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Hall v. Turner

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

January 16, 2019

ART TURNER et al., Defendants.


          David J. Hale, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Donald Ray Hall filed the instant pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action proceeding in forma pauperis. This matter is before the Court upon initial review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons stated below, the Court will dismiss some of Plaintiff's claims and allow other claims to proceed for further development.


         Plaintiff is a convicted inmate at the Western Kentucky Correctional Complex. His complaint arises out of his previous incarceration at the Kentucky State Reformatory (KSR). He names the following Defendants: Art Turner, whom he identifies as a chaplain at KSR; Philip Campbell, identified as an “Administration Section Supervisor”; Aaron Smith, the KSR Warden; James Erwin, a Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections; and Governor Matt Bevin.[1] Plaintiff sues each Defendant in his official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiff, identifying himself as a “Monsaic Jew, ” states that he is bringing his claims under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and Sections 1 and 2 of the Kentucky Constitution. He asserts that he “was denied his religious right to participate with other inmate of the jewish faith in the Passover Meals and Seder Services at [KSR] on April 10th thru April 18th of 2017.” Plaintiff maintains that on January 17, 2017, while he was participating in the Kosher Diet Participation Agreement (KDPA) program, he signed up to take part in Passover meals and Seder services. He asserts that in March, prior to Passover beginning on April 10, 2017, he missed more than two meals without an approved excuse in a one-week period, which he states caused him to be removed from the KDPA program. Consequently, he states he was not permitted to participate in Passover meals or Seder services. He states that the requirement that inmates sign the “Passover Meals Agreement” is an “unconstitutional requirement.”

         Plaintiff asserts, “Notice that [Plaintiff] was removed from the KDPA did not inform [him] that his name was removed from the [Passover meals and Seder services list] which denied him an opportunity to challenge his removal in a timely manner that would have caused the Defendants to place his name back on the . . . list.” Plaintiff states that he did not learn that his name had been removed from the list until the day Passover began when he attempted to pick up his Passover meal. Plaintiff states that when he was told that his name was not on the list, he went to the institution's chapel and spoke with Chaplain Turner. He states that Turner told him that his name was removed from the list because he had two violations of the KDPA in a one-year period. He states, “Turner did not inform [Plaintiff] that it was Philip Campbell, Admin. Sect. Supv. who removed his name from the [Passover meals and Seder services] list.”

         Plaintiff details the many efforts he undertook to file grievances and appeals concerning the issue.

         Plaintiff states that “Defendants had no constitutional right to create a rule or regulation or contract/agreement requiring an inmate to sign to participate in a religious service and that they had no right to remove[] [Plaintiff] from the [Passover meals and Seder services list] because he was removed from the KDPA program.” Plaintiff also states that Defendants misinterpreted the agreements and that the Passover meals and Seder services agreement is ambiguous. He asserts, “The contract (which is unconstitutional) inmates are force to sign for the [Passover meals and Seder services list] is used to intimidate inmates and furthermore it clearly states that if an inmate violates the KDPA during Passover that he will be removed from the Passover Meals program.” Plaintiff maintains that he was not participating in the KDPA when Passover began and that Defendants therefore had no right to deny his right to participate in Passover meals and Seder services.

         Plaintiff further states that his claims against Warden Smith and Commissioner Erwin should not be dismissed because they “are aware of the unconstitutional violation and the unconstitutional contract and practices of their subordinates through notice of those acts via the appeals to the grievances that was submitted to them, wherein, they failed to take any action to stop the unconstitutional use of the practices stated above.” He further states his claims against Governor Bevin should also not be dismissed “on the grounds that he is responsible for the action of his subordinates.”

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief in the form of an order to “cease requiring inmates to sign KDPA and Passover agreement.”[2]

         II. STANDARD

         When a prisoner initiates a civil action seeking redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of it, if the court determines that the complaint 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. See § 1915A(b)(1), (2); McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007).

         In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekaran v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). “But the district court need not accept a ‘bare assertion of legal conclusions.'” Tackett, 561 F.3d at 488 (quoting Columbia Natural Res., Inc. v. Tatum, 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995)). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         Although this Court recognizes that pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), “[o]ur duty to be ‘less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up unpled allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted). And this Court is not required to create a claim for Plaintiff. Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). To command otherwise would require the Court “to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its ...

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