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SOMERVILLE v. SPEIZALE

August 5, 2005.

PHILLIP SOMERVILLE, Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY SPEIZALE, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOSEPH GREENAWAY, District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Phillip Somerville, a prisoner who is confined at FCI Ray Brook, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Based on his affidavit of poverty and accompanying prison account statement, the Court (1) grants the application to proceed in forma pauperis; (2) directs the Clerk to file the Complaint; (3) assesses the $150.00 filing fee against Plaintiff; (4) directs the agency having custody of Plaintiff to deduct an initial partial filing fee from Plaintiff's prison account and forward the payment to the Clerk when funds are available; and (5) directs the agency having custody of Plaintiff to forward payments from Plaintiff's prison account to the Clerk each subsequent month that the amount in the account exceeds $10.00, until the $150.00 filing fee is paid in full. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), (b). Having thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's allegations, this Court will dismiss the Complaint. I. BACKGROUND

  Phillip Somerville asserts violations of his constitutional rights, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arising from his incarceration at the Passaic County Jail. The named Defendants are Jerry Speizale, the Passaic County Sheriff, and Charles Meyers, Warden at the Passaic County Jail. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Plaintiff states that while incarcerated at Passaic County Jail during 2002 and 2003, the Defendants violated his First, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by refusing to serve him Halal meat meals, prohibiting him from wearing Muslim head gear, preventing his attendance at Friday Jumu'ah services, housing him in substandard conditions, and searching his jail cell without provocation. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 12-15.)

  Somerville asserts the following facts, which the Court accepts as true for the purpose of this review. He alleges that the Passaic County Jail did not provide Halal meat to prisoners requesting it for religious reasons. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Instead, the jail offered a vegetarian option of beans, peanut butter, and soy products for inmates whose religious beliefs required meat to be prepared in a specific manner. Id. Somerville asserts that inmates requesting the vegetarian option received a peanut butter sandwich for more than half of their meals. Id. Somerville alleges that many of these vegetarian meals were served cold and that officials mistakenly served meals with meat to Muslim inmates, who then had to "wait in excess of 45 minutes for a cold vegetarian meal." Id. When prisoners complained about the amount of peanut butter sandwiches in their diet, officials replied by offering inmates the option of either eating the peanut butter sandwich or forgoing the meal and submitting a complaint. Id. Somerville argues that by not providing him with Halal meat prepared in conformance with Muslim beliefs, the jail violated his right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Id. Somerville further asserts that the Passaic County Jail outlawed the wearing of Muslim head gear because officials determined that it was gang-related. (Compl. ¶ 13.) He alleges that he is a Muslim inmate and that the regulation impaired his First Amendment right to free expression of religion by prohibiting his ability to cover his head in conformance with his Muslim beliefs.

  Next, Somerville asserts that state and county Muslim prisoners at the Passaic County Jail attended Jumu'ah services each Friday. (Compl. ¶ 13.) He alleges that, because the jail's classification policy segregated federal detainees from state and county prisoners, he was not permitted to attend the Jumu'ah services on Fridays. Id. He contends that the denial of access to Friday Jumu'ah services violated the Free Expression clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

  Somerville also alleges that the jail housed sixteen federal detainees in one dorm containing only two toilets, two sinks, and one working shower. (Compl. ¶ 14.) He complains that, because the telephones were installed above the toilets, one inmate may have been talking on the telephone while another was using the facilities. Somerville asserts that the living conditions at Passaic County Jail violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

  Lastly, Somerville complains that jail officials repeatedly searched his personal belongings at all hours of the day and night without probable cause. He asserts that the violation of his privacy violated his Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

  Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and damages for violation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. ¶¶ 18-19.) II. STANDARD FOR SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL

  The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134, §§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996), requires the Court, prior to docketing or as soon as practicable after docketing, to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis or seeks redress against a governmental employee. The PLRA requires the Court to review a prisoner's complaint to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim if the Court determines that it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b).

  A claim is frivolous if it "lacks even an arguable basis in law" or its factual allegations describe "fantastic or delusional scenarios." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 328 (1989); see also Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990). ?A pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears `beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)).

  "[T]he Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim." Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A pro se complaint is held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. At a minimum, 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). "Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance . . . dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. Rather, the Court is "required to accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

  Liberally construing Plaintiff's allegations and accepting them as true, this Court reads the instant Complaint as potentially raising the following claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (A) Defendants violated the Free Exercise clause by failing to provide Halal meals, banning religious head gear, and refusing to allow him to attend Friday Jumu'ah services with state and county inmates; (B) the conditions of confinement inflicted cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, applicable to states through the Fourteenth Amendment; (C) Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment by searching inmate dorms without probable cause; and (D) Defendants violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by allowing state and county prisoners to celebrate Friday Jumu'ah services and denying him the same opportunity.

  III. DISCUSSION

  To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 a plaintiff must allege (1) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) the deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law.*fn1 See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 152 (1970). As Defendants' operation of the jail constitutes state action within § 1983, this Court will examine Plaintiff's ...


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