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 practices Taoism and his religious beliefs require
that he not shave his beard. Staples claims that he was
harassed while incarcerated at the New Hampshire State Prison
because he refused to comply with the prison's beard
policy. He asserts that the prison denied him a Taoist diet,
access to Taoist literature, and prevented him from obtaining
religious counseling. He also alleges that he was harassed
after filing grievances and a lawsuit in an effort to protect
his constitutional rights. The harassment took the form of
physical and mental abuse, placement in restrictive housing,
and denial of parole.
has filed a rambling, vague, and scattershot amended
complaint against the Prison Warden, the Commissioner of the
Department of Corrections, members of the Parole Board, the
Prison Chaplain, and fourteen other prison
employees. He asserts claims under the First
Amendment's Free Exercise, Establishment, and Petition
Clauses, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection and
Due Process Clauses, and the Eighth Amendment. Defendants have
responded with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim. Doc. No. 38.
Hampshire State Prison has a policy prohibiting inmates from
growing beards longer than 1/4 inch. The policy aims to
address security concerns posed by longer beards, which can
conceal contraband and make it difficult to identify inmates.
Staples refused to comply with the prison's beard policy
and grew a long beard because his religious beliefs preclude
him from maintaining a shorter beard. As a result, he was
harassed, denied parole, and placed in restrictive housing.
was placed in restrictive housing for much of his
incarceration. On entering the prison as a pretrial detainee,
he was placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), where
inmates are locked in their cells for twenty-three hours a
day. He remained there for much of his incarceration, with
exceptions that included stints in the Secure Psychiatric
Unit (SPU), the Health Services Center, the “hole,
” and the Closed Custody Unit (CCU). He was denied a
transfer to the Medium South Unit - which was less
restrictive, offered better amenities, and would have
improved his chances of being released on parole - all
because of security concerns about his beard.
first entered the prison as a pretrial detainee, but in April
2013 was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive
sentences. Although Staples had accumulated enough pretrial
credit to be immediately eligible for parole on his first
sentence, the parole board initially denied him parole
because he refused to attend his parole hearing. At a second
hearing later that year, the board paroled Staples from his
first sentence to his second sentence but refused to give him
any credit on the second sentence for time served on the
first. In April 2014, the board declined to parole Staples on
his second sentence because of his security classification,
which the board members knew was based on his refusal to
shave. Staples was finally granted parole on his second
sentence in April 2015, but his release from prison was
delayed until October 2015.
addition to being placed in restrictive housing and denied
parole, Staples alleges that correctional officers harassed
him because he refused to shave his beard. Officer Paul
Cascio repeatedly threatened to forcefully shave Staples'
beard and instructed prison staff to go to Staples' cell
every day and prepare him for shaving. Another officer,
Robert Parent, attempted to pressure Staples to shave by
asking, loudly enough to be overheard by other inmates,
“Why are you PC'ing? Why do you want to PC?”
Staples alleges that the term “PC” refers to
“an inmate who is seen as an informant or
‘snitch, '” and an inmate carrying that label
“could be extorted, beaten, raped and even killed by
other inmates.” Doc. No. 33 at 9. Officer
Parent then gave Staples a statement form and instructed him
to “fill it out telling me why you want to be
PC.” Id. When Staples tore the form in half,
Officer Parent “slammed [him] against a [cement]
support pillar.” Id. at 10, 27. Staples hit
his head and severely injured his shoulder. In another
instance of harassment, Staples was transferred “from
cell to cell for no apparent reason other than retaliation,
” including four transfers in one month. Id.
at 14. At one cell, Officer Marc Miller threatened to
pepper-spray Staples if he did not clean another inmate's
feces. Around this time, Staples went on a hunger strike and
became suicidal. Soon after, in November 2014, Staples filed
a pro se complaint in this court challenging defendants'
refusal to accommodate his beard.
also alleges that defendants refused to accommodate his
Taoism in other ways. The prison chaplain did not visit him
or provide him with religious counseling and services, the
prison library did not have Taoist reading materials, even
though materials from other religions were available, and
Staples' request for a religious diet was not
accommodated, even though other religious diets were
accommodated. In response, Staples repeatedly filed internal
reacted to the internal grievances and lawsuit by retaliating
against Staples. Shortly after Staples filed his lawsuit, he
was placed in punitive segregation, where he was locked in
his cell for 23 hours a day. Defendants also gave him a
“Hurt Feelings Report” - “a fake grievance
report that mocks complaints to law enforcement as
‘whining.'” Id. at 16. Officer Scott
Marshall inquired whether Staples had received the report,
and later pepper-sprayed Staples without justification while
he was naked in his cell. In another incident, Officer Miller
“threatened to throw [Staples] down a set of stairs and
then ‘ride' him down the stairs.”
Id. at 19.
treatment while incarcerated caused him physical,
psychological, and emotional harm, including suicidal
ideation. On October 9, 2015, Staples was released on parole,
and this suit followed.
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 Atlantic 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. (citation, 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. . .
presents a panoply of constitutional claims seeking damages
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants argue
that I should dismiss the complaint in its entirety because
the parole board members are entitled to absolute immunity,
and the remaining defendants are entitled to qualified
immunity. I examine each of the defendants' arguments in