United States District Court, D. New Jersey
G. Sheridan, U.S.D.J.
is proceeding, in forma pauperis, with a civil
rights complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
(ECF No. 1). At this time, the Court must review the
complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) 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 suit. Having completed this
screening, the Court will permit the complaint to proceed in
Plaintiff, a state prisoner incarcerated in New Jersey State
Prison ("NJSP") in Trenton, New Jersey, alleges
defendants Gregory Kelley and Stephen D'llio violated his
rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000,
("RLUIPA") by preventing him from receiving,
retaining, reading, and sending out religious tracts. He
further alleges defendant D'llio interfered with his
access to the courts by failing to properly respond to his
Plaintiff alleges that Officer Kelley confiscated religious
tracts Plaintiff purchased to give to his family and friends.
Officer Kelley allegeldy stated the tracts were "not
authorized for retention or receipt" and that
'"[a]ll religious material for distribution must go
through chaplains office.'" Compl. ¶ 8
(alteration in original).
Plaintiff had previously purchased similar tracts without
problems. Id. ¶ 7. He alleges there is no
policy that requires religious pamphlets to go through the
chaplain's office. Id. ¶ 9. He further
states the pamphlets were for friends and family, not
distribution within the prison. Id¶11.
Plaintiff appealed the confiscation to Administrator
D'llio on March 19, 2015. Id. ¶ 12.
Plaintiff alleges Administrator D'llio did not respond to
his appeal, so he filed an inquiry form requesting a
decision. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. The response to
the inquiry form stated that religious pamphlets had to be
reviewed by the chaplain's office. Id. ¶
Plaintiff alleges Administrator D'llio purposely failed
to respond to his grievances to prevent him from exhausting
his administrative remedies. He claims he lost a meritorious
claim in the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.
Plaintiff alleges defendants violated his First Amendment
rights to practice his religion. "[A] prison inmate
retains those First Amendment rights that are not
inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the
legitimate penological objectives of the corrections
system." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822
(1974). "[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on
inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid
if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological
interests." Turner v. Sofley, 482 U.S. 78, 89
(1987). To make out a claim for denial of an individual's
free exercise rights under the First Amendment, an individual
must allege the regulation impinges on a sincerely held
religious belief. DeHart v. Horn, 227 F.3d 47, 51-52
(3d Cir. 2000) (en banc).
Construing the complaint liberally and giving Plaintiff the
benefit of all reasonable inferences, he has sufficiently
alleged a First Amendment claim against defendants. This
claim shall proceed.
Plaintiff also claims a violation of RLUIPA, 42 U.S.C. §
2000cc-1 et seq. "RLUIPA protects 'any exercise of
religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a
system of religious belief[.]'" Holt v.
Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000cc-5(7)(A)). RLUIPA provides '"greater
protection' for religious liberty than is provided by the
First Amendment. . . . [C]ourts must be careful not to import
reasoning from cases such as Turner involving First
Amendment rights." Payne v. Doe, 636 Fed.Appx.
120, 124 (3d Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (citing Hobbs,
135 S.Ct. at 863) (internal citation omitted). Construing the
complaint liberally and giving Plaintiff the benefit of all
reasonable inferences, he has sufficiently alleged a RLUIPA
against defendants. This claim shall also proceed.
Plaintiff has failed to state an access to the courts claim
against Administrator D'llio. "Where prisoners
assert that defendants' actions have inhibited their
opportunity to present a past legal claim, they must show (1)
that they suffered an 'actual injury'-that they lost
a chance to pursue a 'nonfrivolous' or
'arguable' underlying claim; and (2) that they have
no other 'remedy that may be awarded as recompense'
for the lost claim other than in the present denial of access
suit." Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198, 205 (3d
claims Plaintiff purportedly "lost" are the same
claims he is raising in this Court: violations of the First
Amendment and RLUIPA. There has been no finding that
Plaintiffs claims are barred. Therefore, Plaintiffs access to
the courts claim cannot proceed at this time because it does
not appear on the face of the complaint that Plaintiff is
without any other remedy. The access to the court claim is
dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff has also sued D'llio and Kelley in their
official capacities. The Eleventh Amendment to the United
States Constitution provides: "The Judicial power of the
United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in
law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the
United States by citizens of another State, or by Citizens or
Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. CONST, amend. XI. A
suit against a public official '"in his or her
official capacity is not a suit against the official but
rather is a suit against the official's office
....'" Printz v. United States, 521 U.S.
898, 930-31 (1997) (quoting Will v. Mich. Dep't of
State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989)). Plaintiff cannot
proceed against defendants' official capacities for
However, prospective injunctive relief is not barred by the
Eleventh Amendment. See Owens v. Armstrong, 171
F.Supp.3d 316, 331 n.5 (D.N.J. 2016) (citing Ex Parte
Young,209 U.S. 123 (1908)). Plaintiff may proceed
against Kelley in his official capacity for injunctive relief
only. The current warden of NJSP will be ...