United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
J. Brown, Esq. Francis Charles Fredericks, Esq. Seth Michael
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BARBADORO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Staples is a practitioner of Taoism. He was incarcerated at
the New Hampshire State Prison from 2011 until 2015. During
that time, he claims that he suffered from harassment by
multiple correctional officers because he refused for
religious reasons to shave his beard to conform to the
prison's beard policy. The harassment included physical
and mental abuse, and unjustified confinement in the
prison's Secure Housing Unit, Secure Psychiatric Unit,
and Closed Custody Unit. He also claims that he was
repeatedly denied parole because he refused to shave his
has filed a rambling, vague, and scattershot complaint
against the Prison Warden, the Commissioner of the Department
of Corrections, every member of the Parole Board, the Prison
Chaplin, and 14 other prison employees. He asserts several
claims based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Person Act (RILUPA) and the federal constitution. He seeks
both damages and declaratory relief. Defendants have
responded with a motion to dismiss the entire complaint for
failure to state a claim.
Memorandum and Order I address only Staples' RILUPA
STANDARD OF REVIEW
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a
plaintiff must make factual allegations sufficient 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 is facially plausible if it pleads
“factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id.
deciding a motion to dismiss, I employ a two-step approach.
See Ocasio-Hernández v.
Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).
First, I screen the complaint for statements that
“merely offer legal conclusions couched as fact or
threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action.” Id. (citations, internal quotation
marks, and alterations omitted). A claim consisting of little
more than “allegations that merely parrot the elements
of the cause of action” may be dismissed. Id.
Second, I credit as true all non-conclusory factual
allegations and the reasonable inferences drawn from those
allegations, and then determine if the claim is plausible.
Id. The plausibility requirement “simply calls
for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence” of illegal conduct.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The “make-or-break
standard” is that those allegations and inferences,
taken as true, “must state a plausible, not a merely
conceivable, case for relief.”
Sepúlveda-Villarini v. Dep't of Educ.,
628 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 2010); see Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level. . .
bases his RLUIPA claims on his contention that defendants
substantially burdened his right to practice his religion by
subjecting him to a pattern of harassment and the denial of
parole for refusing to shave his beard. He also mounts a
facial attack on the prison's beard regulation, which he
claims is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's recent
decision in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015).
Defendants respond by arguing that Staples' RLUIPA claims
fail because he is not entitled to recover damages for a
violation of RLUIPA and lacks standing to seek declaratory
relief. I examine each argument in turn.
the First Circuit has reserved judgment on the issue . . .
every federal appeals court that has addressed the issue has
decided that RLUIPA does not authorize claims for damages
asserted against defendants sued in their individual
capacities.” Pabon v. Cheshire Cty. Dep't of
Corr., No. 15-CV-115-LM, 2015 WL 2092808, at *1 (D.N.H.
May 5, 2015) (internal citation omitted); see Washington
v. Gonyea, 731 F.3d 143, 145 (2d Cir. 2013); Sharp
v. Johnson, 669 F.3d 144, 154 (3d Cir. 2012);
Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 189 (4th Cir.
2009); Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Tex., 560 F.3d
316, 328-29 (5th Cir. 2009)), aff'd sub nom. Sossamon
v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 (2011); Nelson v.
Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 886-89 (7th Cir. 2009);
Stewart v. Beach, 701 F.3d 1322, 1334-35 (10th Cir.
2012). This court has concurred. See Pabon, No.
15-CV-115-LM, 2015 WL 2092808, at *1; see also Moseley v.
Spencer, No. CV 15-13661-LTS, 2016 WL 347305, at *4 (D.
Mass. Jan. 27, 2016) (slip opinion); Cryer v.
Spencer, 934 F.Supp.2d 323, 333 (D. Mass. 2013)
response, Staples cites only district court decisions that do
not engage with, and are supplanted by, subsequent well-
reasoned circuit decisions. Compare Shidler v.
Moore, 409 F.Supp.2d 1060, 1067 (N.D. Ind. 2006)
(assuming without analysis that damages available under
RLUIPA), with Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 889
(7th Cir. 2009) (“[A]s a matter of statutory
interpretation, and to avoid the constitutional concerns that
an alternative reading would entail, we decline to read
RLUIPA as allowing damages against defendants in their
decline to resist the overwhelming weight of case law. Under
RLUIPA, a plaintiff may “obtain appropriate relief
against” government officials. 42 U.S.C. §§
2000cc-2(a); see 2000cc-5(4). But RLUIPA “was
enacted pursuant to Congress' spending power, see 42
U.S.C. § 20000c, which allows the imposition of
conditions, such as individual liability, only on those
parties actually receiving the state funds.”
Gonyea, 731 F.3d at 145. Analogously to contract
law, “non-recipients of the funds, including
individuals who are state officials, generally cannot be
subject to private liability for monetary damages” for
violating conditions to which they did not agree.
Sharp, 669 F.3d at 154. “‘To decide
otherwise would create liability on the basis of a law never
enacted by a sovereign with the power to affect the
individual rights at issue' - i.e., the state receiving
the federal funds - and this would ‘raise serious
questions regarding whether Congress had exceeded its
authority under the Spending Clause.'”
Gonyea, 731 F.3d at 146 (internal citations omitted)
(quoting Sossamon, 560 F.3d at 329; ...