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Knott v. McLaughlin

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

November 1, 2017

SHAWN JEROME KNOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
Warden GREGORY MCLAUGHLIN, Defendant.

          Proceedings Under 42 U.S.C. §1983 Before the U.S. Magistrate Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENADTION

          CHARLES H. WEIGLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Shawn Jerome Knott claims that Defendant Gregory McLaughlin, Warden of Macon State Prison, impermissibly burdened his religious beliefs by forbidding inmates from participating in congregational prayer services in their living quarters. Before the Court is the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 11). As discussed below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Defendant's Motion be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, an inmate at Macon State Prison, claims that he is a Sunni Muslim and has a religious obligation to participate in congregational prayer five times a day. (Doc. 1, p. 7; Doc. 15-1, p. 5). According to Plaintiff, these prayers last between five and eight minutes. (Doc. 19, p. 5). Along with his Complaint, Plaintiff filed a memorandum from Defendant McLaughlin dated February 26, 2015, which states in relevant part:

         Effective immediately, at no time will offenders be allowed to gather or pray in any area inside of the dorms or living units. Religious services are offered in designated areas of the facility. There will be no religious services or other gathering in the dorms or living units for any reasons unless approved by the Warden.

         An offender is free to pray in his individual assigned cell. M-Building assigned inmates are free to pray near his individual bunk.

         Any inmate in violation of this directive will be subject to disciplinary action.

         (Doc. 1, p. 10)

         The Court may consider the memorandum along with Plaintiff's Complaint for purposes of resolving the Defendant's Motion. Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 2016) (“A district court can generally consider exhibits attached to a complaint in ruling on a motion to dismiss”).

         According to Plaintiff, congregational prayers were freely allowed at Macon State Prison before Defendant McLaughlin issued his memo in February 2015. (Doc. 15-1, p. 4). By Plaintiff's account, prior Muslim congregational prayer services were “conducted peacefully and out of the way of others.” (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that he is “restricted to the living unit” of his dormitory, housing unit E-2, “for the vast majority of the day.” (Doc. 15-1, p. 5). Therefore, the memo's ban on congregational prayer services “inside of the dorms or living units” effectively amounts to “a complete prohibition of congregational prayer.” (Doc. 19, p. 3). Plaintiff alleges that other forms of group activity “such as card playing, group rap (music) sessions, dice games, [and] group exercise” are not banned. (Doc. 15-1, pp. 8-9). Plaintiff further alleges that the only alternative provided for Muslim congregational prayer is a service provided only once per week, on Fridays. (Doc. 15-1, p. 6).

         On March 2, 2015, Plaintiff alleges that he, along with other Muslim inmates, participated in a congregational prayer service in their living quarters, notwithstanding the memo's ban. (Doc. 15-1, p. 6). By Plaintiff's account, the Muslim inmates gathered “peacefully in the corner of the dorm for a short period of time and then dispersed.” (Doc. 15-1, p. 6). In response, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant McLaughlin “had the entire dorm (E-2) of ninety six (96) men placed on lock down for several days (March 2 - 12, 2015) [with the result that] all the inmates in the dorm lost their visitation, phone, recreation, television, and daily shower privileges.” (Doc. 15-1, pp. 6-7). The incident caused “hostility towards the Muslims.” (Doc. 15-1, p. 7). Plaintiff also received a disciplinary report based on his violation of the memorandum's ban on congregational prayer. (Id.).

         AVAILABLE RELIEF

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks an injunction allowing him to resume congregational prayer services, as well as nominal and ...


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