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Doyle v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

March 16, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.



         Inmate/Plaintiff William Doyle, III is confined at the United States Penitentiary-McCreary (“USP-McCreary”) in Pine Knot, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Doyle has filed a civil rights Complaint against the United States and Defendants Mark S. Inch (Director of the BOP), J. Ray Ormond (Warden of USP-McCreary), Lieutenant B. Messer (supervisor at USP-McCreary), and Officer R. Wilson (employee of USP-McCreary). He asserts claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, pursuant to the doctrine announced in Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2670 et seq. (“FTCA”), the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1 to -4, and the Fifth Amendment. [Record No. 1, 7]

         Shortly after filing his original Complaint [Record No. 1], Doyle filed a Supplemental Complaint [Record No. 7], seeking to add an additional claim under the RFRA (“Count 3”) which had not been administratively exhausted when he filed his original Complaint. Although Doyle did not seek the Court's permission to do so, the Court will construe the filing of the Supplemental Complaint as a motion seeking leave to file a supplemental pleading under Rule 15(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that “the court may, on just terms, permit a party to serve a supplemental pleading setting out any transaction, occurrence, or event that happened after the date of the pleading to be supplemented.” The request to file the supplemental pleading will be granted. For clarification purposes, because the Supplemental Complaint also re-states the same claims made in the original Complaint in full, the Supplemental Complaint will be considered the operative pleading in this action.[1]

         The Court conducts a preliminary review of Doyle's Supplemental Complaint because he asserts claims against government officials. 28 U.S.C. §1915A. The Court must dismiss any claim that is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).

         When testing the sufficiency of Doyle's Supplemental Complaint, the Court affords it a forgiving construction, accepting as true all non-conclusory factual allegations and liberally construing its legal claims in the plaintiff's favor. Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2012). And while the Court has an obligation to liberally construe a complaint filed by a person proceeding without counsel, it has no authority to create arguments or claims that the plaintiff has not made. Coleman v. Shoney's, Inc., 79 F. App'x 155, 157 (6th Cir. 2003) (“Pro se parties must still brief the issues advanced with some effort at developed argumentation.”). Vague allegations that one or more of the defendants acted wrongfully or violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights are not sufficient. Laster v. , No. 08-CV-10898, 2008 WL 1901250, at *2 (E.D. Mich. April 25, 2008).


         Doyle's Supplemental Complaint contains three Counts. And all generally relate to his religious practices as a member of the Muslim faith. [Record No. 7 at ¶9]. In Count 1, Doyle challenges the validity of the policies of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and USP-McCreary authorizing inmates to pray only individually or in small groups of two or three persons. [Id. at ¶¶54-57] Specifically, he alleges that these policies are “unconstitutional on their face” and as applied to him under the RFRA. [Id. at ¶55]. In Count 2, Doyle seeks to bring an equal protection claim under the Fifth Amendment as a “class of one, ” alleging that there is an ongoing conspiracy by some employees at USP-McCreary to deny him equal protection of the law. [Id. at ¶¶58-69]. Doyle alleges in Count 3 that USP-McCreary's policies relating to the administration of medication to him and other inmates who fast during the month of Ramadan are “unconstitutional on their face” and violate the RFRA. [Id. at ¶¶70-83]

         Although Doyle generally claims to be proceeding against the United States pursuant to the FTCA, any such claim is barred by sovereign immunity. As a sovereign entity, the United States is immune from claims against it. United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). Although the FTCA constitutes a limited waiver of that immunity for the negligence of government employees, Doyle does not allege negligence on the part of any government employee. Moreover, the United States has not explicitly waived sovereign immunity for constitutional torts committed by government employees. F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 477 (1994). Thus, to the extent that Doyle seeks to pursue a claim against the United States under the FTCA, this claim will be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.


         Doyle alleges in his Supplemental Complaint that on two different occasions in September 2016, he and/or other Muslim inmates with whom he was praying were informed by Defendant Lt. Messer that they could only pray in a group of two or three. [Record No. 7 at ¶¶ 19-27, 29] He further contends that the long-held policies of both the BOP and USP-McCreary restrict inmate prayer to small groups of two to three inmates. [Id. at ¶¶ 16, 30-32, 55]

         Doyle claims in Count 1 that these policies are “unconstitutional on their face” and as applied to him under the RFRA. [Record No. 7 at ¶55] To prevail on this claim, Doyle “must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the [challenged policies] would be valid.” United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745 (1987). See also Cincinnati Women's Services, Inc. v. Taft, 468 F.3d 361, 368 (6th Cir. 2006). While prisoners retain the right to the free exercise of their religion, “the circumstances of prison life may require some restrictions on prisoners' exercise of their religious beliefs.” Walker v. Mintzes, 771 F.2d 920, 929 (6th Cir. 1985). When addressing a challenge to a prison regulation impacting religious expression, a court must “balance the prisoners' constitutionally protected interest in the free exercise of their religious beliefs against the state's legitimate interests in operating its prisons.” Id.; see also O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 352 (1987). Even if a policy is found to infringe on an inmate's First Amendment rights, “the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

         In the prison context, maintaining order and safety is a compelling interest. See Hoevenaar v. Lazaroff, 422 F.3d 366, 369-70 (6th Cir. 2005); Jones v. Shabazz, 352 Fed. App'x. 910, 915 (5th Cir. 2009). Moreover, circumstances exist where limiting inmate prayer to groups of two or three persons is reasonably related to this interest. Thus, because there are a set of circumstances that exist under which these policies are valid, Doyle's claim that these policies are unconstitutional on their face fails as a matter of law. As a result, to the extent that Count 1 alleges that the policies are unconstitutional on their face, this portion of Doyle's Supplemental Complaint will be dismissed.

         To the extent that Doyle alleges that the application of these policies to him violate the RFRA, the RFRA prohibits the federal government from “substantially burden[ing]” a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability unless the government can demonstrate that “application of the burden to the person-(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a), (b). Thus, even if Doyle establishes that the policies “substantially burdened” his exercise of religion, there is no violation of the RFRA if the defendants can demonstrate that applying the policies to Doyle is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. See Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., No. 16-2424, ___F.3d ___, 2018 WL 1177669, at *14 (6th Cir. Mar. 7, 2018). As this is an affirmative defense, the Court finds that a response is required with respect to this portion of Doyle's claim in Count 1.


         Doyle seeks to assert in Count 2 a “class-of-one” equal protection claim pursuant to Bivens. This claim is based on an allegation of an ongoing conspiracy by USP-McCreary employees to deny him equal protection of the law implicit in the Fifth Amendment[2] by discriminating against him for saying an Islamic prayer in the dining hall. [Record No. 7 at ¶¶58-69] However, this claim is barred by sovereign immunity to the extent Doyle seeks to pursue this Bivens claim against the defendants in their official capacities. A suit against a government employee in his or her “official capacity” is not a claim against the employee for his or her conduct while performing job duties for the government. Instead, it is a claim against the government agency that employs the individual. Thus, an official capacity suit against a BOP employee is a suit against the BOP, which is a federal agency. While Bivens authorizes suits against federal employees for violations of civil rights, it does not waive the sovereign immunity enjoyed by the United States and its agencies. Ctr. for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. v. Napolitano, 648 F.3d 365, 370 (6th Cir. 2011) (Bivens claims may be asserted against federal officials only in their individual capacities); Okoro v. Scibana, 63 F. App'x 182, 184 (6th Cir. 2003).

         To recover against a given defendant in a Bivens action, the plaintiff “must allege that the defendant [was] personally involved in the alleged deprivation of federal rights.” Nwaebo v. Hawk-Sawyer, 83 F. App'x 85, 86 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 373-77 (1976)). The mere fact of supervisory capacity is not enough: respondeat superior is not an available theory of liability. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325-26 (1981). The only defendants that Doyle suggests were personally involved in the alleged conspiracy to deprive him of his equal protection rights are Lt. Messer and Officer Wilson. Thus, he alleges no basis for imposing liability on Director Inch or Warden Ormond regardomg this claim.

         Moreover, to state a claim alleging a Bivens conspiracy, Doyle must allege “an agreement between two or more persons acting in concert to deprive a person of his constitutional rights, and an overt act done in furtherance of the conspiracy causing injury.” Uduko v. Cozzens, 975 F.Supp.2d 750, 757 (E.D. Mich. 2013) (citing Hooks v. Hooks, 771 F.2d 935, 943-44 (6th Cir.1985)). “It is well-settled that conspiracy claims must be pled with some degree of specificity and that vague and conclusory allegations unsupported by material facts will not be sufficient to state a claim.” Gutierrez v. Lynch, 826 F.2d 1534, 1538 (6th Cir. 1987). Here, Doyle fails to allege the existence of an agreement between “some employees at USP-McCreary” to discriminate against him with any specificity, nor does he otherwise allege facts to support such a claim. Nor does he allege any facts to support his conclusory allegation that the defendants acted with discriminatory intent. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 686 (2009) (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “do not require courts to credit a complaint's conclusory statements” of discriminatory intent “without reference to its factual context.”). At best, Doyle alleges a series of acts by different individuals. He then asserts, based on nothing but his own conclusions, that these actions were part of a conspiracy to discriminate against him based on his religion. Such vague and conclusory allegations unsupported by facts are insufficient to state a conspiracy claim. Uduko, 975 F.Supp.2d at 757.

         Moreover, Doyle purports to bring this claim as a “class of one” claim. [Record No. 7 at ¶ 68] In a class-of-one equal protection claim, the plaintiff “does not allege that the defendants discriminate against a group with whom she shares characteristics, but rather that the defendants simply harbor animus against [him or] her in particular and therefore treated [him or] her arbitrarily.” Davis, 679 F.3d at 441 (quoting Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 592 (9th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original)). To state such a claim, a plaintiff must allege that he, as an individual, has been “intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the ...

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