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McLendon v. Montgomery County Jail

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 24, 2017

JESSIE LEE McLENDON Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY JAIL, et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALETA A. TRAUGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court is in receipt of a pro se prisoner complaint (Docket Entry No. 1) brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (Docket Entry No. 2).

         Plaintiff is an inmate at the Montgomery County Jail in Clarksville, Tennessee. It appears from his application that he lacks sufficient financial resources from which to pay the fee required to file the complaint. Accordingly, plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

         The plaintiff is herewith ASSESSED the civil filing fee of $350.00. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)(A) and (B), the custodian of the plaintiff's inmate trust account at the institution where he now resides is directed to submit to the Clerk of Court, as an initial partial payment, whichever is greater of:

(a) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly deposits to the plaintiff's inmate trust account; or
(b) twenty percent (20%) of the average monthly balance in the plaintiff's inmate trust account for the prior six (6) months.

         Thereafter, the custodian shall submit twenty percent (20%) of the plaintiff's preceding monthly income (or income credited to the plaintiff's trust account for the preceding month), but only when such monthly income exceeds ten dollars ($10.00), until the full filing fee of three hundred fifty dollars ($350.00) as authorized under 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) has been paid to the Clerk of Court. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         The plaintiff brings this action against the Montgomery County Jail; ABL, the entity under contract to provide food services at the Jail; and Cpl. Corder, an officer at the Jail; seeking injunctive relief and damages.

         The plaintiff alleges that he has adopted religious beliefs that require him to observe certain dietary restrictions. He claims that the defendants have interfered with his ability to observe those restrictions in violation of his First Amendment rights.

         The Supreme Court has recognized that prisoners do not forfeit all constitutional rights by virtue of their conviction and confinement in prison. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545 (1979). Prisoners retain those fundamental freedoms that are not inconsistent with their incarceration. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 555 (1974). These include the right of a prisoner to freely exercise his religious beliefs. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319 (1972).

         The right of free exercise, however, is not absolute for prisoners. Jihaad v. O'Brien, 645 F.2d 556, 564 (6th Cir. 1981). Prisoners are entitled to exercise their religious beliefs subject to reasonable limitations. Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974); Abdur-Rahman v. Michigan Dept. Of Corrections, 65 F.3d 489 (6th Cir. 1995).

         In this regard, the plaintiff has informed jail officials of his need for a diet consistent with his religious beliefs. The complaint describes two occasions, though, when Cpl. Corder prevented him from receiving his religious tray for no apparent reason. The complaint also sets forth another incident wherein Cpl. Corder denied a second inmate his religious tray. From this, it can be inferred that Cpl. Corder has made it a practice to interfere with the religious dietary restrictions of inmates in her care. The complaint, therefore, states a colorable First Amendment claim for relief against Cpl. Corder.

         The Court notes, however, that the plaintiff has named the Montgomery County Jail as a defendant. A county jail or workhouse is not a person that can be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Grimmett v. Wilson County Jail, 2015 WL 787228 (M.D. Tenn.); Staggs v. Lewis County Jail, 2009 WL 3877682 (M.D. Tenn.). Therefore, the claims against this defendant are hereby DISMISSED.

         The plaintiff has also named ABL as a defendant. The plaintiff's claim against ABL is that, “Since / /, they have refused to come up with a diet plan.” His reference to “they” suggests that the plaintiff is asserting a claim against ...


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