United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee
A. Varlan United States District Judge.
29, 2019, Plaintiff, a prisoner, and his cellmate were taken
to a disciplinary hearing where they learned that jail
officials had discovered and seized materials from their cell
believed to be associated with the security threat group the
Aryan Nation [Doc. 2-1 p. 5]. Plaintiff specifically lists
the seized materials as a written copy of the Odinist/Asatru
“The Elder Futhark, ” which he states is
“approved by federal law as required material directly
related to my faith which is listed on my record as Odinist,
” and written copies of “Robert Greene's 48
Laws of Power” which he states is “also approved
on the mailing list for all inmates” [Id.].
officials told Plaintiff and his cellmate that if one of them
did not take responsibility for the seized materials, both
would be punished [Doc. 2-1 p. 5]. At the disciplinary
hearing, Plaintiff contested Defendant Patterson's
characterization of the seized documents as associated with a
security threat group as an error [Id. at 5-6].
After discussions with his advisors,  however, Plaintiff
ultimately accepted responsibility for the material by
pleading guilty to possession thereof after being advised
that if he did so, he would not lose the ability to
participate in a “parole-mandated technical violators
diversion program” and his custody level would not
change [Id. at 6]. Despite this advice, however,
after his guilty plea, Plaintiff's custody level was
raised to medium and he is no longer able to go to the
technical violators diversion program, and Plaintiff asserts
that this amounts to discrimination against him based upon
his religion in violation of his constitutional rights and
Tennessee Department of Correction (“TDOC”)
policies [Id. at 6-7].
has sued the Tennessee Department of Correction, Corporal
David Patterson, and Tina Ennis [Doc. 2 p. 3]. As relief,
Plaintiff seeks a return to minimum custody, to resume his
Tennessee violators diversion program, dismissal of the
disciplinary report and resulting “stg”
confirmation, and compensatory damages [Id. at 4].
the Prison Litigation Reform Act, district courts must screen
prisoner complaints and shall, at any time, sua
sponte dismiss any claims that are frivolous or
malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or are against a
defendant who is immune. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915(A); Benson v.
O'Brian, 179 F.3d 1014 (6th Cir. 1999). The
dismissal standard the Supreme Court articulated in
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)
“governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28
U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A]” Hill
v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus,
to survive an initial PLRA review, a complaint “must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a
plaintiff must establish that he was deprived of a federal
right by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983; Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312,
315 (1981). Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed
in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent
standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines
v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
relies on a grievance that he attached to his complaint to
set forth his § 1983 claims and asserts that the facts
therein allege a violation the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Person Act (“RLUIPA”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc(1)-(2) [Doc. 2 p. 3; Doc. 2-1]. In the
incorporated grievance, Plaintiff cites Title VI of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on
race, color, and national origin [Doc. 2-1 p. 6-7]. Title VI
does not prohibit discrimination based on religion and such
claims by prisoners are cognizable under § 1983,
Barhite v. Caruso, 377 Fed. App'x 508, 511 (6th
Cir. 2010), however. Accordingly, the Court liberally
construes the complaint as asserting that the disciplinary
incident underlying Plaintiff's grievance violated
Plaintiff's right to Equal Protection under the law, his
First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion, and
RLUIPA. The Court will first address the
sufficiency of Plaintiff's complaint as to Defendants
TDOC and Ennis before reaching the sufficiency of
Plaintiff's allegations in support of these claims as to
Defendant Patterson, however.
Defendants TDOC and Ennis
as to Defendant TDOC, nothing in Plaintiff's complaint
allows the Court to plausibly infer that a custom or policy
of TDOC caused the alleged violations of his constitutional
rights. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that the charge against him
for possessing the seized materials and the resulting
punishment were based on an erroneous characterization of the
materials as promoting the “Aryan Nation” when
the materials were permissible religious materials for
prisoners. As such, the complaint fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted under § 1983 as to Defendant
TDOC. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S.
658, 691 (1978) (holding that a municipality may not be
liable under § 1983 through a respondeat
superior theory, but may be responsible for an alleged
constitutional deprivation if there is a direct causal link
between a policy or custom of the entity and the alleged
Plaintiff's complaint contains no factual allegations
from which the Court can plausibly infer that Defendant Ennis
was personally involved in any violation of Plaintiff's
constitutional rights. As such, the complaint likewise fails
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted as to her.
Frazier v. Michigan, 41 Fed.Appx. 762, 764 (6th Cir.
2002) (providing that “a complaint must allege that the
defendants were personally involved in the alleged
deprivation of federal rights” to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted under § 1983).
while Plaintiff states that Defendant Patterson drafted the
disciplinary report against him and attended the disciplinary
hearing at which Plaintiff pleaded guilty to the charge
against him, Plaintiff has not set forth any facts from which
the Court can plausibly infer that Defendant Patterson
treated Plaintiff differently than similarly situated classes
of inmates in a manner that “bears no rational relation
to any legitimate penal interest” as required to state
a claim ...