United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Brunswick Division
GODBEY WOOD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE
before the Court are Plaintiff's Objections, dkt. no. 25,
to the Magistrate Judge's January 30, 2017, Report and
Recommendation, dkt. no. 21. After an independent and de
novo review of the entire record, the undersigned
concurs with the Report and Recommendation. Accordingly, the
Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, as supplemented
herein, as the opinion of the Court and OVERRULES
Plaintiff's Objections. The Court GRANTS Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss, DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint,
DENIES Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis,
and DISMISSES AS MOOT Plaintiff's Motions for Extension
of Time to File Objections. Dkt. Nos. 24, 27. The Court
DIRECTS the Clerk of Court to enter the appropriate judgment
of dismissal and to CLOSE this case.
a Santeria practitioner, was incarcerated at the Federal
Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia ("FCI
Jesup") from 2010 until October 23, 2014. Dkt. No. 1, p.
3. During that time, he sought to have Santeria bead
necklaces sent to him by outside sources rather than through
the prison's approved vendor catalog. Id. at p.
4; Dkt. No. 1-1. Plaintiff stated that his religion requires
him to wear Santeria beads that have been infused by a
special ceremony with the spiritual force, Ache, and that
beads sold by the prison's approved vendors are not
guaranteed to have undergone this ceremony. Dkt. No. 1, p. 7.
Beginning on October 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a grievance
and a series of appeals pursuant to the Bureau of
Prisons' grievance policy. Dkt. Nos. 1-3, 1-5, 1-7.
Defendant Watts denied Plaintiff's final appeal on
January 24, 2013. Dkt. No. 1-8.
October 23, 2014, Plaintiff was released to a halfway house
in his home territory of Puerto Rico and then later to home
confinement. Dkt. No. 1, p. 6. Since at least December 1,
2014, officials at FCI Jesup have allowed inmates to receive
Santeria beads from sources other than the prison-approved
vendors. Id. Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit
more than a year later, on February 18, 2016. In his
Complaint, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive
damages, nominal damages, and the costs and expenses of
litigation. Id. at p. 13. He claims Defendants
violated the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, the
Equal Protection Clause, and the Religious Freedom and
Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb,
et seg. Id.
February 26, 2016, the Magistrate Judge recommended dismissal
of Plaintiff s claims due to statutory untimeliness and
limitations on monetary relief under RFRA. Dkt. No. 4.
However, the Magistrate Judge vacated this Report on June 6,
2016, after Plaintiff's Objections raised questions as to
the timeliness of Plaintiff's Complaint. Dkt. No. 7.
Concurrently, the Magistrate Judge directed the United States
Marshals Service to serve Plaintiff's Complaint on
Defendants. Dkt. No. 9. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss
on September 14, 2016, to which Plaintiff filed a Response.
Dkt. Nos. 14, 16. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report in
which he recommended granting Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss. Dkt. No. 21.
objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to
dismiss his: 1) individual capacity claims under RFRA; 2)
Bivens and RFRA claims under qualified immunity; and
3) equal protection claims. Plaintiff also objects to the
Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the Court deny
Plaintiff in forma pauperis status on
appeal. Dkt. No. 25. The Magistrate Judge adequately
addressed Plaintiff s individual capacity claims under RFRA,
Defendants' qualified immunity for Plaintiff's
Bivens and RFRA claims, and Plaintiff's in
forma pauperis status on appeal. Thus, the Court will
not repeat that analysis.
the Court will address Plaintiff's Objection that the
Court should allow his equal protection claim to proceed,
because the Magistrate Judge did not specifically address
that claim in his Report. Dkt. No. 25, p. 4. Plaintiff
alleges in his Complaint that other religious faith
groups-including Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish adherents-are
allowed to practice their sincerely held beliefs by wearing
their religious items "without restrictions whatsoever,
" whereas Santerian practitioners are prevented from
doing the same. Dkt. No. 1, p. 7. In their Motion to Dismiss,
Defendants argue that Plaintiff's equal protection claims
fail because Plaintiff does not identify preferential
treatment given to a similarly situated class. Dkt. No. 14,
pp. 10-11. Defendants maintain that Plaintiff "does not
allege he was unable to wear the Santeria necklaces and beads
procured through the catalog of approved vendors" and
that, consequently, he fails to adequately allege that
Defendants violated his equal protection rights. Dkt. No. 14,
p. 11; Dkt. No. 26, p. 3. Specifically, Defendants contend
that Plaintiff inappropriately analogizes other religious
faith groups' ability to wear properly acquired religious
items with Santerian practitioners' alleged inability to
wear or procure religious items outside of the prison's
approved vendor catalog.
state a valid equal protection claim, a prisoner must show:
(1) that he has been treated differently from other
"similarly situated" inmates, and (2) that this
discriminatory treatment is based upon a constitutionally
impermissible basis, such as religion. Jones v. Ray,
279 F.3d 944, 946-47 (11th Cir. 2001) (per curiam).
Additionally, a prisoner must demonstrate that the defendants
were motivated by a discriminatory intent or purpose. See
Parks v. City of Warner Robins, 43 F.3d 609, 616 (11th
Cir. 1995) (requiring "proof of discriminatory intent or
purpose" to show an Equal Protection Clause violation);
Elston v. Talladega Cty. Bd. of Educ, 997 F.2d 1394,
1406 (11th Cir. 1993) (requiring a plaintiff to demonstrate
that the challenged action was motivated by an intent to
discriminate in order to establish an equal protection
fails to allege that similarly situated prisoners received
more favorable treatment. His claims are not based on any
contention that Defendants prevented him from wearing
Santerian items obtained through the approved vendor catalog.
Rather, Plaintiff's Complaint centers on his inability to
procure such items outside of the prison's approved
vendor catalog. However, he does not allege that other
religious groups were allowed to obtain religious items
outside of the approved vendor catalog. Instead, Plaintiff
bases his equal protection arguments on the ability of other
religious groups to wear their approved vendor religious
items "without restriction." Dkt. No. 1, p. 7. The
right to obtain religious items outside the approved vendor
catalog and the right to wear approved vendor religious items
are two separate and distinctive rights. See
Gladden, 777 F.3d at 1212 (establishing that there is a
clear distinction between the right to wear religious items
and the right to obtain religious items from outside
Plaintiff s equal protection claim fails because he does not
allege that similarly situated inmates received more
favorable treatment. Thus, the Court also OVERRULES this
portion of Plaintiff's Objections and DISMISSES
Plaintiff's equal protection claim for failure to state a
Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation, dkt. no. 21, as supplemented herein, as the
opinion of the Court and OVERRULES Plaintiff's
Objections. The Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss, DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint, DENIES
Plaintiff leave to appeal in forma pauperis, and
DISMISSES AS MOOT Plaintiff's Motions for Extension of
Time to File Objections. Dkt. Nos. ...