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Williams v. Cox

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division

January 13, 2015

DR. COX, Supervisory Chaplain; FATHER O'NEAL, Chaplain; and UNKNOWN STAFF, Defendants.


JAMES E. GRAHAM, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, who is currently incarcerated at the Federal Satellite Low Camp in Jesup, Georgia ("FSL Jesup"), filed a cause of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), contesting certain conditions of his confinement. A prisoner proceeding in a civil action against officers or employees of government entities must comply with the mandates of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. In determining compliance, the court shall be guided by the longstanding principle that pro se pleadings are entitled to liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Walker v. Dugger, 860 F.2d 1010, 1011 (11th Cir. 1988).

28 U.S.C. § 1915A requires a district court to screen the complaint for cognizable claims before or as soon as possible after docketing. The court must dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and (2).

In Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997), the Eleventh Circuit interpreted the language contained in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), which is nearly identical to that contained in the screening provisions at § 1915A(b). As the language of § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) closely tracks the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court held that the same standards for determining whether to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be applied to complaints filed pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Mitchell, 112 F.3d at 1490. While the court in Mitchell interpreted § 1915(e), its interpretation guides this court in applying the identical language of § 1915A.

Plaintiff contends that he requested a work proscription from Defendants O'Neil and Cox in observance of the Feast of Shavout. Plaintiff also contends that these Defendants denied his requests. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants O'Neil, Cox, and "other unknown staff" placed a substantial burden on his right to practice the tenants of his faith. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb, et seq. ("RFRA").

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment "requires government respect for, and noninterference with, the religious beliefs and practices of our Nation's people." Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 719 (2005). Prisoners retain their First Amendment rights, including rights under the free exercise of religion clause; however, "lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system." Brunskill v. Boyd, 141 F.App'x 771, 774 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987)).

The RFRA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb to 2000bb-4, forbids the government from "substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion"[1] unless the government can "demonstrate[] that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2)is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b). Although the Supreme Court has declared RFRA unconstitutional as applied to the states, the RFRA still applies to acts of the federal government and its officials. Gonzalez v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006) (stating that pursuant to RFRA, the federal government must demonstrate a compelling interest when substantially burdening the exercise of religion).

The above allegations, when read in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, arguably state a claim under Bivens and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A against Defendants O'Neil and Cox for alleged violations of the First Amendment and the RFRA. A copy of Plaintiff's Complaint and a copy of this Order shall be served upon Defendants O'Neil and Cox, the Attorney General of the United States, and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia by the United States Marshal without prepayment of cost. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(i), the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia may be personally served or served by registered or certified mail addressed to the civil process clerk at the office of the United States Attorney. Pursuant to that same rule, service may be perfected on the United States Attorney General by registered or certified mail. The answer of the Defendants shall be filed within sixty (60) days of receipt of such service. FED. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(3)(B). If either Defendant elects to file a Waiver of Reply, then he must file either a dispositive motion or an answer to the complaint within thirty (30) days of the filing of said Waiver of Reply.

Plaintiff is instructed to advise the Court of the identity of "other unknown staff" within thirty (30) days of this Order. Plaintiffs failure to identify "other unknown staff' properly may result in the dismissal of "other unknown staff' from this cause of action.


Since the Plaintiff is authorized to proceed in forma pauperis, service must be effected by the United States Marshal. FED. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3). In most cases, the marshal will first mail a copy of the complaint to the Defendants by first-class mail and request that the Defendants waive formal service of summons. FED. R. Civ. P. 4(d); Local Rule 4.5. Individual and corporate defendants have a duty to avoid unnecessary costs of serving the summons, and any such defendant who fails to comply with the request for waiver must bear the costs of personal service unless good cause can be shown for the failure to return the waiver. FED. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(2). Generally, a defendant who timely returns the waiver is not required to answer the complaint until sixty (60) days after the date that the marshal sent the request for waiver. FED. R. Civ. P. 4(d)(3).

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants are hereby granted leave of court to take the deposition of the Plaintiff upon oral examination. FED. R. Civ. P. 30(a). The Defendants shall ensure that the Plaintiff's deposition and any other depositions in the case are taken within the 140-day discovery period allowed by this court's local rules. Local Rule 26.1(d)(i).

In the event Defendants take the deposition of any other person, they are ordered to comply with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30 as set forth herein. As the Plaintiff will likely not be in attendance for such a deposition, the Defendants shall notify Plaintiff of the deposition and advise him that he may serve on the Defendants, in a sealed envelope, within ten (10) days of the notice of deposition, written questions the Plaintiff wishes to propound to the ...

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