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Doyle v. United States

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

November 13, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


          Danny C. Reeves, United States District Judge

         Inmate/Plaintiff William A. Doyle, III, is presently confined at the United States Penitentiary-McCreary (“USP-McCreary”) in Pine Knot, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attonrey, Doyle filed a civil rights complaint asserting numerous claims against the United States and the following defendants: Mark S. Inch, Director of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”); J. Ray Ormond, Warden of USP-McCreary; Lieutenant B. Messer, a supervisor at USP-McCreary; and Officer Ronald Wilson, an employee at USP-McCreary. [Record No. 7] After reviewing Doyle's complaint, the Court dismissed all but Doyle's claim in Count 1 alleging a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1 to -4. [Record No. 20][1] The defendants then filed a motion to dismiss Count 1 of the complaint or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. [Record No. 45] Doyle filed a response [Record No. 47] and the defendants filed a reply. [Record No. 53]

         While the defendants' first dispositive motion on the RFRA claim was being briefed, Doyle filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint seeking to add a claim alleging that Defendants Messer and Wilson retaliated against him for exercising First Amendment rights. [Record No. 48, 48-1 at Count 2] The Court permitted the amendment, but only to the extent that it added a retaliation claim against Messer and Wilson as set forth in Count 2 of the amended complaint. [Record No. 49, 50] However, because Doyle did not seek to amend his RFRA claim (Count 1), the Court clarified that briefing would continue on the defendants' first dispositive motion addressing Doyle's RFRA claim as pled in Count 1 of his supplemental complaint [Record No. 7] and that the defendants could respond separately to the retaliation claim set forth in Count 2 of the amended complaint. [Record No. 49][2]

         The defendants then filed a second motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment with respect to Doyle's retaliation claim set forth in Count 2 of the amended complaint. [Record No. 54] On October 1, 2018, Doyle filed a pleading captioned “Reply to Defendant's Response to their Motion to Dismiss Or Alternatively For Summary Judgment Count 1 and Count 2.” [Record No. 60] To the extent that this pleading addresses arguments made by the defendants in their reply brief in further support of their first dispositive motion on Doyle's RFRA claim, this pleading constitutes an impermissible sur-reply filed without leave of Court. See LR 7.1(c), (g). However, this pleading also addresses arguments made by the defendants in their second dispositive motion addressing Doyle's retaliation claim. [Record No. 60] Thus, to the extent that Doyle's pleading addresses the defendants' motion seeking dismissal or summary judgment on his retaliation claim, it may be construed as Doyle's response to the defendants' second dispositive motion. The defendants did not file a reply and the time for doing so has now expired. Thus, these matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. Gardner v. Quicken Loans, Inc., 567 Fed.Appx. 362, 364 (6th Cir. 2014). When addressing a motion to dismiss, the Court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accepts as true all ‘well-pleaded facts' in the complaint. D'Ambrosio v. Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 383 (6th Cir. 2014). Because Doyle is proceeding without the benefit of an attorney, the Court reads his complaint to include all fairly and reasonably inferred claims. Davis v. Prison Health Servs., 679 F.3d 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2012).

         Here, the defendants have filed motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, attaching and relying upon declarations extrinsic to the pleadings in support of their motions. [Record No. 45] Thus, the Court will treat the defendants' motions to dismiss as motions for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 607 F.3d 1102, 1104 (6th Cir. 2010). See also Ball v. Union Carbide Corp., 385 F.3d 713, 719 (6th Cir. 2004) (where defendant moves both to dismiss and for summary judgment, plaintiff is on notice that summary judgment is being requested, and the court's consideration as such is appropriate where the nonmovant submits documents and affidavits in opposition to summary judgment).

         A motion under Rule 56 challenges the viability of an opposing party's claim by asserting that at least one essential element of that claim is not supported by legally-sufficient evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324-25 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment must establish that, even viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Loyd v. St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, 766 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2014). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “come forward with some probative evidence to support its claim.” Lansing Dairy, Inc. v. Espy, 39 F.3d 1339, 1347 (6th Cir.1994). However, if the responding party's allegations are so clearly contradicted by the record that no reasonable jury could adopt them, then the court need not accept them when determining whether summary judgment is warranted. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). The Court must grant summary judgment if the evidence would not support a jury verdict for the responding party with respect to at least one essential element of his claim. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986).


         The facts relevant to Count 1 of Doyle's complaint are not generally in dispute. According to Doyle, he is an adherent to the Hanafi School of Al-Islam and has a sincerely-held belief that, for the five daily prayers, Muslims must prayer together at specified times whenever possible. [Record No. 7 at ¶ 8; Record No. 47 at ¶ 2] Count 1 of his complaint challenges the validity of the policies of the BOP and USP-McCreary authorizing inmates to pray only individually or in small groups of two or three inmates. [Record No. 7 at ¶¶ 54-57] Doyle alleges that, on two different occasions in September 2016, he and/or other Muslim inmates with whom he was praying were informed by Messer that they could only pray in a group of two or three. [Record No. 7 at ¶¶ 19-27, 29] He further alleges 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]

         According to the defendants, the group prayer policy at USP-McCreary was implemented in response to the requirements of BOP Program Statement (“PS”) 5360.09, Religious Beliefs and Practices, which requires that the BOP provide “inmates of all faith groups with reasonable and equitable opportunities to pursue religious beliefs and practices, within the constraints of budgetary limitations and consistent with the security and orderly running of the institution and the [BOP]” 28 C.F.R. § 548.10(a). [Record No. 45-3, Exh. 2, Decl. of Michael Jones, Supervisory Chaplain, USP-McCreary at ¶ 3-4] To comply with this requirement, USP-McCreary implemented Institutional Supplement MCR-5360.09, Religious Beliefs and Practices. [Id. at Jones Decl. at ¶ 4].

         With respect to inmate prayer, the current version of this supplement, MCR-5360.09j, provides as follows:

Inmates who are religiously motivated to pray in groups may do so as follows: In the housing unit, one inmate may have one or two additional inmates pray with him in his assigned cell, but the total number of occupants must not exceed three inmates. At work details, Education areas, or Recreation areas, up to three inmates may pray in an area designated by a staff member supervising that detail or assignment. The inmate(s) must first inform the staff member of the need to pray in a group before engaging in the group prayer. Up to three inmates may pray at one time, but no more than three. If more than three inmates desire to pray, a first set of inmates may pray and when they are finished, a second set of inmates may pray.

         [Record No. 45-3, Attachment A, MCR 5360.09j(Q) (effective December 1, 2017) at p. 12] Although other versions of this supplement have been in place during the time period relevant to this lawsuit, both of these versions similarly restricted prayer groups to small groups of two to three inmates. [Record No. 45-3, Attachment B, MCR 5360.09h(k)(4) (effective October 15, 2015) at p. 10 (providing that inmates may pray individually or in small groups of two or three inmates and that a request for an opportunity to pray can be made at work detail sites, school, or units during break times); Record No. 45-3, Attachment C, MCR-5360.09i(Q) (effective September 13, 2016) at p. 12 (providing that, outside the institution chapel, inmates could pray individually or in a group of no more than three inmates within their assigned cell or, with prior approval of a supervising staff member, while the inmate is on work detail, in education, or other mandatory assignment, as well as in recreation areas)]

         Doyle claims that it is his sincerely-held belief that, at a prayer time, all the Muslims who are present must pray together. [Record No. 47 at ¶ 24] Thus, he argues that the policies limiting prayer groups to no more than three inmates violate the RFRA when applied to him because they fail to allow for congregate prayer involving more than three inmates for the five daily prayer times required by his faith. [Record No. 47 at ¶ 7, 11-12] He also argues that these policies deny him the right to join a prayer already in progress, which he also asserts is one of the fundamental tenets of Al-Islam. [Record No. 47 at ¶ 33]

         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, Doyle must first show that the Government “substantially burdened” his exercise of religion to establish a violation of the RFRA. 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000bb-1(a); United States v. Girod, 159 F.Supp.3d 773, 777 (E.D. Ky. 2015). “Under RFRA, a ‘substantial burden' is imposed only when individuals are forced to choose between following the tenets of their religion and receiving a governmental benefit . . . or coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs by the threat of civil or criminal sanctions . . .” Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Serv., 535 F.3d 1058, 1069-70 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)). See also Adkins v. Kaspar, 393 F.3d 559, 569-70 (5th Cir. 2004) (interpreting the identical “substantial burden” standard of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1.)[3] However, “a government action or regulation does not rise to the level of a substantial burden on religious exercise if it merely prevents the adherent from either enjoying some benefit that is not otherwise generally available or acting in a way that is not otherwise generally allowed.” Adkins, 393 F.3d at 569-70.

         The defendants argue that Doyle fails to allege that his ability to practice his religion has been substantially burdened because the group prayer policy at USP-McCreary does not completely ban group prayer for purposes of the five daily prayers. Rather, it limits inmate group prayer to small groups, either in their cells or in other areas of the institution with prior approval. The defendants also point out that Doyle has the opportunity to participate in group prayer with larger groups of Muslim inmates on a weekly basis at the Friday Jumah prayer service at the institutional chapel. Thus, according to the defendants, because Doyle does not allege that he sought approval for group prayer and was denied, nor that he was prohibited from praying in a small group of two to three inmates, he fails to show that his exercise of religion has been substantially burdened. [Record No. 45-1 at p. 12-13]

         But Doyle claims it is his belief that, at the five daily prayer times, all Muslims who are present must pray together, regardless of number. [Record No. 47 at ¶¶ 2, 24]. He further asserts that it is a “fundamental tenant” of his religious beliefs that, if he sees a prayer in progress and has not yet prayed himself, he should join it. [Id. at ¶¶ 33, 38] The theological legitimacy of a particular religious practice is not in question under RFRA. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2751, 2778, 189 L.Ed.2d 675 (2014) (describing question of reasonableness of religious belief one “that the federal courts have no business addressing”); Bible Believers v. Wayne County, Mich.,805 F.3d 228, 256 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Fowler ...

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