Staples v. NH State Prison, Warden et al
///MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE 38 MOTION to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Text of Order: I grant in part defendants' motion to dismiss (doc. no. 38) insofar as they seek the dismissal of Counts I and II of Staples' amended complaint. I will address defendants' remaining arguments in a separate Memorandum and Order. So Ordered by Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.(js)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
Case No. 16-cv-33-PB
Opinion No. 2017 DNH 023
NH State Prison, Warden, et al.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Frank Staples is a practitioner of Taoism.
incarcerated at the New Hampshire State Prison from 2011 until
During that time, he claims that he suffered from
harassment by multiple correctional officers because he refused
for religious reasons to shave his beard to conform to the
prison’s beard policy.
The harassment included physical and
mental abuse, and unjustified confinement in the prison’s Secure
Housing Unit, Secure Psychiatric Unit, and Closed Custody Unit.
He also claims that he was repeatedly denied parole because he
refused to shave his beard.
Staples has filed a rambling, vague, and scattershot
complaint against the Prison Warden, the Commissioner of the
Department of Corrections, every member of the Parole Board, the
Prison Chaplin, and 14 other prison employees.
several claims based on the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Person Act (RILUPA) and the federal
He seeks both damages and declaratory relief.
Defendants have responded with a motion to dismiss the entire
complaint for failure to state a claim.
In this Memorandum and Order I address only Staples’ RILUPA
STANDARD OF REVIEW
To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, a plaintiff must make factual allegations sufficient to
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
A claim is
facially plausible if it pleads “factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.”
In deciding a motion to dismiss, I employ a two-step
See Ocasio–Hernández v. Fortuño–Burset, 640 F.3d 1,
12 (1st Cir. 2011).
First, I screen the complaint for
statements that “merely offer legal conclusions couched as fact
or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action.”
Id. (citations, internal quotation marks, and alterations
A claim consisting of little more than “allegations
that merely parrot the elements of the cause of action” may be
Second, I credit as true all non-conclusory
factual allegations and the reasonable inferences drawn from
those allegations, and then determine if the claim is plausible.
The plausibility requirement “simply calls for enough fact
to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence” of illegal conduct.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
“make-or-break standard” is that those allegations and
inferences, taken as true, “must state a plausible, not a merely
conceivable, case for relief.”
Sepúlveda–Villarini v. Dep't of
Educ., 628 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 2010); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level. . . .”).
Staples bases his RLUIPA claims on his contention that
defendants substantially burdened his right to practice his
religion by subjecting him to a pattern of harassment and the
denial of parole for refusing to shave his beard.
mounts a facial attack on the prison’s beard regulation, which
he claims is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recent
decision in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S. Ct. 853 (2015).
respond by arguing that Staples’ RLUIPA claims fail because he
is not entitled to recover damages for a violation of RLUIPA and
lacks standing to seek declaratory relief.
I examine each
argument in turn.
“Although the First Circuit has reserved judgment on the
issue . . . every federal appeals court that has addressed the
issue has decided that RLUIPA does not authorize claims for
damages asserted against defendants sued in their individual
Pabon v. Cheshire Cty. Dep't of Corr., No. 15-CV-
115-LM, 2015 WL 2092808, at *1 (D.N.H. May 5, 2015) (internal
citation omitted); see Washington v. Gonyea, 731 F.3d 143, 145
(2d Cir. 2013); Sharp v. Johnson, 669 F.3d 144, 154 (3d Cir.
2012); Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 189 (4th Cir. 2009);
Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Tex., 560 F.3d 316, 328–29 (5th
Cir. 2009)), aff'd sub nom. Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277
(2011); Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 886–89 (7th Cir. 2009);
Stewart v. Beach, 701 F.3d 1322, 1334-35 (10th Cir. 2012).
court has concurred.
See Pabon, No. 15-CV-115-LM, 2015 WL
2092808, at *1; see also Moseley v. Spencer, No. CV 15-13661LTS, 2016 WL 347305, at *4 (D. Mass. Jan. 27, 2016) (slip
opinion); Cryer v. Spencer, 934 F. Supp. 2d 323, 333 (D. Mass.
2013) (collecting cases).
In response, Staples cites only district court decisions
that do not engage with, and are supplanted by, subsequent well4
reasoned circuit decisions.
Compare Shidler v. Moore, 409 F.
Supp. 2d 1060, 1067 (N.D. Ind. 2006) (assuming without analysis
that damages available under RLUIPA), with Nelson v. Miller, 570
F.3d 868, 889 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[A]s a matter of statutory
interpretation, and to avoid the constitutional concerns that an
alternative reading would entail, we decline to read RLUIPA as
allowing damages against defendants in their individual
I decline to resist the overwhelming weight of case law.
Under RLUIPA, a plaintiff may “obtain appropriate relief
against” government officials.
42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc–2(a); see
But RLUIPA “was enacted pursuant to Congress’
spending power, see 42 U.S.C. § 20000c, which allows the
imposition of conditions, such as individual liability, only on
those parties actually receiving the state funds.”
F.3d at 145.
Analogously to contract law, “non-recipients of
the funds, including individuals who are state officials,
generally cannot be subject to private liability for monetary
damages” for violating conditions to which they did not agree.
Sharp, 669 F.3d at 154.
“‘To decide otherwise would create
liability on the basis of a law never enacted by a sovereign
with the power to affect the individual rights at issue’ — i.e.,
the state receiving the federal funds — and this would ‘raise
serious questions regarding whether Congress had exceeded its
authority under the Spending Clause.’”
Gonyea, 731 F.3d at 146
(internal citations omitted) (quoting Sossamon, 560 F.3d at 329;
Nelson, 570 F.3d at 889).
Thus, “the appropriate relief in
RLUIPA actions is limited to injunctive or declaratory relief to
enforce the statute.”
347305, at *4.
Moseley, No. CV 15-13661-LTS, 2016 WL
Accordingly, Staples may not obtain damages from
defendants in their individual capacities.
Federal courts may not issue a declaratory judgment
“deeming past conduct illegal” where that opinion “would be
Am. Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts v.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (ACLUM), 705 F.3d 44, 53
(1st Cir. 2013).
Rather, “the facts alleged must ‘show that
there is a substantial controversy ... of sufficient immediacy
and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.’”
Id. at 53-54 (quoting Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 402
Staples asserts that he is entitled to a declaratory
judgment because “he is currently on parole and therefore on
conditional release from the prison.”
Doc. No. 40-1.
speculation that Staples might return to prison on a parole
violation does not suffice, and he does not cite legal authority
Moreover, there is no reason to believe
that defendants will fail in the future to comply with Supreme
Court precedent in the unlikely event that Staples is again
incarcerated at the prison at some point in the future.
these reasons, Staples does not allege a sufficiently
substantial, immediate, and live controversy to support his
RLUIPA claim for declaratory relief.
I grant in part defendants’ motion to dismiss (doc. no. 38)
insofar as they seek the dismissal of Counts I and II of
Staples’ amended complaint.
I will address defendants’
remaining arguments in a separate Memorandum and Order.
United States District Judge
February 8, 2017
Donna J. Brown, Esq.
Francis Charles Fredericks, Esq.
Seth Michael Zoracki, Esq.
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