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PINEDA-MORALES v. DE ROSA

July 6, 2005.

BYRON PINEDA-MORALES, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES DE ROSA, III, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff, a federal prison inmate, brings suit seeking monetary and injunctive relief for violations of his statutory and constitutional rights to practice religion in accordance with the Apostolic Faith Church. Defendants Warden Charles De Rosa, chaplains Ibrahim Aziz, Phil Harden, Heidi Kugler, and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on all claims. Defendants argue Plaintiff named improper parties, failed to exhaust administrative procedures, exceeded the statute of limitations, seeks impermissible remedies, and failed to establish a prima facie case.

  For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

  BACKGROUND

  I. FACTUAL HISTORY

  Mr. Pineda-Morales was an inmate of the Federal Correction Institution (FCI) at Fort Dix, New Jersey at the time the Complaint was filed.*fn1 (Compl. at 2.) In or around March of 2000, after transferring from the FCI's East Compound to the West Compound, Plaintiff sought to practice his religious faith in accordance with the Apostolic Faith Church.*fn2 (Id. at 3.) Mr. Pineda-Morales had been able to practice his faith while in the East Compound. (Id.) The Apostolic Faith Church is a Christian church, but it rejects the "trinity" doctrine of Protestant churches. (Id. at 4.) The church baptizes its members in the name of Jesus Christ exclusively, instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Id.)

  On August 16, 2000, Mr. Pineda-Morales requested scheduled services and the admission of outside church volunteers through the prison's administrative process. (Id. at Ex. A.) This request was denied, but Plaintiff was informed that he could attend Protestant services and meet with his Pastor in the visiting room. (Id. at Ex. A.) In December, Plaintiff filed another request for scheduled services three times a week, and repeated his request for approval of volunteers. (Id. at Ex. E1-E2.) He was informed that a only one weekly bible study was approved. (Id.) The Regional Director reiterated this determination on appeal. (Id. at Ex. D.)

  On January 4, 2001, Plaintiff filed a new administrative request claiming that Chaplains Harden and Aziz harassed and threatened him, and treated him with bias against his faith. He also reiterated his request for multiple weekly services. (Id. at Ex. F1.) A correctional counselor replied that treatment he received was fair and impartial, and that only one weekly bible study was approved. (Id. at Ex. F2.) Mr. Pineda-Morales appealed the issue of additional services, and Regional Director denied the request. (Id. at Ex. G-H2.) The Administrator of National Inmate Appeals affirmed the ruling in writing on July 30, 2001. (Id. at Ex. I2.) Plaintiff filed the instant pro se Complaint two years later.

  In the summary of his complaint, Plaintiff alleges violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc. (Id at 1.) He claims in Count 1 that the chaplains and the BOP violated his rights of free exercise under the First Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). (Id. at 8.) In Count 2, Plaintiff claims that the Defendants conspired to deprive him of equal protection under the Fifth Amendment in failing to provide equal access to services, by pressuring him to attend Protestant services, by retaliating against him for using the administrative process, and by threatening to reveal his criminal background to church volunteers.*fn3 (Id. at 9-10.) Mr. Pineda-Morales further asserts in Count 3 that Warden De Rosa is liable for the violations by his subordinates under respondeat superior.

  Plaintiff seeks the following relief: (1) a declaratory judgment stating that (a) the Apostolic Faith Church is an "independent religion" and protected as such under the First Amendment, and (b) that the BOP and defendants are enjoined from forcing members of the church to participate with Protestants; (2) an injunction ordering defendants to (a) allow him "reasonable access to the chapel," (b) allow at least two English and two Spanish Apostolic Faith services a week, (c) publish the services in the FCI's schedule, and (d) cease retaliating and discriminating against Mr. Pineda-Morales for using the administrative remedy process; (3) compensatory damages of $10,000 and attorney's fees against each defendant, punitive damages of $10,000 against the three chaplains, and such other relief "the Court may deem just and equitable." (Id. at 10-11.)

  II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

  Defendants moved for dismissal or summary judgment on all claims for the following reasons: (1) there is no constitutional cause of action against the BOP or the individual defendants in their official capacities; (2) Mr. De Rosa cannot be held liable under respondeat superior for the constitutional claims; (3) the claims for insufficient services and retaliation are barred by statute of limitations; (4) Plaintiff failed to exhaust statutory and constitutional claims; (5) the statutory claims for compensatory damages are impermissible under federal law; (6) federal statutes bar a remedy on the constitutional claims; (7) each defendant is entitled to qualified immunity under the constitutional and statutory claims; (8) the statutory claims against the chaplains should be dismissed because they did not act under color of federal law; (9) Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie violation of federal statutes. (Def. Br. at i-ii.)

  III. STANDARDS FOR MOTION TO DISMISS OR FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

  Defendant moves for dismissal or summary judgment, without specifying applicable rules. Since the Plaintiff and Defendants presented exhibits that were not excluded, the motion is considered as one for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.*fn4

  Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.

  In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence `is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 250; Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 329-30 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

  The moving party always bears the initial burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists, regardless of which party ultimately would have the burden of persuasion at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Country Floors v. Partnership of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061-63 (3d Cir. 1991). DISCUSSION

  Mr. Pineda-Morales raises statutory and constitutional claims. This Court will (1) address apparent confusion in the Complaint and Motion regarding the applicable statute; (2) discuss the issue of exhaustion, which requires the Court to dispose of certain constitutional and statutory claims; (3) discuss the statute of limitations, which eliminates Plaintiff's remaining constitutional claims; (4) discuss why Plaintiff's Complaint states two statutory claims that survive Defendants' Motion; (5) discuss why Plaintiff is not entitled to damages for these surviving statutory claims; and (6) explain why the chaplains should not be dismissed as non-federal actors. Based on this consideration, the Court concludes that the instant motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

  I. INAPPLICABILITY OF RLUIPA TO STATUTORY CLAIMS

  Plaintiff asserts causes of action under RLUIPA, and Defendants contest the substance of those claims. This statute is not applicable to federal claims. This case warrants a brief review of applicable legislative and Supreme Court history.

  Congress enacted RFRA in 1993 "to restore the compelling interest test" to religious liberty claims after the Supreme Court's contrary holding in Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990). 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb(a)(5), (b)(1). The statute grants more expansive religious exercise rights than the First Amendment. RFRA is codified in Section 2000bb-1, which provides:
(a). . . . Government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.
(b). . . . Government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person —
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.
(c). . . . A person whose religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim . . . in judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. . . .
Id at (b), (c). Under the act, "the term `government' includes a branch, department, agency, and official . . . of the United states. . . ." 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb-2(1).

  The Supreme Court rendered RFRA unconstitutional as applied to the states in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997). However, the law "remain[s] applicable to the federal government. . . ." Blackhawk v. Pennsylvannia, 381 F.3d 202, 212 (3d Cir. 2004). Defendants concede that the statute is constitutional for purposes of this claim. (Def. Br. at 15.)

  After Boerne, Congress enacted RLUIPA in 2000, which reiterated the compelling interest test articulated in RFRA, but is tied to federal funding or the commerce power. 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc-1(1), (2). Under RLUIPA, a "government" held to the standard is limited to "a State, county, municipality, or other government entity created under the authority of a State," or branch thereof, or "any other person acting under color of State law. . . ." 42 U.S.C.A. 2000cc-5(4).

  Plaintiff frames Count I as a violation of RLUIPA. (Compl. at 8.) He is not entitled to relief under RLUIPA because the act only applies to state and local governments, not a federal prison. 42 U.S.C.A. 2000cc-5(4). However, Plaintiff did allege violations of "RFRA and RLUIPA" in the summary of his complaint. (Compl. at 1.) In DeHart v. Horn, 390 F.3d 262 (3d Cir. 2004), the court found that "RLUIPA ma[de] no change to the standard by which prisoners' free exercise claims" were reviewed under RFRA, and did not require a prisoner to re-exhaust his claim under the new statute. Id. at 274. With similar allowance, this Court identifies RFRA as the applicable law for Plaintiff's statutory claims, and notes that ...


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