United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Kaitlyn Leeann Dennis, Gustafson Gluek PLLC counsel for
Voss, Bahram Samie, and D. Gerald Wilhelm, Assistant United
States Attorneys counsel for defendants
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
matter is now before the Court on the Defendant Warden
William True's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.
[Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 49.] Based on the Defendant's
motion and supporting papers, Mr. Cooper's response, and
the arguments presented at the September 5, 2017 hearing, the
Court concludes that Mr. Cooper has failed to state a claim
and the motion to dismiss should be granted.
The Amended Complaint
Cooper is a federal inmate who was housed at the Federal
Prison Camp in Duluth, Minnnesota (“FPC Duluth”),
a minimum-security federal prison camp. [Am. Compl.
¶¶ 11-12, ECF No. 42.] He is an observant Jew, and
the practice of his religion requires access to a Torah, a
rabbi, and a minyan, the last of which is a quorum of ten
adult Jewish men. [Id. ¶¶ 2, 11, 18, 19.]
Mr. Cooper alleges that in 2016, a rabbi visited FPC Duluth
only once for the Jewish holiday of Purim, and that the
prison failed to provide a Torah. [Id. ¶ 28.]
Because FPC Duluth does not have a sufficient population of
observant adult Jewish men, no minyan could be convened while
Mr. Cooper was confined there. Mr. Cooper requested that he
be transferred to another facility with a Jewish population
sufficient to form a minyan. [See Id. ¶¶
24, 29; id. ¶¶ 31-39 (describing
plaintiff's efforts to obtain a transfer).]
True was formerly the Warden at FPC Duluth and he held that
position at the time when Mr. Cooper arrived there in January
2016. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 25.] Mr. Cooper quickly
informed Warden True that he was unable to practice his faith
without a rabbi, a Torah, and a minyan. In response, Warden
True informed Mr. Cooper that he would have to wait eighteen
months before requesting a transfer. [Id. ¶ 25;
see also Id. ¶ 34.] Despite having told Mr.
Cooper that he would need to wait eighteen months to request
a transfer, after Mr. Cooper began officially pursuing
administrative remedies relating to the matter, Warden True
submitted a transfer request on his behalf on August 11,
2016. [Id. ¶¶ 34-35.] The transfer request
recommended that Mr. Cooper be transferred to a facility
where he “could better participate in his faith.”
[Id. ¶ 35.] In the transfer request, Warden
True did not mention that Mr. Cooper's religious practice
required a rabbi, a Torah, and a minyan despite Mr. Cooper
telling him that all three were necessary for him to practice
is faith. [Id. ¶ 36.] The transfer request was
Warden True made the transfer request on Mr. Cooper's
behalf, his time as warden of FPC Duluth ended. The new
Warden, identified as “M. Rios, ” also submitted
a transfer request for Mr. Cooper on January 5, 2017, and
specifically referenced the need for a Jewish population
sufficient to form a minyan. [Am. Compl. ¶ 37.] This
request was denied at various levels of the Bureau of
Prisons' administrative appeal process. [Id.
on these allegations, in Count I of the Amended Complaint Mr.
Cooper asserts a Bivens claim against Warden True
for violation of his First Amendment rights under the Free
Exercise Clause. [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40-46.] Mr. Cooper
claims that Warden True's actions constitute an
unreasonable restriction on his right to exercise his
religion, that Warden True knew or should have known that
such conduct violated his constitutional rights, and that he
suffered damages as a direct and proximate result of Warden
True's actions. [Id.]
Count II, Mr. Cooper asserts a claim against Warden True
under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act
(“RFRA”). [Am. Compl. ¶¶ 47-53.] Mr.
Cooper asserts that: (1) Warden True imposed a substantial
burden on his ability to exercise his religion by keeping him
housed at a facility without access to a rabbi, a Torah, and
minyan; and (2) keeping him at FPC Duluth was not the least
restrictive means of furthering a compelling government
interest. [Id. ¶ 49.] He claims that Warden
True submitted the August 11th transfer request on his behalf
knowing that it contained a grossly inadequate explanation of
the reasons a transfer was required, making Warden True
liable in both his individual and official capacities.
[Id. ¶ 51.]
Amended Complaint, Mr. True requested both damages and an
injunction requiring his transfer to a facility where a
rabbi, a Torah, and a minyan population were available. [Am.
Compl., Prayer for Relief ¶¶ c-d.] Mr. Cooper is no
longer housed at FPC Duluth. [Pl.'s Resp. at 2 n.1, ECF
No. 60.] Now, Mr. Cooper is located at a United States
Penitentiary facility that is “capable of providing the
fundamental religious resources [Mr. Cooper] lacked access to
in his 19-month tenure at FPC Duluth.” [Id.]
Given this development, and in light of the parties'
stipulation for dismissal of a number of other defendants,
the remaining issues in this case are limited to the
availability of damages for Warden True's alleged
violation of Mr. Cooper's First Amendment rights and the
True argues that Mr. Cooper has failed to state a claim
against him in Count I of the Amended Complaint because there
is no Bivens remedy for alleged violations of the
First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. [Def.'s Mem.
at 13-19, ECF No. 51.] He further argues that in Count II,
Mr. Cooper has failed to state a claim under RFRA because the
statute does not permit the recovery of damages from a
government official sued in his individual capacity.
[Def.'s Mem. at 19-28.] Finally, Warden True contends
that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Mr. Cooper's
claims. [Id. at 28-30; Def.'s Reply at 8-9, ECF
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. v.
Twombly, 500 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). This standard does
not require the inclusion of “detailed factual
allegations” in a pleading, but the complaint must
contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level.” Id. at
555. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are
not sufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In
applying this standard, the Court must assume the facts in
the complaint to be true and must construe all reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th Cir. 1986).
But the Court need not accept as true any ...