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Jackson v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

August 22, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge


Plaintiff, a federal inmate proceeding pro se, brought this action alleging that the Defendants violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, by failing to provide him the pork-free diet required by his religious beliefs. The complaint names as Defendants the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") and Harley Lappin, the Director of BOP ("Federal Defendants"), and the GEO Group, Inc. and two of its employees, David Palmer, Assistant Warden at the Rivers Correctional Institution ("RCI"), and James K. Brown, the prison chaplain. ("GEO Defendants"). Defendants have filed motions to dismiss.


Plaintiff is incarcerated at the RCI in Winton, North Carolina. Complaint, p. 1. The RCI is operated by the Geo Group, Inc. pursuant to a contract with the BOP. Id., p. 5. Plaintiff alleges that he is a practicing Sunni Muslim and that his religion has strict dietary laws and requirements. Id., p. 4. On July 5, 2005, Plaintiff claims he was in the RCI's dining hall during the serving of special diets. Id., p. 3. The dining staff handed him a food tray containing pinto beans with pork. Id. He returned the tray and was given one without pork. Id. The consumption of pork violates Plaintiff's Muslim faith. Id., p. 2.

Plaintiff met with defendant James K. Brown, the chaplain at RCI, and complained to him that he had failed to offer the prison's Muslim community the opportunity to observe their faith's dietary requirements. Id., p. 4. Plaintiff also filed an informal Request for an Administrative Remedy raising the issue of the pork in his food. Id., Ex. 1. He alleges that after the request was denied, he met with Assistant Warden David Farmer. Id., p. 4. Defendant Farmer stated that the BOP's dietary program complied with Plaintiff's religious requirements. Id.

In response to Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of his grievance, RCI's Warden acknowledged that a case of pinto beans containing pork was inadvertently received into the facility. Id., Ex. 2. According to the Warden, the case of beans was immediately disposed of and not served to the inmates. Id. He also affirmed that the food served at RCI was pork-free. Id. Plaintiff's further administrative appeals to the BOP were denied. Id., p. 3.

Standard of Review

Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242 (D.C.Cir. 2002). The complaint need only set forth a short and plain statement of the claim, giving the defendant fair notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Kingman Park Civic Ass'n v. Williams, 348 F.3d 1033, 1040 (D.C.Cir. 2003) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

A court should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless the defendant can show beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Warren v. Dist. of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 37 (D.C.Cir. 2004); Kingman Park, 348 F.3d at 1040. Thus, in resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6) motion, the court must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. Macharia v. United States, 334 F.3d 61, 67 (D.C.Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1149 (2004); Holy Land Found. for Relief & Dev. v. Ashcroft, 333 F.3d 156, 165 (D.C.Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 1218 (2004). The court need not accept as true inferences unsupported by facts set out in the complaint or legal conclusions cast as factual allegations. Warren, 353 F.3d at 39; Browning, 292 F.3d at 242. In addition, the plaintiff has the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Felter v. Norton, 412 F. Supp. 2d 118, 122 (D.D.C. 2006) (citation and quotation omitted).

The GEO Defendants assert that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them. The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over each defendant. Atlantigas Corp. v. Nisource, Inc., 290 F. Supp. 2d 34, 42 (D.D.C. 2003). In order to meet his burden, a plaintiff must allege specific facts on which personal jurisdiction can be based; he cannot rely on conclusory allegations. Id. Furthermore, a plaintiff cannot aggregate allegations concerning multiple defendants in order to demonstrate personal jurisdiction over any individual defendant. Id. In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2), the Court need not treat plaintiff's allegations as true. Id. Rather, the Court may consider and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter in making the jurisdictional determination. Id.


Federal Defendants

The Federal Defendants move to dismiss on the ground that the RLUIPA does not apply to the BOP. In order to properly evaluate the Defendants' argument, it is necessary to understand the legislative and jurisprudential history of this area of law. RLUIPA is the "latest of long-running congressional efforts to accord religious exercise heightened protection from government-imposed burdens" than that required by the Supreme Court's free exercise clause jurisprudence. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 2117-2118 (2005). To that end, in 1993, Congress enacted the Religious FreedomRestoration Act ("RFRA"). That statute was intended to overturn Employment Div., Dep't of Human Resources of Or. v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), a decision which held that the First Amendment permits governments to apply neutral generally applicable laws to a religious practice without a showing of a compelling state interest. Cutter, 125 S.Ct. at 2118; Caldwell v. Caesar, 150 F. Supp. 2d 50, 55 (D.D.C. 2001). RFRA provides that a government "shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability" unless the government demonstrates that it "is in furtherance of a compelling government interest" and "is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb.

In City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 523-36 (1997), the Supreme Court held that RFRA was unconstitutional as applied to the states. A number of courts of appeals, including ours, have held that RFRA still applies to the federal government. See Cutter, 125 S.Ct. at 2118; Henderson v. Kennedy, 265 F.3d 1072, ...

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