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Ha'Keem v. Mesojedec

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 16, 2019

Maikijah Ha'Keem, Roy Hughes, Jimmy Booker, and Jacquard Larkin, Plaintiffs,
v.
Chad Mesojedec, Rehabilitation Therapist Director, Steve Sayovitz, Security Manager, Elizabeth Wyatt, Security Counselor, Kevin Schleret, Property Personnel, Many Torgerson, Property Supervisor, Kevin Moser, MSOP-Moose Lake Facility Director, Nick Lammi, Rehabilitation Counselor, Scott Benoit, Program Manager-MSOP-Moose Lake, Terry Kneisel, Assistant Facility Director-MSOP-Moose Lake, and Peter Puffer, Clinical Director MSOP-Moose Lake, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Steven E. Rau United States Magistrate Judge

         The above-captioned case comes before the undersigned on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 37). This matter was referred for the resolution of pretrial matters pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and District of Minnesota Local Rule 72.1. For the reasons stated below, this Court recommends granting Defendants' motion and dismissing this case.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Maikijah Ha'Keem, Roy Hughes, Jimmy Booker, and Jacquard Larkin- who are Muslims civilly committed in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”) in Moose Lake, Minnesota-initiated this lawsuit on February 10, 2016. (Compl., ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs asserted that Defendants, who are employees of MSOP, deprived them of their constitutional rights under the First Amendment; violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-2000cc-5; and violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb-2000bb-4. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on various grounds, including failure to state a claim, lack of subject matter jurisdiction over certain claims, pleading deficiencies, and qualified immunity. In response, Plaintiffs expressed a desire to amend their complaint to cure the deficiencies identified by Defendants in their motion to dismiss. The Court permitted Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint and denied Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice. (ECF Nos. 34, 35).

         Plaintiffs filed their amended complaint on March 8, 2017. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 36).[1] Defendants moved to dismiss and the parties briefed the motion. This case was then stayed as it was deemed sufficiently related to the ongoing litigation of Karsjens, et al. v. Piper, et al., Case No. 11-cv-3659 (DWF/TNL). (ECF No. 49). The stay was eventually lifted, (ECF No. 50), and this Court permitted the parties an opportunity to file supplemental briefing addressing any changes in law that may affect the Court's analysis of the already-submitted motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 51). The parties have submitted their supplemental briefs and the motion is ripe for determination. (ECF Nos. 52, 54).[2]

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[3]

         A. Prayer Oils and Prayer Spaces

         As noted above, Plaintiffs are Muslims civilly committed to the MSOP in Moose Lake, Minnesota. (Am. Compl. ¶ 1). Plaintiffs allege that it is common practice for Muslims to apply scented oil before praying. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22 n.10). Until the fall of 2015, Plaintiffs were permitted to obtain prayer oils from outside vendors with prior written permission from the MSOP's religious services volunteer and a supervisor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22 n.10). The supervisor, Chad Mesojedec, who also serves as the MSOP's rehabilitation therapist director, curtailed the practice because prayer oils had a strong scent and could mask contraband. (Am. Compl. ¶ 22 n.10).

         On October 15, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Mesojedec asking to meet with four MSOP staff members, including Mesojedec and Kevin Moser, MSOP facility director, regarding his concerns about prayer oils, prayer times and locations, and “of controlling one[']s right to practice their/his faith under the Federal Religious Act.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 11). Mesojedec responded on October 21, 2015 indicating prayer oils would be “dispensed in a manner[] so as to not overwhelm peers utilizing the Volunteer Services/Education area.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 11).[4] Mesojedec further noted he was not controlling individual prayer times, but was providing Muslim and Jewish clients options. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11). Mesojedec stated he and another MSOP staff member would meet with Ha'Keem as their scheduled permitted. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11).

         On October 23, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Scott Benoit, MSOP program manager, voicing concerns that Mesojedec did not understand his religious concerns, was trying to control prayer oils used by Muslims, and failed to accommodate their needs for five daily prayer sessions. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10). Benoit responded on November 2, 2015 noting that Ha'Keem's concern was outside his department of supervision, directing him to another MSOP staff member. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10).

         On November 28, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Troy Basaraba, MSOP security program manager, asking why Muslims cannot use or have prayer oil on their person or in their rooms or put it on before they enter Friday prayers. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13). Basaraba responded on December 9, 2015, stating that personal prayer oils were not allowed. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13).

         Ha'Keem sent a client request on December 13, 2015 to Ann Linkert, MSOP security director, asserting that Muslim prayer oils used for Friday Jumah services were not a security concern and were part of Muslim religious practices. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12). Similarly, on December 19, 2015, Ha'Keem sent a client request to Moser, asking why prayer oils were considered a security threat and why personal prayer oils were prohibited. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14). Moser responded on December 22, 2015, directing Ha'Keem to the appropriate MSOP unit where he could request a policy change. (Am. Compl. ¶ 14).

         On November 4, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Terry Kneisel, MSOP assistant facility director, asserting that Mesojedec was “trying to stop Muslims from praying in the ‘Religious Area' and ‘controlling our oils [and] stopping Muslims from using them, ” as well as making Muslims pray in rooms that have restrooms. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18). Kneisel responded on November 23, directing Ha'Keem to the proper chain of command. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18).

         On November 16, 2015, Mesojedec posted a memorandum titled “Client Use of Spiritual Rooms for Required Daily Personal Prayer” (the “Memo”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 19). Among other requirements, the Memo states “[p]rayer oil will not be provided for personal prayer.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 19).

         On November 20, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Mesojedec, writing as the Islamic group liaison, indicating that Muslims would “stop attending their faith for now” until Mesojedec stopped placing restrictions on the practice of their faith. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20). Ha'Keem requested the ability to use personal prayer oils and for only Muslims to control these oils. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20). Mesjoedec responded on December 2, 2015, indicating the issue would be reviewed at the next Spiritual Practices Advisory Committee. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20).

         On November 25, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Peter Puffer, MSOP clinical director, asserting that Mesojedec was violating the “Federal Religious Act” by controlling his faith. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21). Puffer responded on December 12, 2015, noting the issue had been subject to a grievance and was dismissed, with current MSOP Policy #420-5310H1 guiding the possession of oils. (Am. Compl. ¶ 21).

         On November 26, 2015, Mashood Yunus, the Islamic Outside Resource for MSOP Muslims, indicated MSOP was withholding prayer oils, dispensing “them a drop or two at a time.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 34). Yunus claims Mesojedec was rationing prayer oils. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34). Ha'Keem followed-up with client request on November 29, 2015 concerning the Ihamma use of prayer oils. (Am. Compl. ¶ 33). Bryant responded that no changes in the way oils are dispensed will be made. (Am. Compl. ¶ 33).

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs allege Defendants have violated their constitutional rights to the free practice of religion under the First Amendment. Plaintiffs assert the Defendants' actions are not reasonably related to legitimate, therapeutic, bona fide, or penological interests. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-25).

         B. Cross-Gender Pat Searches

         In December 2015, Hughes was working in the MSOP kitchen. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29). As Hughes was exiting his work assignment in the kitchen, a female staff member wanted to wand Hughes and pat search him. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29). Hughes informed her that it was against his religion to have a female staff member pat search him. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29). Hughes also stated he believed it was not an emergency situation that would permit a female-performed pat search. (Am. Compl. ¶ 29).

         On March 28, 2016, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Scott Sutton, MSOP health services director, regarding pat searches by female staff. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17 n.9). Sutton noted health services does not do pat searches, but that in emergency medical situations the staff on duty will handle the medical issue regardless of gender. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17 n.9). Sutton indicated he did not have the staffing resources to ensure a particular gender was on duty at all times. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17 n.9). Sutton encouraged Ha'Keem to speak with his volunteer spiritual advisor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17 n.9).

         On May 10, 2016, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Sara Kulas, MSOP unit director, expressing his concern that female MSOP staff conduct pat downs of Muslim men. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15). Kulas responded on May 12, 2016, noting she understood a female pat search is a conflict with Ha'Keem's Muslim beliefs, but that a male cannot always be guaranteed available for a pat search. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15).

         On May 15, 2016, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Benoit, noting it was forbidden for Muslims to permit a female staff member to perform any type of pat search and also forbidden for male staff members to perform a pat search if they touched private parts. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16). Benoit responded two days later, noting that the MSOP respects clients' religious beliefs, but that Kulas's May 12, 2016 response was accurate. (Am. Compl. ¶ 16).

         On May 26, 2015, Ha'Keem submitted a client request to Moser again raising concerns related to female pat searches of Muslim clients. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17). Moser responded the following day, stating that he understood the issue to be under current litigation and noting he previously requested additional ...


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