retaliation for his grievance activity, and that he never engaged in the
misconduct for which he was charged. (Id. ¶¶ 17 – 19.) Plaintiff contends the charge was
then cited as justification for the refusal to provide him housing in minimum security.
In the prior recommended decision, the Court set forth the applicable standards for
claims asserted under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000
(RLUIPA or Act), the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Previously, the Court determined that Plaintiff is entitled to proceed on his claims
regarding the denial of religious items and the denial of minimum security housing, but
Evidently, Plaintiff was transferred to the Cumberland County Jail.
that his allegations concerning the service of pork did not state an actionable claim.4 Based
on that decision, Plaintiff can proceed on the claims asserted under the Fourteenth
Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process
Clause, which incorporates the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.
Additionally, the Court determined that Plaintiff has stated a viable claim under RLUIPA.
Through his amended pleadings, Plaintiff attempts to assert claims based on his lack
of access to court, inadequate meals for three and one half days, discriminatory/retaliatory
transfer, and a retaliatory write up.
Access to court
Prisoners have a right under the United States Constitution to meaningful access to
the courts. “The right of access is a discrete, constitutional right, derived from various
constitutional sources [including] the due process clause, the privileges and immunities
clause, and the First Amendment.” Simmons v. Dickhaut, 804 F.2d 182, 183 (1st Cir. 1986)
(per curiam) (citations omitted). In such cases, the “role of the courts [is] to provide relief
to claimants, … who have suffered, or will imminently suffer, actual harm.” Lewis v.
Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996). In other words, a court’s responsibility is to address the
claims in which prisoners allege the existence of conditions that have actually denied or
will imminently deny “a reasonably adequate opportunity to present claimed violations of
Plaintiff’s amended pleadings repeat the allegations regarding the service of pork, but the pleadings do
not materially modify the claim to overcome the deficiencies previously addressed. For that reason, there
is no further discussion of the claim regarding the service of pork. The Court dismissed the due process
claim related to the prison grievance process at the Knox County Jail. Plaintiff has not reasserted the due
fundamental constitutional rights to the courts.” Id. at 351 (quoting Bounds v. Smith, 430
U.S. 817, 825 (1977)). See also Bourdon v. Loughren, 386 F.3d 88, 92 (2d Cir. 2004).
Even if Defendant Norweg intentionally caused a three-month delay in the filing of
Plaintiff’s complaint, insofar as Plaintiff has subsequently amended his complaint and has
otherwise not alleged facts to suggest he has been prejudiced by the alleged delay, Plaintiff
has not asserted an actionable access to court claim.
Adequacy of meals
Plaintiff’s claim regarding the adequacy of the meals he received for three and one-
half days is assessed under the Eighth Amendment Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause.
“It is undisputed that the treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under
which [the prisoner] is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment.”
Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993).
“Undue suffering, unrelated to any
legitimate penological purpose, is considered a form of punishment proscribed by the
Eighth Amendment.” Kosilek v. Spencer, 774 F.3d 63, 82 (1st Cir. 2014) (citing Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103 (1976)). Under the Eighth Amendment, prison conditions
cannot be inhumane, but they need not be comfortable. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825,
832 (1970). Cruel and unusual punishment consists of the denial of “the minimal civilized
measure of life’s necessities” assessed based on “the contemporary standard of decency.”
Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). “Conditions that might be deemed cruel
and unusual if they were permanent features of a prisoner’s life, may not offend the
Constitution if they are imposed only temporarily.” Cookish v. Commissioner, N.H. Dep’t
of Corr., 980 F.2d 721 (1st Cir. 1992).
The First Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the dismissal of an Eighth
Amendment claim based on the denial of five meals, not in succession, observing that
“occasionally missing a meal is entirely consistent with the realities of modern life.”
Barnett v. Commissioner, 187 F.3d 621, 1999 WL 529458, at *2 (1st Cir. June 17, 1999)
(unpublished table opinion).
As explained by the Western District of New York:
The Eighth Amendment “require[s] that prisoners be served nutritionally
adequate food that is prepared and served under conditions which do not
present an immediate danger to the health and wellbeing of the inmates who
consume it.” Robles v. Coughlin, 725 F.2d 12, 15 (2d Cir.1983). “While no
court has held that denial of food is a per se violation of a prisoner’s Eighth
Amendment rights, under certain circumstances a substantial deprivation ...
may well be recognized as being of constitutional dimension.” Id. (citations
omitted). A substantial deprivation of food is one that is sufficient to create
a serious danger to the inmate’s health. See, e.g., Beckford v. Portuondo, 151
F. Supp. 2d 204, 213 (N.D.N.Y. 2001) (denying summary judgment of
Eighth Amendment claim alleging deprivation of two of three meals per day
for eight days); and Moss v. Ward, 450 F. Supp. 591, 596 – 97 (W.D.N.Y.
1978) (holding denial of all food for four days as punishment for breaking a
prison disciplinary rule violated Eighth Amendment). Significantly, courts
within the Second Circuit have consistently held the deprivation of two meals
is de minimus and, thus, insufficient to establish a substantial deprivation
creating a serious danger to an inmate’s health so as to support an Eighth
Amendment claim. See, e.g., Benjamin v. Kooi, 2010 WL 985844, at * 11
(N.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2010) (missing two or three meals did not “deprive
[plaintiff] of the minimal measures of necessities required for civilized
living”), report and recommendation adopted, 2010 WL 985823 (N.D.N.Y.
Mar. 17, 2010); Waring v. Meachum, 175 F. Supp. 2d 230, 240 – 41 (D.
Conn. 2001) (holding no Eighth Amendment violation where inmates missed
one or two meals in absence of any indication that future meals were also
Jean-Laurent v. Los, No. 1:12-CV-00132, 2015 WL 1015383, at *9 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 9,
2015), appeal dismissed (July 6, 2015). The Seventh Circuit analyzed the issue similarly:
In some circumstances, a prisoner’s claim that he was denied food may
satisfy the objective element but, as the Seventh Circuit has held, the denial
of food is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment. Rather, a district
court “must assess the amount and duration of the deprivation.” Reed v.
McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 1999). See generally Wilson v. Seiter,
501 U.S. 294, 304 (1991) (it would be an Eighth Amendment violation to
deny a prisoner an “identifiable human need such as food”); Sanville v.
McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 734 (7th Cir. 2001) (withholding food from an
inmate can, in some circumstances, satisfy the first Farmer prong); Talib v.
Gilley, 138 F.3d 211, 214 n. 3 (5th Cir. 1998) (noting that denial of one out
of every nine meals is not a constitutional violation; Cooper v. Sheriff of
Lubbock Cnty., 929 F.2d 1078 (5th Cir. 1991) (failure to feed a prisoner for
twelve days is unconstitutional); Cunningham v. Jones, 567 F.2d 653, 669
(6th Cir. 1977), app. after remand, 667 F.2d 565 (1982) (feeding inmates
only once a day for 15 days, would constitute cruel and unusual punishment
only if it “deprive[s] the prisoners concerned ... of sufficient food to maintain
Hall v. Sutton, No. 3:11-CV-00446, 2012 WL 407244, at *5 (S.D. Ill. Feb. 8, 2012)
(concluding that providing two meals totaling 1000 calories per day for an entire month
met the objectively serious prong of the Farmer standard).
Here, Plaintiff has alleged he received two meals each day instead of three over the
course of three and one-half days. One day, he refused a morning meal. Plaintiff’s
allegations do not describe denial of the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities.
See, e.g., Berry v. Brady, 192 F.3d 504, 507 (5th Cir. 1999) (“Even on a regular, permanent
basis, two meals a day may be adequate [under the Eighth Amendment].”); White v.
Gregory, 1 F.3d 267 (4th Cir. 1993) (providing prisoners two meals a day on weekends
and holidays, even though three meals were served during the week, did not rise to the
level of an Eighth Amendment violation); Cunningham v. Jones, 667 F.2d 565 (6th Cir.
1982) (one meal per day for fifteen consecutive days did not violate the Eighth Amendment
where the one meal provided sufficient nutrition to sustain normal health for that time
period). Plaintiff thus has not asserted an actionable Eighth Amendment claim.
Discrimination / Retaliation
Plaintiff’s remaining amended allegations involve the transfer of Plaintiff to another
facility, allegedly to avoid the need to accommodate Islamic religious practice and/or to
retaliate against grievance activity, and a retaliatory false write up. The transfer-related
allegations essentially provide further factual support of Plaintiff’s First Amendment,
Equal Protection, and RLUIPA claims, and the write-up related allegations similarly
support Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim. The supplemental allegations, therefore, can
be incorporated into the claims on which the Court previously authorized Plaintiff to
Based on the foregoing analysis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(a), I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff’s claims regarding access to the
courts and the denial of adequate meals. If the Court accepts the recommendation, service
on Defendants Warren Heath, Dennis Palmer, John Hinkley, Cynthia Gardner, and
Timothy McFarland would be appropriate.
A party may file objections to those specified portions of a magistrate
judge's report or proposed findings or recommended decisions entered
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for which de novo review by the district
court is sought, together with a supporting memorandum, within fourteen
(14) days of being served with a copy thereof.
Failure to file a timely objection shall constitute a waiver of the right
to de novo review by the district court and to appeal the district court's order.
/s/ John C. Nivison
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated this 25th day of August, 2017.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?