HARRIS v. HOLMES
OPINION FILED. Signed by Judge Noel L. Hillman on 8/7/17. (js)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
CHRISTOPHER HOLMES, et al.,
SOUTH WOODS STATE PRISON
215 BURLINGTON ROAD SOUTH
BRIDGETON, NJ 08302
Appearing pro se
GREGORY R. BUENO
NICOLE ELIZABETH ADAMS
SUZANNE MARIE DAVIES
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
25 MARKET STREET
P.O. BOX 112
TRENTON, NJ 08625
On behalf of Defendants
HILLMAN, District Judge
Plaintiff, Gary Harris, appearing pro se, is in the custody
of the New Jersey Department of Corrections and currently
incarcerated at South Woods State Prison (“SWSP”).
claims that Defendants have violated his rights under the First
and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution by not
providing him with hot meals and adequate food, failing to
accommodate sufficient prayer time and provide prayer oil,
preventing him from wearing religious attire, and harassing and
discriminating against Muslim inmates. 1
Pending before the Court is Plaintiff’s motion for a
temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
Plaintiff asks that this Court enjoin the implementation of
SWSP’s new policy regarding the issuance of religious oils.
February 2016, Plaintiff sent SWSP administration a proposal on
behalf of the Muslim community (self-named “MECCA,” which stands
for Muslims Engaged in Cognitive Community Awareness) requesting
that MECCA be permitted to sell religious oils in order to
purchase supplies for classes, prayer rugs, and food for
On December 22, 2016, SWSP sent the inmate community a memo
concerning religious oils.
The memo provided that effective
January 1, 2017, inmates who had made a declaration of faith
were authorized to purchase religious oils.
The conditions for
the purchase of religious oils included: (1) all religious oils
Because Plaintiff has brought claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights, this
Court has jurisdiction of this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1331 and 1343.
must be approved by the chaplain supervisor; (2) approved
religious oils were to be purchased from the institutional
commissary in 1/2 bottles for the price of $2.81; (3) only one
bottle may be purchased at a time, and no more than two per
month; and (4) prior to receiving a second bottle, the inmate
must submit the empty bottle to the commissary staff to indicate
that the previous bottle has been utilized.
(Docket No. 52 at
Plaintiff argues that the religious oils policy should not
be implemented because it would negatively affect Muslims at
Plaintiff contends that because all inmates of any
declared faith may purchase the oils, it would preclude MECCA
from obtaining revenue to fund its religious needs, particularly
Halal food trays.
Plaintiff is also concerned with sanitation
of the oils and cross-contamination, as well as an overburdening of the chaplaincy staff with an influx of religious
In short, Plaintiff argues that because SWSP did
not adopt MECCA’s proposal instead of its own policy,
irreparable harm to the Muslim inmate population will occur in
the form of reduced revenue, sanitation issues, and overburdened staff.
Federal Civil Procedure Rule 65 governs a party’s request
for temporary restraints and preliminary injunctions.
obtain a preliminary injunction the moving party must show as a
prerequisite: (1) a reasonable probability of eventual success
in the litigation, and (2) that it will be irreparably injured .
. . if relief is not granted. . . .
In addition, the district
court, in considering whether to grant a preliminary injunction,
should take into account, when they are relevant, (3) the
possibility of harm to other interested persons from the grant
or denial of the injunction, and (4) the public interest.”
Reilly v. City of Harrisburg, 858 F.3d 173, 176 (3d Cir. 2017)
(internal alterations and citation omitted).
“A movant for
preliminary equitable relief must meet the threshold for the
first two ‘most critical’ factors: it must demonstrate that it
can win on the merits (which requires a showing significantly
better than negligible but not necessarily more likely than not)
and that it is more likely than not to suffer irreparable harm
in the absence of preliminary relief.”
Id. at 179.
gateway factors are met, a court then considers the remaining
two factors and determines in its sound discretion if all four
factors, taken together, balance in favor of granting the
requested preliminary relief.”
(further explaining, “How
strong a claim on the merits is enough depends on the balance of
the harms: the more net harm an injunction can prevent, the
weaker the plaintiff's claim on the merits can be while still
supporting some preliminary relief.” (quotations and citation
In the instance where a prison inmate seeks injunctive
relief, the “relief must be narrowly drawn, extend no further
than necessary to correct the harm the court finds requires
preliminary relief, and be the least intrusive means necessary
to correct that harm.”
18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2).
Where an inmate
seeks prospective relief, “The court shall not grant or approve
any prospective relief unless the court finds that such relief
is narrowly drawn, extends no further than necessary to correct
the violation of the Federal right, and is the least intrusive
means necessary to correct the violation of the Federal right.
The court shall give substantial weight to any adverse impact on
public safety or the operation of a criminal justice system
caused by the relief.”
Id. § 3626(a)(1).
Here, Plaintiff has not articulated how the implementation
of SWSP’s religious oils policy would violate his constitutional
rights such that the Court could find that he is likely to
prevail on his constitutional claims.
In his complaint,
Plaintiff asserts claims for violations of his First Amendment
right to the free exercise of religion and his Fourteenth
Amendment right to equal protection.
The First Amendment
prohibits the government from burdening the free exercise of
religion, but the First Amendment is only implicated if the
governmental burden on religion is “substantial,” which
essentially means that the state may not compel an individual to
act contrary to his religious beliefs.
Anspach v. City of
Philadelphia, Dept. of Public Health, 503 F.3d 256, 272 (3d Cir.
2007) (citations omitted).
To state an equal protection claim,
a plaintiff must allege that he was treated differently than
other similarly situated inmates, and that this different
treatment was the result of intentional discrimination based on
his membership in a protected class, such as religious
Mack v. Warden Loretto FCI, 839 F.3d 286, 305 (3d
Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).
The SWSP policy permits inmates, including the Muslim
population, to purchase and use religious oils.
does not compel Plaintiff to act contrary to his religious
beliefs, and it does not treat Plaintiff differently than
inmates of other religions.
The fact that SWSP did not adopt
MECCA’s proposal that MECCA sell oils to earn revenue to
purchase religious food and supplies for Muslim inmates does not
evidence a violation of Plaintiff’s or other Muslim inmates’
rights to exercise their religion, and it does not show that
they are treated less favorably. 2
Moreover, Plaintiff’s mere
speculation that the policy will result in sanitation issues and
will over-burden chaplaincy staff is insufficient to establish
Indeed, it could be said that if SWSP adopted the MECCA
proposal, that would create constitutional violations where one
religion is placed in a superior position at the expense of
See Spacemax Intern. LLC v. Core Health &
Fitness, LLC, 2013 WL 5817168, at *2 (D.N.J. 2013) (citing Grupo
Mexicano De Desarrollo v. Alliance Bond Fund, 527 U.S. 308, 327–
30 (1999)) (“ Mere speculation as to an injury that will result,
in the absence of any facts supporting such a claim, is
insufficient to demonstrate irreparable harm.”).
Thus, because Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the
essential elements to warrant temporary restraints and
preliminary injunctive relief against SWSP in its implementation
of the religious oils policy, his motion must be denied.
result is further supported by the fact that it has been eight
months since the SWSP policy went into effect, and Plaintiff has
not provided any supplementary materials to the Court to show
that his concerns have materialized.
An appropriate Order will
Date: August 7, 2017
At Camden, New Jersey
s/ Noel L. Hillman
NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
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