MITCHELL v. CICCHI et al
OPINION filed. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 3/6/2014. (eaj)
*NOT FOR PUBLICATION*
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No. 13-5048 (PGS)
EDMOND C. CICCHI, et al.,
MICHAEL MITCHELL, Plaintiff pro se
Middlesex County Adult Correction Center
New Brunswick, NJ 08903
SHERIDAN, District Judge:
Plaintiff Michael Mitchell (“Plaintiff’), a pre-trial detainee currently confined at Middlesex
County Adult Correction Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action informa
Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant Plaintiffs application to
proceed informapauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court to file
At this time, the Court must review the complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2) and
1915A to determine whether itshould be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune from such relief.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the
complaint should be dismissed at this time.
Plaintiff brings this civil rights action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983,1 against Defendants
Edmond cicchi; Joyce Pierre; and Robert Grover. The following factual allegations are taken
from the complaint and are accepted for purposes of this screening only. The Court has made no
findings as to the veracity of Plaintiff’s allegations.
Plaintiff, a Muslim, allges that Defendants Pierre and Grover are preventing him from
participating in the jail’s August 10, 2013 “EID Festival,” which is a part of the Muslim faith.
¶ 6.) Defendants have informed Plaintiff that he is not able to participate in the festival
because of his maximum security status, however Plaintiff states that he has previously attended
(Id.) Moreo’er, Plaintiff states that he has previously attended “Juilah” and
“Haleel” services, which are held in the same room, with the same leader, as the festival. (Id.)
Plaintiff is seeking injunctive and monetary relief.
A. Legal Standard
1. Standards for a Sua Sponte Dismissal
Per the Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134,
§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66
to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996) (“PLRA”), district courts must review complaints in those civil actions
Plaintiff identifies several other statutes under which he purports to raise claims: 42 U.S.C. §
2000bb; 42 U.S.C. §2000A-2, A-3; 28 U.S.C. § 1343; 42 U.S.C. § 1988, 1985, 1986. The
Supreme Court has found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, is
unconstitutional as applied to state and local governments because it exceeded Congress’ power
under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. See City ofBoerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct.
2157, 138 L.Ed.2d 624 (1997);Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sec ‘y of US. Dep ‘t ofHealth
and Human Serv., 724 F.3d 377, 408, n.22 (3d Cir. 2013). Any claim Plaintiff intended to raise
under RFRA will be dismissed with prejudice. With regard to the other statutes, Plaintiff does not
provide any further information that would allow this Court to determine Plaintiff’s specific causes
of action. As such, any claims Plaintiff intended to raise under those statutes are dismissed
in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis, see 28 U.S.C.
against a governmental employee or entity, see 28 U.S.C.
respect to prison conditions, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B), seeks redress
§ 1915A(b), or brings a claim with
§ 1997e. The PLRA directs district courts to sua sponte
dismiss any claim that is frivolous, is malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. This action is
subject to suasponte screening or dismissal under 28 u.s.c.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A because
Plaintiff is proceeding as an indigent and is a prisoner.
According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, “a pleading that offers
‘labels or conclusions’ or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To
survive sua sponte screening for failure to state a claim the complaint must allege “sufficient
factual matter” to show that the claim is facially plausible. Fowler v. UPMS Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Belmont v. MB mv. Partners, Inc., 708 F.3d 470, 483 n. 17 (3d
Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
Moreover, while pro se pleadings are liberally
construed, ‘pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.”
Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, In., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).
Section 1983 Actions
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 for certain violations of his
“The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
191 5(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same a that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6).” Schreane v. Seana, 506 F. App’x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v.
Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)); Mitchell v. Beard, 492 F. App’x 230, 232 (3d Cir.
2012) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App’x 159, 162 (3d
Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
constitutional rights. Section 1983 provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of
the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of
any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be
liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress
Thus, to state a claim for relief under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution or 1aws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation
was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988); Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).
The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....” U.S. Const. amend. I. The
Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits prison officials from denying an inmate “a
reasonable opportunity of pursuing his faith.” See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 & n. 2 (1972).
Secular beliefs are not protected by the Free Exercise Clause, and “[o]nly beliefs which are both
sincerely held and religious in nature are protected under the First Amendment.”
Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 251 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
Although “prisoners do not forfeit all constitutional protections,” it is settled that “[t]he fact
of confinement as well as the legitimate goals and policies of the penal institution limits these
retained constitutional rights.” Bell v. Wc4fIsh, 441 U.S. 520, 546 (1979). Moreover, in deciding
an inmate’s First Amendment challenge, a court must recognize that “judgments regarding prison
security ‘are peculiarly within the province and professional expertise of corrections officials, and,
in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated
their response to these considerations, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in
such matters.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 86(1987) (quotingPell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817,
827 (1974)). Prison administrators, “who are actually charged with and trained in the running of
the particular institution under examination” are the best arbiters of the need for specific prison
regulations to maintain institutional safety and promote prisoner rehabilitation. Bell, 441 U.S. at
562; see also Fell, 417 U.S. 817, 827 (1974) (courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment
unless officials exaggerate the legitimacy of the interest behind the regulation). To guarantee due
deference is shown to prison officials, courts examine the constitutionality of prison regulations
using a reasonableness standard set forth in Turner, 482 U.S. 78. “[W]hen a prison regulation
impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to
legitimate penological interests” 482 U.S. at 89. Turner requires courts to weigh four factors in
determining reasonableness: “whether the regulation has a ‘valid, rational connection’ to a
legitimate governmental interest; whether alternative means are open to inmates to exercise the
asserted right; what impact an accommodation of the right would have on guards and inmates and
prison resources; and whetherthere are any ‘ready alternatives’ to the regulation.” Overton v.
Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 132 (2003) (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89—91); see also Fraise v.
Terhune, 283 F.3d 506 (3d Cir. 2002).
In O’Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 96 L.Ed.2d 282 (1987), Muslim
inmates challenged a New Jersey classification regulation which prohibited inmates assigned to
outside work details from returning to the prison during the day except in the case of an emergency
on Free Exercise grounds because it prevented Muslims assigned to outside work details from
attending Juma services on Fridays.
The Supreme Court rejected the Free Exercise claim,
deferring to the determination ofprison administrators that a rule preventing inmates from returning
from outside work details was ationa1ly related to security and rehabilitative concerns relating to
There are, of course, no alternative means of attending Jumu’ah; respondents’
religious beliefs insist that it occur at a particular time. But the very stringent
requirements as to the time at which Jumu’ah may be held may make it
extraordinarily difficult,for prison officials to assure that every Muslim prisoner is
able to attend that service. While we in no way minimize the central importance of
Jumu’ah to respondents, we are unwilling to hold that prison officials are required
by the Constitution to sacrifice legitimate penological objectives to that end.
Id. at 351—52; see also Fraise v. Terhune, 383 F.3d 506 (3d Cir. 2002) (rejecting inmates’ free
exercise challenge to regulation designating Five Percent Nation as a security threat group and
directing members’ confinement in a security threat group unit); Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212,
218 (3d Cir. 2003) (rejecting prisoners’ free exercise claim and finding “that providing vegetarian
meals, rather than Halal meals with meat, is rationally related to the legitimate penological interests
in simplified food service, security, and staying within the prison’s budget”).
Due to Plaintiffs maximum security classification, some limitation on attendance at
religious services appears to be rationally related to prison security concerns. Though Plaintiff
alleges that he has previously attended prayer services and even the EID festivals themselves
without incident, Plaintiff does not state, and it is not clear from the complaint, whether Plaintiff has
attended the prayer services and previous festivals while having a maximum security classification.
As a result, the nature of Plaintiff’s claim is unclear to the Court. Specifically, it is not clear
whether Plaintiff is alleging that it is a violation of his rights for all maximum security inmates to be
denied participation in the EID festival, or whether he is arguing that his rights are being violated
because he has previously been permitted to participate while having a maximum security status but
is now being denied access. Therefore, the Court will dismiss the complaint without prejudice at
this time under Iqbal. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Plaintiff will be granted leave to file an
amended complaint to clarify his claim.
For the reasons stated above, the complaint will be dismissed in its entirety for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §ss 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and
1915A(b)(1). However, because it is conceivable that Plaintiff may be able to supplement his
pleading with facts sufficient to overcome the deficiencies noted herein, the Court will grant
Plaintiff leave to move to re-open this case and to file an amended complaint.
Peter G. Sheridan, U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff should note that when an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint no longer
performs any function in the case and “cannot be utilized to cure defects in the amended
[complaint], unless the relevant portion is specifically incorporated in the new [complaint].” 6
Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1476 (2d ed. 1990) (footnotes omitted).
An amended complaint may adopt some or all of the allegations in the original complaint, but the
identification of the particular allegations to be adopted must be clear and explicit. Id. To avoid
confusion, the safer course is to file an amended complaint that is complete in itself. Id.
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