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Simpson v. Federal Bureau of Prison

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 8, 2020

JESSE RUSSELL SIMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CARL J. NICHOLS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jesse Russell Simpson seeks equitable relief and damages for Defendants' alleged violations of his religious civil rights occurring while he has been incarcerated at several federal prison facilities. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Simpson alleges that he practices Orthodox Therian Shamanism-a religion that requires him to “wear an imitation [w]olf tail” at all times and “meditate regularly around imagery of [w]olves, ” id. at 4-and that Defendants violated his right to freely practice the religion, id. at 2-3. Simpson asserts various claims against the Bureau of Prisons and twenty-two individual defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, for the alleged violations.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will dismiss certain of the official-capacity claims, transfer others to the Western District of Pennsylvania, and retain certain of the individual-capacity claims.

         I. Background

         Simpson is a prisoner currently incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI”) Loretto in Pennsylvania. See Id. at 9-10. Prior to being transferred to FCI Loretto, Simpson was housed at FCI Danbury in Connecticut, transferred to FCI Morgantown in West Virginia, and temporarily held at Federal Transfer Center (“FTC”) Oklahoma City in Oklahoma and U.S. Penitentiary (“USP”) Canaan in Pennsylvania. See Id. at 4-10.

         On October 21, 2019, Simpson filed this lawsuit alleging past and ongoing violations of his religious civil rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4 (2018), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), id. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc5, and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). See generally Compl. Simpson claims to practice Orthodox Therian Shamanism, a religion “with similar beliefs to many Native American and Animism religions.” Id. at 4. He asserts that, to comply with the tenets of this religion, he must “wear an imitation [w]olf tail” at all times and “meditate regularly around imagery of [w]olves.” Id. According to Simpson, failing to practice his religion in this way subjects him to “punishment of eternal damnation.” Id.

         Simpson sues twenty-three federal Defendants, including the Bureau of Prisons and various federal employees in both their individual and official capacities[1] for preventing him from practicing Orthodox Therian Shamanism while incarcerated. See Id. The same day he filed his Complaint, Simpson moved for either a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a preliminary injunction permitting him “to purchase, make, or otherwise obtain an imitation [w]olf tail, ” permitting him “to possess books, imagery, and other literature featuring [w]olves, ” and preventing Defendants from harassing, intimidating, retaliating, or otherwise targeting him as a result of this lawsuit. Mot. for TRO & Prelim. Inj. at 1, ECF No. 2.

         Shortly after Simpson moved for the preliminary equitable relief, the U.S. Attorney's Office of the District of Columbia appeared on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and the federal employees with respect to the official-capacity claims asserted against them (the “Official-Capacity Claims”). Notice of Appearance, ECF No. 3. Service has not yet been effected with respect to the individual-capacity claims against the individual defendants (the “Individual-Capacity Claims”). See Simpkins v. D.C. Gov't, 108 F.3d 366, 369 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (adopting the rule that “defendants in Bivens actions must be served as individuals, pursuant to Rule 4(e)”).[2] In other words, the claims against BOP and the Official-Capacity Claims are the only claims properly before the Court at this time.

         On November 19, 2019, Defendants filed their opposition to Simpson's request for preliminary equitable relief in which they move to dismiss, or alternatively, for summary judgment on Simpson's claims. Mem. in Supp. of Opp'n to Mot. for TRO & Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, or Alt., for Summ. J., or Alt. to Transfer (“Defs.' Opp'n & Mot.”), ECF No. 7-1. Simpson's and the Defendants' Motions are now ripe. See Mot. for TRO & Prelim. Inj.; Defs.' Opp'n & Mot.; Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot & Reply to Def.'s Resp. (“Pl.'s Reply”), ECF No. 13-2; Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Diss, or, Alt., for Summ. J., or Alt., to Transfer, ECF No. 15.

         II. Analysis

         Simpson seeks both damages and equitable relief under the Constitution, RLUIPA, RFRA, and Bivens. Mot. for TRO & Prelim. Inj. at 1-4 (seeking a TRO and a preliminary injunction); Compl. at 97-98 (seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, declaratory judgment, and a permanent injunction). Defendants move to dismiss the claims that are presently before the Court, either under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because the claims are moot or Defendants have immunity from suit, under Rule 12(b)(6) because Simpson fails to state a claim, or under Rule 12(b)(3) because venue is improper. See generally Defs.' Opp'n & Mot.

         A. RLUIPA Claims

         Simpson cannot maintain RLUIPA claims against any of the Defendants. RLUIPA “does not create a cause of action against the federal government or its correctional facilities.” Jackson v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, No. 06-592, 2006 WL 2434938, at *3 (D.D.C. Aug. 22, 2006) (first citing Ish Yerushalayim v. U.S. Dep't of Corr., 374 F.3d 89, 92 (2d Cir. 2004)); then citing Sample v. Lappin, 424 F.Supp.2d. 187, 192 n.3 (D.D.C. 2006); other citations omitted). Simpson's RLUIPA claims-including the Individual-Capacity and Official-Capacity RLUIPA Claims- are therefore dismissed against all Defendants for failure to state a claim.

         B. ...


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