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Koch v. Carlisle

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

March 2, 2017

CHRISTOPHER E. KOCH, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN CARLISLE, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BERNARD M. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Christopher E. Koch, a state prisoner appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking redress for alleged violations of his religious rights. Chief United States District Judge Joe Heaton has referred the matter for proposed findings and recommendations consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C). Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 22]. Plaintiff has responded to the Motion. See Plaintiff's Response [Doc. No. 25]. For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that Defendants' Motion be denied.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner confined at the Lawton Correctional Facility (LCF), a private prison operated by a corporation pursuant to a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Compl. 1 [Doc. No. 1].[1] Plaintiff alleges that he is “a faithful and reliable member of the Satanic faith” and has been for many years. Id. at 3, 6. According to Plaintiff, Defendant John Carlisle, the LCF Chaplain, and Defendant Hector Rios, the LCF Warden, were responsible for the religious activities at LCF and both willfully and arbitrarily denied him the right to worship and participate in the ceremonies of the “Festival of the Winter Solstice.” Id. at 3.

         II. Facts

         On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a request for the “Satanic / Left Hand Path Faith” to worship and participate in the Festival of the Winter Solstice. Id. at Ex. 3.[2] On November 5, 2014, Defendant Carlisle responded to the request by stating: “Every religious group on this facility must celebrate their religious ceremonies on their designated nights, you are no exception. You need to celebrate it on Dec. 17th or 24th. Let me know.” Id. at 7, Ex. 3.

         This outcome was untenable to Plaintiff. According to him, “altering the date of the rite is not in accordance with the event in the lunar cycle.” Id. at Ex. 4. Further, in a grievance related to a separate holiday attached to his Complaint, Plaintiff contends: “[A]ll my religious holidays fall under the ‘lunar cycle' and to be held on the day/it is to be observed, not whenever it is convenient, to do so would be a blasphemy against my faith and my God.” Id. at Ex. 17. In response, Plaintiff filed a grievance to Defendant Rios on November 10, 2014, asserting that Defendant Carlisle's decision was not in accordance with Department of Corrections policy. Id. at 7, Ex. 4. Plaintiff specifically requested that he be allowed to have his religious festival on its proper day and that “altering the date of the rite is not in accordance with the event in the lunar cycle.” Id. at Ex. 4. Defendant Rios' response was:

Your grievance has been reviewed. Your allotted religious day is Wednesday of every week. You must use one of the two days given by the chaplain (December 17th or 24th). With all the other events going on during that time frame, you must concede to the safety and security of the facility. The facility is also doing visitation on the 21st of December which will preclude staff from observing your festivities.

Id. at Ex. 5. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Administrative Review Authority (ARA), stating that the festival occurs between 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and visitation ends at 4:00 p.m. Id. at 7-8, Ex. 6.[3] The ARA denied Plaintiff's appeal on the basis that Plaintiff did not substantiate his appeal with argument or authority. Id. at 8, Ex. 7.[4] This lawsuit followed.

         III. Standard of Review

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for 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); see also Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1184 (10th Cir. 2010). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.” Miller v. Glanz, 948 F.2d 1562, 1565 (10th Cir. 1991).

         A pro se plaintiffs complaint must be broadly construed under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The generous construction to be given the pro se litigant's allegations “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). The court “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiffs complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiffs behalf.” Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997).

         IV. Analysis

         A. Plaintiffs' Claims

         Plaintiff brings four claims emanating from the same set of facts-Defendants Carlisle and Rios jointly prohibited Plaintiff from reserving a visitation room to celebrate the Festival of the Winter Solstice on December 21, 2014, the date on which the holiday is celebrated by followers of the Satanic Bible. Plaintiff contends such act willfully and arbitrarily deprived him of the following rights:

• The right to freedom of religion as protected by the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution;
• The right to freedom of religion as protected by the Free Exercise clauses in the United ...

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