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Snow v. Dzurenda

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 7, 2019

JAMES DZURENDA, Director, et al., Defendants



         Plaintiff John Oliver Snow brings this civil-rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was forced to eat a diet that does not conform with his religious beliefs. Because Snow applies to proceed in forma pauperis, [1] I screen his second-amended complaint[2] under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. I find on screening that Snow still has not pled colorable claims, so I dismiss them and give him one final opportunity to amend.


         A. Plaintiff's factual allegations [3]

         Snow has been an inmate at Nevada's High Desert State Prison since 2012. He alleges that the Common Fare diet has been modified from the original court agreement and does not comply with the Reform Jewish dietary restrictions of being kosher and certified by an Orthodox Rabbi.

         B. Plaintiff's causes of action

         Based on these events, Snow sues Chief of Purchasing Dawn Rosenberg, Retired Deputy Director Scott Sisco, Deputy Director David Tristan, Food Service Manager III Duane Wilson, [4]Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Rosskamm, and Religious Consultant Shea Harlig. He alleges two counts under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), and one count under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. He seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief.[5]


         A. Screening standard

         Federal courts must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity.[6] In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.[7] All or part of the complaint may be dismissed sua sponte if the prisoner's claims lack an arguable basis in law or fact. This includes claims based on legal conclusions that are untenable, like claims against defendants who are immune from suit or claims of infringement of a legal interest which clearly does not exist, as well as claims based on fanciful factual allegations or fantastic or delusional scenarios.[8]

         Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper only if it is clear that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle him or her to relief.[9] In making this determination, the court takes all allegations of material fact as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[10] Allegations of a pro se complainant are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, [11] but a plaintiff must provide more than mere labels and conclusions.[12] “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported with factual allegations.”[13] “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[14]

         B. Analysis of claims

         The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise.[15] Although the United States Supreme Court has held that inmates retain their First Amendment religious-freedom protections, it also recognizes that “the fact of incarceration” and “valid penological objectives-including deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security” may justify restrictions on those rights.[16] As the High Court explained in Turner v. Safley, (1) “there must be a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it”; (2) where “there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates . . . courts should be particularly conscious of the measure of judicial deference owed to corrections officials in gauging the validity of the regulation”; (3) if “accommodation of an asserted right will have a significant ripple effect on fellow inmates or on prison staff, courts should be particularly deferential to the informed discretion of corrections officials”; and (4) the absence of “ready alternatives” to a particular prison regulation is evidence that it is reasonable and not “an exaggerated response to prison concerns.”[17]

         Snow's second-amended complaint still falls short of stating sufficient facts to satisfy the instructions I gave in my last screening order.[18] I instructed Snow to state specific facts to support each allegation he makes against each defendant, but his complaint remains conclusory and does not contain enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.[19] So I dismiss his second-amended complaint in its entirety and ...

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