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Pleasant-Bey v. Shelby County Government

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

October 31, 2019




         Plaintiff Boaz Pleasant-Bey, an inmate at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (“TTCC”) in Hartsville, Tennessee, sued pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Chief Jailer Robert Moore moved for judgment on the pleadings on Plaintiff's individual capacity claims against him, arguing that he is entitled to qualified immunity. (ECF No. 20.) Officer Charles Gatewood later joined in Chief Moore's motion. (ECF No. 33.) For the reasons below, this Court DENIES Chief Jailer Robert Moore and Officer Charles Gatewood's Motion for judgment on the pleadings.


         Plaintiff asserts that he is a Muslim and, as a Muslim, he wears a kufi or a turban. (ECF No. 1 at PageID 2-3.) He alleges that a staff member at the Shelby County Jail told him that he could not wear a kufi in the jail per Chief Moore's instructions. (Id. at PageID 3.) And Defendant Gatewood once “aggressively” grabbed at his kufi, forcing Plaintiff to remove it and walk to his cell. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also claims that the Defendants “created and enforced unconstitutional policies/customs that prohibit inmates from conducting religious services at the jail.” (Id. at PageID 4.) He claims that Defendants forced him to eat non-halal foods and refused to hire a qualified Sunni Muslim Imam to hold traditional Islamic sermons. (Id. at PageID 2-4.)

         Plaintiff alleges that these policies violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)(1)(A)-(B), the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at PageID 3-4.) He sues Defendants in their official and individual capacities and seeks monetary damages and abolition of all contested policies. (Id. at PageID 5.)

         After screening the Complaint, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims: (1) for denial of religious services by failing to hire a full-time Imam, (2) for failure to provide halal food options, and (3) those under RLUIPA. (ECF No. 9 at PageID 31-35.) The Court, however, allowed Plaintiff's claims to proceed against Shelby County, Chief Moore, and Officer Gatewood for violating his First Amendment right to wear religious headgear. (Id.) Now, Chief Moore moves for Judgment on the Pleadings on Plaintiff's claims of individual liability, (ECF No. 20), and Officer Gatewood joins in the Motion. (ECF No. 33.)


         Chief Moore and Officer Gatewood seek relief under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A court reviews a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) using the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Monroe Retail, Inc. v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 589 F.3d 274, 279 (6th Cir. 2009).

         A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations by arguing the allegations establish no claim for which relief can be granted. To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the Court also looks to Rule 8. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 566 U.S. 622, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see Engler v. Arnold, 862 F.3d 571, 575 (6th Cir. 2017). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 623 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009)).

         A court considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” DIRECTV, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007). A court need not accept as true all legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. Hananiya v. City of Memphis, 252 F.Supp.2d. 607, 610 (W.D. Tenn. 2003) (citing Lewis v. ACB Business Servs., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 405 (6th Cir. 1998)). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         In sum, “[t]o withstand a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings, ‘a complaint must contain direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements under some viable legal theory.” Barany-Snyder v. Weiner, 539 F.3d 327, 332 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Commercial Money Ctr., Inc., 508 F.3d 327, 336 (6th Cir. 2007)). Put another way, “[t]he Court's narrow inquiry on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is based upon whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims, not whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove the facts alleged.” Time & Sec. Mgmt., Inc. v. Pittway Corp., 422 F.Supp.2d 907, 910 (W.D. Tenn. 2006) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).


         Defendants Moore and Gatewood claim qualified immunity from suit because Plaintiff's right to wear a kufi was not clearly established. (ECF Nos. 20-1 at PageID 66-68; 33 at PageID 103-05.) Plaintiff, on the other hand, argues that his right to wear a kufi is clearly established, absent a legitimate penological interest in ...

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