United States District Court, District of Columbia
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.
8, 2017 [Dkt. #25]
Boatwright ("plaintiff or "Boatwright") filed
this suit claiming that when he was a participant in a secure
residential treatment program designed to rehabilitate him
after contact with the criminal justice system, the employees
of the program retaliated against him for practicing his
Muslim faith and for raising concerns about their alleged
discrimination. The case is before the Court on a Motion to
Dismiss, filed by the only two defendants that remain in the
case: Sharon Jacks ("Jacks") and Shari Lewis
("Lewis"). Jacks and Lewis were supervising
Boatwright's rehabilitation. Boatwright alleges that they
were the ultimate decision makers responsible for terminating
him from the treatment program. Jacks and Lewis counter that
they had independent grounds to terminate him from the
program, and that his termination was not the result of any
discrimination or retaliation on their part. Because Jacks
and Lewis are protected by qualified immunity in these
circumstances, the Court must DISMISS the
Complaint for failure to state a plausible claim for relief.
Boatwright is a D.C. Code offender who was enrolled in a
secure residential treatment program in July 2012 when parole
authorities found probable cause that he had violated a term
of his supervised release from prison. Compl. ¶ 26. The
secure residential treatment program ("SRTP") was
created to be an alternative placement for eligible D.C. Code
offenders on parole or supervised release who faced possible
revocation. Compl. ¶ 16. In Phase I of the SRTP, the
participants are confined to a correctional treatment
facility ("CTF"). Compl. ¶ 22. In Phase II,
SRTP participants are released to an out-patient program and
required to reside in the District of Columbia for a period
of time in order to complete the programming. Compl.
¶¶ 16, 27. An independent federal agency called the
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency
("CSOSA") provides personnel to manage each
individual's participation in the SRTP. Compl. ¶ 20.
Other staff perform other roles for the SRTP: employees of
the Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA") were
responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the
residents in the CTF where Boatwright resided and employees
of Phoenix Houses provided substance abuse treatment services
to the participants. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22.
Sharon Mays Jacks is an employee of CSOSA. Compl. ¶ 47.
She was Program Manager for the SRTP in the District of
Columbia when Boatwright was enrolled. Id. Defendant
Shari A. Lewis is also an employee of CSOSA. Id. She
served as Treatment Specialist for the SRTP. Id.
after Boatwright arrived at the CTF, in late July 2012, he
began complaining about harassment and discrimination
stemming from his religious observance of his Muslim faith,
including during Ramadan. Compl. ¶¶ 27, 31-33.
Boatwright was concerned about what he saw as unprofessional,
mocking, and disruptive behavior by CCA officers who were
supervising the pre-dawn prayer of Boatwright. Compl. ¶
31. Boatwright and others reported the officers' conduct
and asked that these officers be removed from the Ramadan
post. Compl. ¶ 33. At the beginning of August, CCA Chief
of Security Laretta Johnson issued a memorandum after an
investigation of this complaint. Compl. ¶ 34.
Johnson's memorandum found the allegations
"inconclusive" but nonetheless stated CCA had
reassigned the staff members named in the grievances.
little over a week later, Boatwright started noticing what he
believed to be retaliation. Another officer assigned to
supervise the inmates during prayer, Lieutenant Nicole McCain
Hines ("Hines"), was carrying a can of mace in a
way that Boatwright thought was causing the Muslim inmates to
feel scared instead of focusing on their prayers. Compl.
¶ 36. Boatwright discussed this situation with Hines.
Id. Following the conversation, Hines filed a
disciplinary report against Boatwright for allegedly
falsifying that she had placed her can of mace near the faces
of other inmates. Compl. ¶ 37. Three days later, another
staff member filed a disciplinary report against Boatwright,
allegedly at the request of Hines. Compl. ¶¶ 38,
41. In this incident, a Phoenix Houses law librarian accused
Boatwright of indecent exposure and "disrespect"
after delivering books to his cell, where he was caught
unaware and was in a state of some undress. Id. On
August 21st, these disciplinary infractions were adjudicated
and the hearing officer determined there was insufficient
evidence to support the charges. Compl. ¶ 40.
August 29th, SRTP staff determined that Boatwright was no
longer eligible for the SRTP program and unfavorably
discharged him. Compl. ¶ 42. Participants who are
unfavorably discharged from the SRTP have to face their
original violations and will end up back in prison if their
supervised release is revoked. Compl. ¶ 19. The
discharge memorandum issued for Boatwright, dated August 30,
2012, states he was removed from the SRTP Unit following
"three reported behavioral incidents." Compl.
¶ 44. It states as additional reasons for discharge that
Boatwright had failed to take part in some SRTP programming
and that Boatwright had told staff he planned to return to
Maryland, which would make him ineligible for Phase II of the
program. Compl. ¶¶ 45-46. Lewis and Jacks both
signed the discharge memorandum. Compl. ¶ 47.
Boatwright filed this action against the D.C. Department of
Corrections, Corrections Corporation of America, Phoenix
Houses of the Mid-Atlantic, Inc., Jacks and Lewis in February
2014, alleging that he was discriminated and retaliated
against when he was terminated from the SRTP. Defs.' Mot.
to Dismiss 1 [Dkt. # 25-1]. The suit states causes of action
under the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States
Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act, and the District of Columbia Human Rights
Act. Plaintiff has since settled his claims against the D.C.
Department of Corrections, CCA, and Phoenix Houses.
See Stipulations of Dismissal [Dkts. #28, #35, #43].
Boatwright's remaining claims are against Jacks and
Lewis. He sues them in their individual capacities, alleging
they violated his rights while acting pursuant to their
official authority as employees of CSOSA.
The Complaint Does Not Plausibly Allege that Jacks and Lewis
Were Personally Involved in the Alleged
Discrimination or Retaliation.
without deciding that Jacks and Lewis, as employees of CSOSA,
may be treated as federal officials and sued in a
Bivens action, Boatwright may only sustain a suit
against them if it is plausible from the face of the
Complaint that they were personally involved in depriving him
of his constitutional right to be free from both religious
discrimination and retaliation for protected speech.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); see
also Simpkins v. D.C. Gov't, 108 F.3d 366, 369 (D.C.
Cir. 1997) (citing Tarpley v. Greene, 684 F.2d 1,
9-11 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). In a case like this, where plaintiff
alleges that he suffered an injury as a "result of
unconstitutional discrimination, " it is not enough to
rely merely upon a chain of events in which a precursor to
his injury was discrimination. See Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 682-83. Rather, he must plead facts that make it plausible
that the individual defendants "themselves acted on
account of a constitutionally protected characteristic."
Id. The upshot is that the pleading must
"plausibly suggest [defendants'] discriminatory
state of mind." Id. It is not even enough to
plead that other actors' discriminatory acts earlier in
the chain of events were "condoned by" defendants.
Id. Moreover, when there is an "obvious
alternative explanation" for the official action,
id. at 682 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 567 (2007)), "purposeful,
invidious discrimination ... is not a plausible
bald assertion that Jacks and Lewis were discriminating
against Boatwright is i not a
plausible inference from the mere fact that they signed a
discharge letter that cited factors that were legitimate on
their face. Boatwright has not pleaded any facts that would
tend to support the inference that Jacks and Lewis themselves
acted with a discriminatory state of mind. He does not even
plausibly suggest that Jacks and Lewis knew that
Boatwright was Muslim or had engaged in any First
Amendment-protected activity. He raises nothing that would
put into question Jacks's and Lewis's good faith
belief that the "behavioral incidents" that they
cited were actually disruptive or problematic, rather than a
pretextual excuse to discriminate or retaliate. All
Boatwright alleges is that the disciplinary actions were in
fact baseless and pretextual when launched against Boatwright
by the CTF staff. But even accepting that assertion as true,
he does not allege facts to suggest that Jacks and Lewis
would have known so. The closest the Complaint comes to
alleging the requisite knowledge or motive is when it states
that Jacks was a "program manager" and Lewis ...