United States District Court, D. New Jersey
July 6, 2005.
BYRON PINEDA-MORALES, Plaintiff,
CHARLES DE ROSA, III, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JEROME SIMANDLE, District Judge
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.
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
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.
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
(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
(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 Defendants addressed both statutes in
their motion. This Court therefore disregards all references to
RLUIPA in Plaintiff's and Defendants' submissions, and
substitutes RFRA where necessary.
II. EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES
Defendants seek dismissal of several claims, arguing that
Plaintiff failed to exhaust them through the prison's
administrative system. This Court agrees in part. Defendants
assert that Plaintiff is (1) barred from any claims against the
three chaplains because he failed to name them in the administrative process (Def. Br. at 11-12.); (2) barred from
claims under RFRA because he did not mention the statute in the
administrative process, or exhaust certain substantive issues
(Id. at 11); and (3) barred from his constitutional retaliation
claim because he failed to appeal the issue (Id. at 12.) This
Court disagrees with Defendants on the first ground, agrees in
part on the second, and agrees in full on the third.
Under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), "[n]o action
shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section
1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner
confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility
until such administrative remedies as are available are
exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This exhaustion requirement
extends to constitutional claims, as well as claims under federal
statutes. See Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F.3d 65, 78 (3d Cir. 2000).
In this circuit, "failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense
to be pleaded by the defendant." Ray v. Kertes, 285 F.3d 287,
295 (3d Cir. 2001); Brown v. Croak, 312 F.3d 109, 112 (3d Cir.
2002). In Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2004), the
Third Circuit provided guidance on exhaustion under PLRA. Without
express federal standards for exhaustion, the court chose the
"single, consistent set of procedural rules" in the prison's
grievance process to "crafting judge-made law. . . ." Id. at
231. To do otherwise would ask inmates to comply with prison
procedures "while keeping an eye on a separate set of federal requirements . . . to ensure that they will preserve a remedy in
federal court. . . ." Id. The yardstick for exhaustion,
therefore, is defined by the grievance procedures of the
institution. Id. The Spruill court found a claim for damages
exhausted because an inmate was not required to request monetary
relief in the grievance process, but he was required by that
process to name individuals. Id. at 233-34.
Under Spruill, the administrative procedures of the FCI
supply the measure of exhaustion for Mr. Pineda-Morales' claims.
Under BOP regulations, inmates must exhaust a claim by raising it
to the warden, appealing it to the Regional Director, and finally
by appealing to the BOP Central Office, General Counsel. (Def.'s
Decl. of K. Hebbon at 3.) Defendants succeed in part by proving
Plaintiff failed to exhaust certain claims, but do not prove he
failed to exhaust others.
A. Claims against Chaplains Kugler, Harden, and Aziz
Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims against the chaplains
should be dismissed because he failed to name Chaplain Kugler at
all, and failed to name Chaplains Aziz and Harden on appeal
during the grievance process. (Def. Br. at 11-12.) This Court
disagrees. It is true that Mr. Pineda-Morales made no mention of
Chaplain Kugler in any administrative request, and that he failed
to mention Chaplains Aziz and Harden on appeal. However,
Defendants did not prove that Plaintiff was required by the
prison grievance process to name individuals. Mr. Pineda-Morales wrote on a grievance form that he
"repeatedly talked with the Religious Services Dept. Staff, about
facilitating his faith practice on the West Side." (Compl. at Ex.
A.) Plaintiff consistently argued that the chaplain staff failed
to sufficiently accommodate his faith throughout the
administrative process (Id. at Ex. A-Ex. I.) Defendants provide
no evidence that Mr. Pineda-Morales was required to name each
chaplain individually. Exhaustion of the claims against the
chaplains is a genuine issue of material fact, and summary
judgment is therefore denied.*fn5
B. Exhaustion of claims under RFRA
Defendants further contend that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
statutory claims on two grounds.*fn6 First, he failed to
identify RFRA during the administrative grievance process. (Def.
Br. at 11.) Second, Plaintiff failed to exhaust any substantive
issue except his request for two additional weekly bible studies. (Id. at 12.) This Court disagrees on the first ground, and
agrees in part on the second.
1. Failure to identify the statute
Defendants argue that Plaintiff is barred from raising a
statutory claim because he failed to reference the statute in the
grievance process. (Id. at 11-12.) Defendants rely on DeHart,
390 F.3d 262, to support this argument. (Id. at 12.) In DeHart,
the Third Circuit ruled for a state inmate by finding his
religious exercise grievance was exhausted despite a change in
law from RFRA to RLUIPA. 390 F.3d at 275. Defendants here contend
that the inmate's identification of RFRA in the grievance process
was essential to the holding of DeHart. (Def. Br. at 13.) This
The court in DeHart examined "the standard by which [the]
prisoner's free exercise claims are reviewed," under RLUIPA.
390 F.3d at 275. It found that the prison staff was subject to the
same standard, even though the grievance arose when RFRA still
applied. Id. It was therefore unnecessary for an inmate to
re-exhaust a grievance when the new statute bound the states.
Id. This Court finds nothing in DeHart that required the
inmate to identify a statute in his grievance in order to exhaust
Instead, this Court again turns to Spruill, which requires
only that an inmate follow the rules of the prison grievance
process to exhaust a claim. 372 F.3d at 231. Plaintiff here
consistently asked for increased accommodations for his faith in the West Compound. (Compl. at Ex. A-Ex. I.) He invoked Title 42,
under which RFRA is codified. (Id. at Ex. A1.) He also
identified specific prison regulations that he claimed were
violated. (Id. at Ex. I.) Plaintiff additionally warned that he
would file suit if his requests were not met. (Id. at Ex. E2.)
Defendants provide no evidence that Plaintiff's requests failed
to comply with the requirements of the prison's administrative
process for a religious exercise grievance. Without such
evidence, this Court cannot determine as a matter of law that
Plaintiff failed to exhaust any claim under RFRA. The Defendants'
motion for summary judgment is therefore denied on this ground.
2. Exhaustion of substantive RFRA issues
Defendants contend that the substance of all claims, except
Plaintiff's request for two additional bible studies, are barred
by failure to exhaust. (Def. Br. at 11-12.) This Court agrees in
part. Three different arguments for relief in Count I may be
cognizable as RFRA violations: (1) Defendants substantially
burdened Plaintiff's exercise of religion by failing to recognize
the Apostolic Faith Church as an independent religion, (2)
Defendants substantially burdened Plaintiff's exercise of
religion by pressuring him to attend Protestant services, and (3)
Defendants substantially burdened Plaintiff's exercise of
religion by eliminating the Apostolic Faith Church from the FCI's
religious services schedule. (Compl. at 8.) Defendants assert that the only substantive issue Plaintiff exhausted was a request
for two additional bible studies. (Def. Br. at 12.) This Court
concludes that only the scheduling claim is barred for failure to
First, this Court disagrees that Plaintiff failed to exhaust
his claim for independent recognition of his church. In his final
administrative appeal, Plaintiff argued that he could not be
accommodated through existing Protestant services. (Compl. at Ex.
I.) He stated "the teachings between the Apostolic Church and
Protestant have [many] differences" and "the Apostolic Church is
not `[a]nother' denomination" because it does not adhere to the
"trinity" doctrine. (Id.)
Plaintiff consistently claimed, throughout the administrative
process, that his faith was inconsistent with the established
Protestant faiths in the FCI, and the respondents disagreed.
(Id. at Ex. F-H2.) Plaintiff did not specifically request
official recognition of his church. However, he did address the
incompatibility between the Apostolic Faith Church and Protestant
faiths. This Court cannot say as a matter of law that Mr.
Pineda-Morales failed to raise the issue of official recognition
of the Apostolic Faith Church.
Second, this Court makes no determination regarding the
exhaustion of Plaintiff's requests for additional physical
accommodations separate from the Protestant activities. Mr.
Pineda-Morales argues in his Complaint that the Defendants imposed their beliefs that he should attend Protestant services.
(Compl. at 8.) This Court views this argument as a continuation
of Plaintiff's repeated administrative requests for additional
use of the prison's religious facilities by his church. Defendant
concedes that Plaintiff exhausted his requests for additional
bible studies. (Def. Br. at 12.) This Court therefore makes no
determination regarding the exhaustion of Plaintiff's claim that
he was pressured to attend Protestant activities in violation of
Third, this Court agrees that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his
scheduling claim. Mr. Pineda-Morales argues that his right to
religious exercise was violated when Defendants "eliminated the
Apostolic Faith Church from the institution's religious services
schedule in order to discourage" the church's activities. (Compl.
at 8.) Plaintiff asserts that schedule was released on February
17, 2002. (Id. at 7.) Mr. Pineda-Morales's final appeal to the
BOP was dated May 27, 2001, and neither it, nor any previous
request, cited the removal of his church from the religious
schedule. (Id. at Ex. I.) In fact, the BOP's response
reiterated that the Apostolic Faith Church was granted a weekly
bible study. (Id. at Ex. I2.) Plaintiff did not raise this
issue at all in the administrative process and the Warden, the
Regional Director, and the BOP were denied any opportunity to
investigate and potentially resolve it. Based on Plaintiff's own
submissions, this issue was not exhausted. Summary judgment is therefore granted for Defendants regarding
Plaintiff's Count I schedule removal claim, but denied for
Plaintiff's independent church recognition and imposition of
religious beliefs claims under RFRA.
C. Exhaustion of constitutional retaliation claim
Defendants contend that Plaintiff's retaliation claim is barred
because he failed to raise the issue on appeal. (Def. Br. at 13.)
This Court agrees. Mr. Pineda-Morales alleges in Count II that
the Defendants' "conspire[d] and confederate[d] . . . to deprive
him of equal protection" by "retaliating" against him for using
the administrative process and "[i]ntimidating" him from bringing
in Apostolic Faith volunteers. (Compl. at 9, 10.)
In the prison grievance process, Plaintiff filed an "Informal
Resolution Form," claiming Chaplains Harden and Aziz "threatened
and intimidated" him out of disdain for the Apostolic Faith
Church. (Id. at Ex. F1.) Mr. Pineda-Morales requested an
apology for the conduct. (Id.) A correctional counselor replied
to the request stating "[t]he treatment [he] received from the
Chaplains was fair and impartial" and "there is no evidence to
support [his] claims that [they] harassed, intimidated, or
threatened" him. (Id. at F2.)
Mr. Pineda-Morales did not revisit this substance of this issue
in any form in his future appeals. The Regional Director and the
BOP were denied any opportunity to investigate Plaintiff's
retaliation claim, and afford him relief if warranted. Summary judgment is therefore granted for Defendants
on Plaintiff's constitutional retaliation claim in Count II.
III. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Defendants next contend that Plaintiff's constitutional and
RFRA claims are barred by the running of the statute of
limitations. (Def. Br. at 8-9.) This Court agrees in part,
finding that Plaintiff's RFRA claims are not barred by the
statute of limitations, but his remaining constitutional free
exercise and equal protection claims are.*fn7
A. Statute of Limitations for RFRA Claims
Mr. Pineda-Morales was notified on July 30, 2001 that his final
appeal for extra bible studies was rejected by the BOP. (Compl.
at Ex. I2.) He filed the instant complaint on September 15, 2003,
two years and forty-seven days later. Defendants, allowing that
this establishes the latest possible date of accrual, claim that
recovery under RFRA is barred because a two-year statute of
limitations had expired. (Def. Br. at 9.) This is an application
of superceded law.
Defendants argue that because RFRA does not "contain a statute
of limitations, it is appropriate to borrow from the state
statute," (Id.), basing this conclusion on Wilson v. Garcia,
471 U.S. 261 (1985). Defendants assert that New Jersey's two-year statute of limitations for personal torts under N.J.S.A.
2A:14-2 is the most appropriate. (Def. Br. at 9.) Such an
analysis was pre-empted by Congress.
In response to the confusion and judicial difficulties that
arose from applying state limitations to federal actions,
Congress established a general statute of limitations in 1990.
See Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 541 U.S. 369, 379-80
(2004). Section 42 U.S.C. 1658(a) provides: "Except as otherwise
provided by law, a civil action arising under an Act of Congress
enacted after the date of the enactment of this section may not
be commenced later than 4 years after the cause of action
accrues." 28 U.S.C.A. § 1658(a).
RFRA was enacted in 1993, and § 1658 therefore applies to
claims arising under it. See, e.g., Jama v. U.S. INS,
343 F.Supp.2d 338, 365 (D.N.J. 2004) ("RFRA has a statutory four-year
statute of limitations."). Thus, Mr. Pineda-Morales had four
years to file his action from the time the cause accrued. The
first event cited by Plaintiff to support his complaint took
place in March, 2000. (Compl. at 3.) Assuming arguendo that the
claim accrued at that earliest possible date, and that Plaintiff
gained no benefit of tolling, the complaint filed in September
2003 was still timely for the purposes of his RFRA claim.
Therefore, this Court denies Defendants' summary judgment on
Plaintiff's RFRA claims on this ground. B. Statute of Limitations for Constitutional Claims
Plaintiff's constitutional claims are subject to different
statute of limitations treatment than his RFRA claims. Section
1658(a) does not apply to Bivens constitutional claims because
they do not arise under an act of Congress after 1990. Defendant
argues that Wilson applies to establish the statute of
limitations for Plaintiff's constitutional claims. (Def. Br. at
9.) This Court agrees.
In Wilson, the Supreme Court established a standard approach
to determine the statute of limitations for civil rights claims
against the states under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 471 U.S. 261. Since §
1983 contains no express limitation, the Court applied
42 U.S.C. § 1988, which borrows the "most appropriate" or "most analogous"
state statute of limitations. Id. at 268. The Court decided
that a "simple, broad characterization" of all claims under §
1983 avoided the "uncertainty and time-consuming litigation"
inherent in analyzing the facts in each particular claim. Id.
at 273. The Court found that a state's limitation for recovering
damages for personal injury torts was the appropriate choice.
Id. at 279-280.
For § 1983 claims arising in New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2
applies and dictates a two-year statute of limitations. Cito v.
Bridgewater Township Police Dep't, 892 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir.
1989). This Circuit has not definitively ruled that the same
statute of limitations applies universally to all Bivens and § 1983 claims, but the issue was raised in dictum. Napier v.
Thirty or More Unidentified Federal Agents, Employees or
Officers, 855 F.2d 1080, 1088 (3d Cir. 1988). The practice is
settled in other circuits. See, e.g., Chin v. Bowen,
833 F.2d 21, 23-24 (2d Cir. 1987); Reinbold v. Evers, 187 F.3d 348,
359n. 10 (4th Cir. 1999); King v. One Unknown Federal
Correctional Officer, 201 F.3d 910, 913 (7th Cir. 2000.);
Sanchez v. United States, 49 F.3d 1329, 1330 (8th Cir. 1995.);
Kelly v. Serna, 87 F.3d 1235, 1238 (11th Cir. 1996).
Alternately, this Court finds no more appropriate statute of
limitations than N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, and Plaintiff offers no
alternative. Therefore, a two-year statute of limitations applies
to Plaintiff's constitutional claims.
Mr. Cunningham responds by claiming that the retaliation he
suffered was an "ongoing violation," up the date of his reply.
(Plaint. Reply Br. at 2.) Because Plaintiff's retaliation claim
is barred by his failure to exhaust it, this Court does reach
Even if this Court were to infer from Mr. Pineda-Morales' reply
that he also asserts that the denial of additional Apostolic
Faith services was a continuing violation, the argument would
fail. Continuing violation doctrine focuses on "affirmative acts
of the defendant," and is not "a means for relieving plaintiffs
from their duty to exercise reasonable diligence in pursuing
their claims." Cowell v. Palmer Township, 263 F.3d 286, 293, 295 (3d Cir. 2001). The last action taken by
any defendant on the matter was the BOP's conclusive rejection of
Plaintiff's request for additional bible studies on July 30,
2001. (Compl. at I2.) Plaintiff filed his complaint two years and
forty-seven days later. Assuming arguendo that Plaintiff's
cause of action accrued on the same day he resorted to the
administrative process, and that the statute was tolled until
that process was exhausted, his constitutional claims were not
timely. There is no genuine issue of material fact with regard to
this issue, and summary judgment for the Defendants is
IV. PRIMA FACIE VIOLATION OF RFRA
Defendants assert that Mr. Pineda-Morales failed to state a
claim under RFRA. (Def. Br. at 38-40.) Plaintiff's burden for
establishing a prima facie RFRA violation extends no further than
alleging his "exercise of religion" was "substantially burdened."
42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a). Upon such a showing, the burden shifts
to the Defendant to demonstrate that the burden "is in
furtherance of a compelling government interest," and "is the
least restrictive means of furthering that" interest.
42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b). When Congress enacted RLUIPA in 2000, it also changed the
definition of "exercise of religion" under RFRA by supplying the
same definition for both acts. 42 U.S.C. 2000bb-2(4). Prior to
the amendment, RFRA defined exercise of religion as "the exercise
of religion under the First Amendment," and many courts required
that exercise to be "central" to the religion. See Adkins v.
Kaspar, 393 F.3d 559, 568 n. 33 (5th Cir. 2004). The amendment,
however, supplied a more expansive definition: "The term
`religious exercise' includes any exercise of religion, whether
or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious
belief." 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb-2(4), 2000cc-5(7)(A). Thus, any
narrow interpretation of "substantial burden" under RFRA prior to
the amendment must be viewed skeptically.
Defendants correctly state that application of this standard
varies widely. (Def. Br. at 38.) However, Defendants seek to
supply a rule from Henderson v. Kennedy, 265 F.3d 1072
(D.C. Cir. 2001) (finding no substantial burden where religious
group was restricted from selling T-shirts on the National Mall,
but had numerous alternatives). This Court finds applications
pertaining to religious exercise in prisons to be more probative.
This Circuit applied RFRA in several cases involving state
prisons. Although RFRA no longer applies against the states, this
Court finds the application of its standard in these cases to be
informative. A district court applied pre-amendment RFRA in a claim
involving prison tuberculosis tests. Karolis v. New Jersey
Department of Corrections, 935 F.Supp. 523 (D.N.J. 1996)
(finding injection test a substantial burden on adherent of
Christian Science, but that it was permissible as the least
restrictive means to achieve a compelling prison interest in
preventing tuberculosis). In an unreported case, another district
court found a requirement for an inmate to register for Muslim
services not to be a substantial burden. Austin v. Guarini,
1997 WL 47566 (E.D.Pa.). In Small v. Lehman, 98 F.3d 762 (3d
Cir. 1996), the Third Circuit applied RFRA to a set of facts
similar to those alleged by Mr. Pineda-Morales. Although this
case was prior to the amendment, the court still applied the
substantial burden standard expansively.
In Small, Sunni Muslim inmates requested separate space for
religious services, citing fundamental differences between their
beliefs and those professed at the existing Muslim services.
Id. at 764-65. The plaintiffs asserted that there were unused
areas that could accommodate their services without additional
burdens on the prison. Id. at 765. The court rejected summary
judgment for the defendants, finding the substantial burden issue
"in serious dispute" under RFRA. Id. at 768. The court stated
"the opportunity to worship as a congregation by a substantial
number of prisoners may be a basic religious experience and,
therefore a fundamental exercise of religion. . . ." Id. at 767.
Furthermore, when the only service "available [to] a prisoner is
under the guidance of someone whose beliefs are significantly
different from or obnoxious to his, the prisoner has been
effectively denied the opportunity for group worship and the
result may amount to a substantial burden on the exercise of his
religion." Id. at 767 n. 7 (quoting Weir v. Nix,
890 F.Supp. 769, 788 (S.D.Iowa 1995)). The Court of Appeals has thus placed
importance on a prisoner's ability to congregate, even before the
definition of religious exercise under RFRA expanded.
Making reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor, the
submissions provide that Mr. Pineda-Morales, while incarcerated
in the FCI's East Compound, was able to participate in regular
Apostolic Faith activities. (Compl. at 3.) The West Compound,
where he was transferred, offered no such accommodations. (Id.)
In or about March, 2000, Plaintiff requested from Chaplains Aziz
and Harden permission to conduct Apostolic Faith services in the
West Compound with the assistance of willing outside volunteers.
(Id.) More than 20 other members of the Apostolic Faith Church
made similar requests.*fn9 (Id. at Ex. C.) The requests were denied, and Mr. Pineda-Morales was told he
would have to participate in Protestant services. (Id. at 3.)
According to Plaintiff, the "trinity doctrine" of the Protestant
denominations is inconsistent with the teaching of Apostolic
Faith Church. (Id. at Ex. C.) The church has more than 3,500
organizations in the United States, and provides services in many
federal institutions. (Id. at Ex. B2.) Because volunteers were
not permitted to assist members of that faith, inmates were
unable to be baptized according to its teachings or congregate in
Mr. Pineda-Morales resorted to the prison's administrative
remedy system. (Id. at 4.) The Regional Director replied to an
appeal, stating that the Apostolic Faith Church was granted a
single weekly bible study, and outside volunteers were approved.
(Id. at 6.) Plaintiff met some resistance from Chaplains Harden
and Aziz in implementing this accommodation, and he again
resorted to the administrative process. (Id. at Ex. F1-H1.) At
some point the approved bible study began, and Plaintiff appealed
to the Regional Director again, asking for two additional weekly
bible studies. (Id. at Ex. H1.) At that point, Plaintiff's
"only concern and remedy [was] for the Apostolic Bible Study group [to] be granted additional time to practice our religious
teachings." (Id.) Mr. Pineda-Morales claimed that failure to do
so would demonstrate "favoritism" or "preferential treatment"
since other religious groups had significantly greater access to
the religious facilities. (Id.)
The Regional Director rejected the additional bible studies,
and Plaintiff appealed to the BOP. (Id. at Ex. I.) He again
claimed the staff violated prison regulations prohibiting
"preferential treatment," since Jewish inmates had daily access
to religious facilities and outside volunteers. (Id.) He asked
for additional Apostolic Church meetings on Friday and Saturday,
to complement the existing Monday meetings, in order for the
inmates to "practice [their] religion in a more meaningful
manner." (Id.) If two additional meetings could not be
accommodated, then he only sought "the additional Saturday"
meeting. (Id.) The BOP denied his request. (Id. at I2.)
Plaintiff was accommodated with one weekly independent meeting
for his faith, and his case is weaker than the inmates in Small
who had no ability to congregate independently. However, this
Court cannot say that the prison's failure to identify the church
as an independent group, or provide it additional use of the
religious facilities, was not a "substantial burden" on
Plaintiff's "exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by,
or central to," the beliefs of the Apostolic Faith Church. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A). This Court can also infer that the lack
of accommodations in the West Compound exerted pressure on Mr.
Pineda-Morales and members of his congregation to abandon their
faith or attend services that espoused contrary beliefs.
Defendants contend that Mr. Pineda-Morales was not
substantially burdened because he could "attend the Christian
worship services, attend the Apostolic bible study[,] . . .
attend other bible studies, receive guidance from outside
Apostolic volunteers[,] . . . and study his bible during his own
free time." (Def. Br. at 39.) For the purposes of this motion,
this Court assumes that the other Christian services were not
valid alternatives, thus leaving one weekly bible study in which
Plaintiff could congregate. This Court cannot say as a matter of
law this was not a substantial burden on his religious practice
under the demanding standard established by Congress. Again,
where Congress has supplied an expansive definition of the
protections afforded to the exercise of religion, this Court's
review of whether a central tenet of the faith is burdened by the
BOP's restrictions is immaterial.
This determination does not end the analysis, however. The
burden shifts to the Defendants to demonstrate that their
policies were the least restrictive means of achieving a
compelling government interest. 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b). This
Court agrees with the Defendants that the government has "a compelling interest under RFRA in maintaining institutional
safety and order." (Def. Br. at 39.) This Court also understands
the challenges faced by a chaplain staff serving "approximately
4,600 inmates representing many various religious backgrounds"
with "two chapels . . . and nine classrooms." (Def.'s Decl. of
Chaplain Harden at 5.) The analysis then turns to whether or not
Defendants' policies were the least restrictive means.
Defendants present prison regulations, and describe how
religious facilities are allotted generally. (Id. at 4, Ex.
2A.) However, Defendants present no evidence that refusing to
recognize the Apostolic Faith Church, or provide it additional
physical accommodations, was the least restrictive means of
furthering the prison's compelling interests. Plaintiff claims
that additional religious rooms were available at the time.
(Compl. at 10.) Furthermore, Defendants do not present evidence
that the relevant prison regulations were followed in Mr.
PinedaM-orales' case, and if they were, that those regulations
comport with RFRA. Upon the present record, there is a genuine
dispute as to the material fact whether the BOP employed the
least restrictive means of achieving institutional safety and
order by denying denominational recognition and by denying the
Saturday meeting time to Plaintiff's religious group, and the
motion for summary judgment on this ground is denied. V. REMEDIES AVAILABLE
Defendants argue that (1) damages are unavailable under RFRA
against the Defendants in their official capacities because the
statute does not waive sovereign immunity (Id. at 14), and (2)
individual Defendants are immune from civil damages under RFRA
through qualified immunity. This Court agrees in both
A. Damages Against BOP and Chaplains in Official Capacity
In order to sustain a claim for damages against the federal
government, the "waiver of . . . sovereign immunity must be
unequivocally expressed in statutory text" and that waiver "must
extend unambiguously to such monetary claims." Lane v. Pena,
518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996). RFRA provides that "[a] person whose
religious exercise has been burdened in violation of this section
may assert that violation . . . in a judicial proceeding and
obtain appropriate relief against a government." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(c). This Court does not find that "appropriate relief"
extends unambiguously to monetary claims. This is consistent with
the determinations of other courts. Jama v. United States
Immigration and Naturalization Service, 343 F.Supp.2d 338, 373
(N.J. 2004); Meyer v. Federal Bureau of Prisons,
929 F.Supp. 10, 13-14 (D.D.C. 1996); Tinsley v. Pittari, 952 F.Supp. 384,
389 (N.D.Texas 1996). Summary judgment is therefore granted for
Defendants in their official capacities striking all claims for
monetary damages under RFRA.
B. Qualified Immunity of Chaplains from RFRA Damages
Defendants argue that the statutory claims for damages against
Warden De Rosa, Chaplain Harden, Chaplain Aziz, and Chaplain
Kugler in their individual capacities should be barred by
qualified immunity.*fn11 (Def. Br. at 32.) This Court
The Supreme Court held that "government officials performing
discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for
civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly
established statutory or constitutional rights of which a
reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). The issue of qualified immunity should be
resolved "at the earliest possible stage in litigation."
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001) (quoting Hunter v. Bryant,
502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991)). When it applies, qualified immunity
serves only to shield officials from monetary damages, and does
not eliminate them from suits also seeking proscriptive relief.
See Schrob v. Catterson, 967 F.2d 929, 939 (3d Cir. 1992).
As discussed above, Mr. Pineda-Morales states a claim of RFRA
violations by the chaplains. This Court therefore confronts the
next issue in the qualified immunity analysis; whether or not
Plaintiff's rights under RFRA were clearly established at the
time of the violations. Defendants assert that RFRA's religious
exercise standard was not clearly established at the time of the
alleged violations. (Def. Br. at 22.) This Court agrees. RFRA's
substantial burden standard was overhauled during the events
alleged in this case, and it has been infrequently litigated
since then, particularly in the unique prison context. Where, as
here, "the law at the time was not clearly established, an
official could not reasonably be expected to anticipate
subsequent legal developments, nor could he fairly be said to
`know' that the law forbade conduct not previously identified as
unlawful." Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818.
Plaintiff's two remaining claims under RFRA are that his church
was denied recognition as an independent faith, and was denied
adequate use of the religious facilities. The text of § 2000bb
does not clearly establish that either of these allegations were substantial burdens on Plaintiff's religious
exercise. Even if it did, nothing in the text indicates that such
results were not the least restrictive means to further
compelling government interests. Caselaw on the matter yields
little more clarity. This Court finds no authority applying RFRA
that speaks to the amount of access a religious group should have
to facilities, or on what terms a faith should be recognized as
independent by the BOP. Surely the allocation of resources for
religious facilities among 4,500 inmates, and the recognition of
alleged doctrinal differences between Plaintiff's Christian
beliefs and those of the members of other Christian
denominations, are matters unaddressed by the statute and by
binding precedent. That the Defendants permitted one group bible
study for Plaintiff's group, but not additional meetings, is not
the type of conduct that a reasonable prison official would know
to violate the prisoner's RFRA rights. Since the prison officials
were not on notice that their conduct violated RFRA, they are
entitled to qualified immunity, and summary judgment on damage
claims against them is granted. Therefore, Plaintiff is unable to
obtain monetary damages against the Defendants in their official
or individual capacities.
VI. CHAPLAINS AS ACTORS UNDER FEDERAL LAW FOR RFRA CLAIM
Defendants contend that the claims should be dismissed against
the chaplains because they used professional judgment and did not act under federal law for the purposes of RFRA. RFRA
provides that a claimant may seek "relief against a government"
where "the term `government' includes a branch, department,
agency, and official (or other person acting under color of law)
of the United States. . . ." 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb-1, bb-2.
Defendants argue that the Chaplains did not act as "persons under
federal law, a requirement for liability under the statutes."
(Def. Br. at 38.)
To support their argument, Defendants point to a single case
from another circuit which analogized a chaplain to a public
defender for a § 1983 civil rights claim. Montano v. Hedgepeth,
120 F.3d 844 (8th Cir. 1997). This Court finds their argument
unpersuasive. First, the issue in Montano was whether the
government should be liable for the actions of an employee.
Defendants here argue that the employees should not be liable for
their own actions, with no mention of the government's liability.
Second, this Court does not find a § 1983 constitutional action
comparable to a claim under RFRA. RFRA establishes an independent
statutory standard, and expressly holds federal officials to that
standard. For these reasons, this Court denies judgment for the
Defendants on this ground.
For the reasons explained above, the Court grants summary
judgment for the Defendants on all of Plaintiff's constitutional claims and upon Plaintiff's claim that Defendants violated his
statutory rights by removing the Apostolic Faith Church from the
prison's religious schedule. Furthermore, the Court grants
summary judgment for all Defendants for damage claims in their
official or individual capacities. The Court denies summary
judgment on Plaintiff's claims that failure to recognize the
Apostolic Faith Church, or to provide sufficient accommodations
independent of Protestant services, violated RFRA because
material facts are in dispute. The Court also denies summary
judgment removing any defendants from this remaining RFRA claim
for injunctive or declaratory relief.
The accompanying Order is entered.