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Decker v. Frakes

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

February 3, 2016

CHRISTOPHER DECKER, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT FRAKES, MARIO PEART, RELIGIOUS STUDIES COMMITTEE MEMBERS, and JEFF MILLER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

John M. Gerrard United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on initial review of Plaintiff Christopher Decker’s Complaint (Filing No. 1). For the reasons discussed below, the court finds that this case may proceed to service of process as to Decker’s equal-protection and retaliation claims against one of the defendants, Jeff Miller. All other claims against all other defendants will be dismissed without prejudice to reassertion.

I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

Decker is currently incarcerated at the Lincoln Correctional Center (“LCC”). His claims are based on incidents that occurred in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the LCC. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.) He filed his Complaint against several employees of the LCC and the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. Each defendant is sued in his official and individual capacities. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 1-2.)

Decker generally alleges that the defendants have violated his religious rights in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) Liberally construing Decker’s allegations, he also alleges claims of retaliation and equal protection violations, as well as violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).

Decker is a member of the Asatru religion and has been practicing this religion since the year 2000. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 2.) On November 11, 2014, LCC’s religious coordinator, Defendant Jeff Miller, sent Decker a memorandum stating that the Asatru worship time was to be reduced from 120 minutes to 60 minutes beginning December 1, 2014. As a result, Decker has had to “modif[y]” his worship practices “to omit essential worship elements.” These omissions “cause the Asatru worship service to be incomplete.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.)

On January 5, 2015, Miller informed Decker that the Asatru members would also be limited to three pieces of wood for their weekly sacred fire. (Id.) Miller stated the limitation “was in response to grievances filed by [Decker] about staff requiring the extinguishment of the Asatru sacred fire.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Decker alleges a religious group with similar needs, the Native American faith group, does not face the same restrictions and limitations as the Asatru faith group. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 3.)

For relief, Decker seeks both injunctive relief and monetary damages including punitive damages. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-5.)

II. STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

The court is required to review prisoner and in forma pauperis complaints seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A. The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”).

“The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.’” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Liberally construed, Plaintiff here alleges federal constitutional claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the United States Constitution or created by federal statute and also must show that the alleged deprivation was caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. We ...


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