The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; The Wife of Christ, Prosopopoeia et al v. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 25 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; denying 26 Motion for Leave to File; adopting Report and Recommendations re 33 Report and Recommendations. Signed by Judge Algenon L. Marbley on 3/17/2017. (cw)(This document has been sent by regular mail to the party(ies) listed in the NEF that did not receive electronic notification.)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
THE CHRISTIAN SEPARATIST
CHURCH SOCIETY OF OHIO;
THE WIFE OF CHRIST,
PROSOPOPOEIA, et al.,
GARY C. MOHR, et al.,
Case No. 2:15-cv-2757
JUDGE ALGENON L. MARBLEY
Magistrate Judge Deavers
OPINION & ORDER
This matter comes before the Court for consideration of the plaintiffs’ Objection to the
Magistrate Judges’ December January 30, 2017 Report and Recommendation (Doc. 33),
recommending that this Court: (1) grant in part and deny in part the defendants’ motion to
dismiss (Doc. 25); and (2) deny the plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint (Doc. 26).
Upon independent review by the Court, and for the reasons set forth below, the plaintiffs’
Objection is hereby OVERRULED. The Court ACCEPTS and AFFIRMS the Magistrate
Judge’s Report and Recommendation.
The plaintiffs—a dozen or so inmates housed at various institutions run by the Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (“ODRC”)—who refer to themselves collectively
as “The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; The Wife of Christ, in personam”—filed
this Section 1983 lawsuit against Gary Mohr, the Director of ODRC, and a host of other prison
officials, seeking recognition of their purported faith and congregate worship while imprisoned.
(Compl., Doc. 1).
Following an initial screen under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A—which governs prisoners’ civil
rights suits—the Magistrate Judge recommended: (1) dismissing all monetary claims against the
defendants in their official capacities; (2) dismissing certain parties outright; and (3) dismissing
all remaining claims other than one count of an alleged First Amendment violation and one count
of an alleged violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).
(Doc. 4). Both of those claims relate to the plaintiffs’ demand for congregate worship while in
prison—i.e., to their request to attend group worship services with others who share their
religious beliefs. This Court later adopted the magistrate’s report and recommendation following
that initial screen. (Doc. 12).
While the initial screening process played out, the plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint
without having properly sought leave from the court. (Doc. 8). On May 23, 2016, the Court
struck Plaintiffs’ first proposed Amended Complaint. (Doc. 17). The remaining defendants
(ODRC Director Gary Mohr, ODRC Religious Services Administrator Michael Davis, and
ODRC Chief Inspector Roger Wilson) then moved to dismiss the remaining First Amendment
and RLUIPA claims. (Doc. 25). The plaintiffs, for their part, later filed a motion for leave to file
an amended complaint. (Doc. 26).
On January 30, 2017, Magistrate Judge Deavers issued a Report and Recommendation on
both the motion to dismiss and the motion to amend. (Doc. 33). Magistrate Judge Deavers
recommended granting the motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim
but denying the motion with respect to Plaintiffs’ RLUIPA claim. (Id. at PageID 699). She also
recommended denying the plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint, citing futility upon a
renewed motion to dismiss. (Id. at PageID 701). The plaintiffs timely filed an objection to the
magistrate’s report and recommendation. (Doc. 35). The defendants did not object.
II. LEGAL STANDARDS
Upon objection to a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation, this Court must
“make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or
recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b).
Litigants, even those proceeding pro se, must file specific objections to a magistrate’s report and
recommendation. Murphy v. Reed, 22 F. App’x 390, 391 (6th Cir. 2001). Parties who file
“vague, general, or conclusory objections” fail to satisfy this requirement and are deemed to have
“fail[ed] to object” altogether. Cole v. Yukins, 7 F. App’x 354, 356 (6th Cir. 2001).
The defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Under
modern federal pleading standards, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). A complaint will
survive a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff alleges facts that “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face” and that, if accepted as true, are sufficient to “raise a right to relief above
the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007); see also
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although this standard does not require “detailed
factual allegations,” a complaint that offers “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quotation omitted). In assessing the sufficiency and plausibility of a claim, courts “construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476
(6th Cir. 2007). Courts typically hold pro se complaints “to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011). Thus, the
Court must “liberally construe” the plaintiffs’ complaint. Id.
The plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint after the deadline for amending as a
matter of course had passed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). Accordingly, under the appropriate rule,
the Court should freely grant leave to amend if “justice so requires.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2).
Rule 15(a)(2) embodies “a liberal amendment policy.” Brown v. Chapman, 814 F.3d 436, 442
(6th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted). Nevertheless, the Court should deny leave to amend in
appropriate circumstances, including, for example, when “the amendment . . . would be futile”
upon a renewed motion to dismiss. Carson v. U.S. Office of Special Counsel, 633 F.3d 487, 495
(6th Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted).
Plaintiffs raise two objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation.
But first, it’s important to note what Plaintiffs do not object to: the Magistrate’s recommendation
that their First Amendment claim be dismissed as to the remaining defendants, Gary Mohr,
Roger Wilson, and Michael Davis.
(See R&R, Doc. 33, PageID 695-97).
assignment of error to that portion of the Report and Recommendation in Plaintiffs’ Objection,
the Court will ACCEPT and AFFIRM the same.
As to Plaintiffs’ objections: First, they contend that the Magistrate misstated their
requested relief. (Objection, Doc. 35, PageID 707). Plaintiffs wish to clarify that they are
seeking only congregate worship services while in prison—i.e., the ability to worship alongside
prisoners of the same faith, and that they do not seek segregated congregate worship. (Id.).
Second, Plaintiffs argue that the Magistrate improperly recommended against allowing them
leave to amend their complaint. (Id. at PageID 708). Without elaborating, Plaintiffs assert that
they “are not seeking to make redundant, futile efforts, but reasonably believe that they can make
the appropriate corrections” to their complaint. (Id.).
A. The Magistrate Judge Properly Characterized Plaintiffs’ Requested Relief.
In Plaintiffs’ first objection, they contend that the Magistrate Judge misstated their
requested relief as to congregate worship services, arguing as follows:
The Magistrate has state[d] that ‘the Complaint alleges that the Plaintiffs’
request for communal, segregated religious services in prison have gone
unheeded. (Compl. ¶ 8).’ Contrary to what the Magistrate is attempting to
establish, the Plaintiffs have asked for congregate services only under the teaching
and instruction of their specific faith. In other words, non-segregated religious
services. . . .
(Objection, Doc. 35, PageID 707 (citation omitted)). Plaintiffs argue that “the addition of the
word ‘segregated’ prejudiciously [sic] changes [their] standing.” (Id. at PageID 708).
It’s difficult to tell exactly what Plaintiffs object to.
After all, the Magistrate
recommended that the Defendants’ motion to dismiss be denied as to Plaintiffs’ RLUIPA claim
seeking congregate worship services. (R&R, Doc. 33, PageID 699). So Plaintiffs have not been
prejudiced in the traditional sense.
More fundamentally, however, the Magistrate was correct: the Plaintiffs are requesting
segregated congregate worship. ODRC already offers all prisoners the opportunity to engage in
congregate worship alongside Protestants. (See Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 25, PageID 532); see also
Damron v. Jackson, No. 2:09-cv-050, 2011 WL 4402767, at *7 (S.D. Ohio 2011) (Marbley, J.)
(noting, in a similar case involving Christian-Separatist prisoners, that Ohio inmates may
“engage in congregational worship with Protestants”—the closest denomination). So Christian
Separatists can worship alongside other Christian Separatists at those services. Likewise, ODRC
offers prisoners the opportunity to: (1) visit individually with a minister during normal prison
visiting hours; (2) receive religious publications that do not incite violence; and (3) engage in
individual prayer, study, and reflection. (See Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. 25, PageID 532); see also
Damron, 2011 WL 4402767, at *7. So Christian Separatists can practice their faith.
Thus, it seems that Plaintiffs want something more than the opportunity to practice their
faith and to worship alongside others from the same denomination, albeit under the umbrella of a
mainline Protestant service. From the Court’s perspective, Plaintiffs request three forms of
relief: (1) the ability to worship under their chosen beliefs (the beliefs of the Christian Separatist
Church); (2) the ability to worship alongside other inmates of the same denomination
(“congregate worship”); and (3) the ability to worship alongside other inmates of the same
denomination without having to do so with other mainline protestants or other Christian sects.
In other words, Plaintiffs want their own congregate worship services—led and attended by
Christian Separatists and Christian Separatists alone.
This sounds a lot like “segregated
congregate worship,” as the Magistrate Judge so indicated.
Because the Magistrate denied the Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ RLUIPA
claim, and because she accurately characterized the relief sought therein, the Court
OVERRULES Plaintiffs’ objection on this ground.
B. The Magistrate Judge Properly Denied Leave to Amend.
In Plaintiffs’ second objection, they contend that the Magistrate Judge improperly denied
leave to amend their complaint under Rule 15(a)(2), arguing as follows:
The Magistrate denied the Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their pleadings.
The Plaintiffs are pro se litigants and have established colorable claims within
their proposed Amended Complaint that were arguably pled in concise language,
relevant to specific causes of action. Granted the Magistrate still found that the
proposed Amended Complaint failed to meet Civil Rule 8(a)’s requirement.
Nevertheless, the Plaintiffs should be given another opportunity to make
Plaintiffs are not seeking to make redundant, futile efforts, but reasonably
believe that they can make the appropriate corrections that will meet Rule 8(a)’s
Alternatively, if the Plaintiffs are not permitted to amend, the ends of
justice will not be met. Rather Plaintiffs will be prejudiced and deprived of relief
as claims will be barred by the doctrine(s) of res judicata and/or statute of
In short, justice requires that an amendment be permitted so that the spirit
and will of the law rings true; evenhandedly to all of those who trespass its
(Objection, Doc. 35, PageID 708 (citations omitted)).
In her Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Deavers carefully walked through
Plaintiffs’ proposed amended complaint—signaling both where and why it would fail and, thus,
be futile, upon a renewed motion to dismiss. (R&R, Doc. 33, PageID 700-02 (concluding that
“[g]ranting Plaintiffs leave to amend their Complaint to assert such First Amendment claims,
therefore, would be futile because their amended claims would not survive a renewed application
of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard”)).
findings or conclusions.
Plaintiffs have not specifically objected to any of those
Plaintiffs merely argue, in the vaguest terms possible, that their
proposed amended complaint would not be futile. This is the same as “fail[ing] to object”
altogether because the Court has no specific argument to consider. See Cole, 7 F. App’x at 356;
see also Murphy, 22 F. App’x at 391.
Even putting Plaintiffs’ waiver aside, and looking at the proposed amended complaint
with fresh eyes, the Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation. The newly
asserted allegations from the proposed amended complaint would still fail upon a renewed
motion to dismiss because: (1) there is no constitutional right to an effective prison grievance
procedure; (2) there is no constitutional right to having state prison policies and procedures
adhered to; and (3) the proposed amended complaint does not otherwise comply with Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a).
(See R&R, Doc. 33, PageID 700-02 (citations omitted)).
Accordingly, the Court must OVERRULE Plaintiffs’ purported objection on this ground.
For these reasons, the Court ACCEPTS and AFFIRMS Magistrate Judge Deavers’s
Report and Recommendation (Doc. 33), thereby OVERRULING Plaintiffs’ objection
(Doc. 35). Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. 25) is GRANTED IN PART (as to Plaintiffs’
First Amendment claim against Mohr, Wilson, and Davis) and DENIED IN PART (as to
Plaintiffs’ RLUIPA claim). Plaintiffs’ motion for leave to file an amended complaint (Doc. 26)
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Algenon L. Marbley
ALGENON L. MARBLEY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
DATED: March 17, 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?