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Almonte&Nbsp; v. Rivas

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 3, 2013

HENRY RIVAS, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion ("Marion"), brings this action for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). He also asserts claims under 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, and includes a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 7). Plaintiff is serving a 240-month sentence for conspiracy (in the United States) to murder individuals outside the United States. United States v. Carlos E. Almonte, Case No. 11-cr-132-DRD (D.N.J., Doc. 55, April 15, 2013).[1]

In his complaint, Plaintiff names a total of sixty-seven individual Defendants, alleging that they infringed on his constitutional rights by adopting and enforcing a policy that bans Muslim inmates in the Communications Management Unit ("CMU") from engaging in group prayer and from calling the Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer). The named Defendants include numerous former[2] and current[3] Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") officials as well as numerous former[4] and current[5] Marion officials and employees. As relief, Plaintiff seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent enforcement of the bans on group prayer and on calling the Adhan, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff explains that he is a Sunni Muslim, and is currently confined in Marion's CMU (Doc. 1, p. 16). The CMU houses a number of Muslim inmates who are "deemed to require additional monitoring of their communications" both with persons outside the prison, and with other inmates in the CMU. Id. They are subject to constant audio and video surveillance with hidden and visible cameras and microphones. The CMU inmates are allowed out of their cells each day between 5:45 a.m. and 9:45 p.m. During this time, they may engage in group activities and discussions, and are permitted to discuss topics that include criminal behavior and groups such as the Taliban or Al-Qaeda (Doc. 1, p. 17).

Plaintiff adheres to the Hanbali school of Islam, and sincerely believes he is required to pray five times daily for about five minutes each time. These prayers must be offered in congregation with other Muslims. However, these group prayers among Muslims have been banned in the Marion CMU since approximately 2006 or 2007, with limited exceptions. The only times that Muslim inmates are permitted to engage in group prayers are during a two-hour period each Friday, during the holy month of Ramadan and the day following Ramadan, and on the Eid-Ul-Adha festival (Doc. 1, p. 18).

This policy prohibiting Muslim group prayers was adopted in 2006 or 2007 by a group of senior officials within the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"): Defendants Lappin, Conley, Nalley, Dodrill, Smith, Bair, Kane, Nelson, Schiavone, Cruitt, Falls, Simmons, Capaldo, and Colt (Doc. 1, p. 17). As a result, all Lieutenants and correctional officers in the CMU were told to issue incident reports when they catch Muslim inmates praying together. Inmates who are caught in the act are issued a report for participating in an "unauthorized gathering." Id. When a guard suspects but cannot prove that Muslim inmates are engaging in group prayer, a report is issued for being in an "unauthorized location." Id.

The ban on group prayer does not apply to CMU prisoners of other faiths, who have been allowed to congregate for religious observances and prayers without restriction or the issuance of incident reports (Doc. 1, p. 19).

In August 2013, Defendant Massey, at the direction of Defendant Roloff, wrote an incident report against Plaintiff and another Muslim inmate for engaging in an unauthorized meeting or gathering (Doc. 1, p. 19). The reports were later administratively expunged. However, Plaintiff claims that all of the named Defendant Correctional Officers have threatened him with disciplinary action if he is caught praying in a group.

In addition to the group prayer ban, Marion CMU inmates are banned from calling the Adhan, or Muslim call-to-prayer (Doc. 1, p. 20). This call is normally announced once during each of the five daily prayers, for 35-40 seconds, loudly enough to alert the faithful that it is time to pray. Calling the Adhan is "obligatory on every Muslim able to do so." Id. However, out of respect for other inmates, Muslims at Marion do not call the Adhan in a loud voice during the early morning or late night prayers, and the Adhan in the CMU is "mostly silent." Id. The policy that bans inmates from calling the Adhan was "created, approved, and condoned" by Defendants Lappin, Dodrill, Davis, Nalley, Kane, Samuels, Laird, Nelson, Schiavone, Bair, Colt, Capaldo, Simmons, Falls, Smith, Neumann, Kelly, Cardona, Burgess, Cruitt, Roal, Hollingsworth, Walton, Julian, Parent, Sproul, Johnson, Howard, Garcia, Harrison, Roloff, Ormandy, Baney, and Siereveld (Doc. 1, pp. 19-20). Further, during a "town hall" meeting with inmates, Defendants Neumann, Rivas, and Cardona threatened every Muslim CMU inmate with an incident report if they were caught calling the Adhan. Id. Plaintiff asserts that all of the Marion Defendants have vigorously enforced this policy, and have threatened him with segregation or an incident report if he calls the Adhan.

Plaintiff contends that these policies violate the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as RFRA and RLUIPA. He further asserts that "all of the defendants intended to inflict emotional distress upon him, and that their actions actually did cause him severe emotional distress" (Doc. 1, p. 21).

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

As an initial matter, the complaint does not clearly state when Plaintiff's confinement in the Marion CMU began. The August 2013 incident report is the only specific example he gives of enforcement of the group-prayer ban against him personally. As noted above, the judgment and sentence in Plaintiff's criminal case was not entered until April 15, 2013 (Doc. 55 in United States v. Carlos E. Almonte, Case No. 11-cr-132-DRD (D.N.J.)). Therefore, his commitment to the custody of the BOP, and his eventual confinement at Marion, must have occurred after that date.

Plaintiff alleges that the policy banning group prayer was adopted several years before he was convicted or placed in the Marion CMU. Likewise, because several of the officials who created the policy banning the Adhan are alleged by Plaintiff to be retired from their former positions with the BOP or Marion, it is ...

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