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Brian Williams v. Brian Bradford

May 13, 2011


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


Plaintiff, Brian Williams, a state inmate presently confined at the South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey, seeks to bring this action in forma pauperis. Based on his affidavit of indigence, the Court will grant plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (1998) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the Complaint.

At this time, the Court must review the Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A, to determine whether it should 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. The principal issues are whether the present Complaint states a claim for relief against anti-Muslim statements allegedly made by a prison officer at South Woods State Prison, allegedly in violation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and statutory rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et. seq. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a cognizable claim of a federal constitutional or statutory violation at this time.


Plaintiff, Brian Williams ("Williams"), brings this civil action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following defendants: Brian Bradford, Director of the Gateway Foundation, Inc.; Westley Dilks, New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") Intermediary for Gateway; Ms. Malone, NuWay Supervisor at the South Woods State Prison ("SWSP"); Grace Cookwater, Gateway/NuWay Coordinator at ("SWSP"); and Karen Balicki, Administrator at SWSP. (Complaint, Caption and ¶¶ 4b through 4f). 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.

Williams alleges that, on or about August 6, 2010, at approximately 2:15 p.m., defendant Cookwater was "chastising" a Muslim participant in a NuWay meeting, for a group sanction. Specifically, Cookwater made mocking remarks about the Islamic religion and its practices, mimicked an Arabic prayer by mumbling as if she were speaking Arabic, and then screamed "Allahu-Akbar." Williams alleges that Muslim and non-Muslim participants became "offended and upset." (Compl., ¶ 4e).

Williams further complains that the other named defendants failed to supervise the actions of Cookwater, failed to enforce the rules and bylaws of the Gateway/NuWay program at SWSP, failed to protect plaintiff's rights, failed to discipline the employee for making discriminatory remarks, and downplayed the seriousness of the incident, thus showing indifference in violation of plaintiff's First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl., ¶¶ 4b-4f and 6).

On February 3, 2011, Williams wrote to the Court asking to amend his Complaint to assert a claim that defendants violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. (Docket entry no. 2). Plaintiff generally alleges that defendants continue to subject plaintiff to "substantial burdens to the free exercise of his Islamic Religion." (Id.).

Williams seeks an unspecified sum in compensatory and punitive damages. He also seeks injunctive relief enjoining defendants from retaliating against any Muslim for exercising their civil rights at the SWSP NuWay program. Williams asks for assigned counsel, and requests that any complaints filed by a Muslim with regard to this matter be joined together in one action and ruled as a class action. (Compl., ¶ 7).

II. STANDARDS FOR A 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 a district court to review a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner is proceeding in forma pauperis or seeks redress against a governmental employee or entity. The Court is required to identify cognizable claims and to sua sponte dismiss any claim that is frivolous, 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. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A. This action is subject to sua sponte screening for dismissal under both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) an § 1915A.

In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007)(following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). See also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court must "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). The Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.

A complaint is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) (interpreting the predecessor of § 1915(e)(2), the former § 1915(d)). The standard for evaluating whether a complaint is "frivolous" is an objective one. Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1086-87 (3d Cir. 1995).

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.'" Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). See also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93-94 (In a pro se prisoner civil rights complaint, the Court reviewed whether the complaint complied with the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a)(2)).

However, recently, the Supreme Court revised this standard for summary dismissal of a Complaint that fails to state a claim in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The issue before the Supreme Court was whether Iqbal's civil rights complaint adequately alleged defendants' personal involvement in discriminatory decisions regarding Iqbal's treatment during detention at the Metropolitan Detention Center which, if true, violated his constitutional rights. Id. The Court examined Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that 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).*fn1 Citing its recent opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do,' "Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supreme ...

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