United States District Court, D. Nebraska
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.
matter is before the court on Plaintiff’s Motion for
Leave to File an Amended Complaint. (Filing No. 31.)
The motion will be granted.
who is currently incarcerated at the Lincoln Correctional
Center (“LCC”), initiated this action on
September 25, 2015. Plaintiff’s Complaint named Scott
Frakes, Mario Peart, “Religious Studies Committee
Members, ” and Jeff Miller as defendants. Defendants
were sued in their official and individual capacities.
(Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff sought injunctive relie f
and monetary damages. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp.
claims set forth in the Complaint were based on incidents
that occurred in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the LCC. (Filing No.
1 at CM/ECF p. 1.) Plaintiff generally alleged that
the defendants violated his religious rights in violation of
the First and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id.) He also
alleged retaliation and equal protection violations, as well
as violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized
Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).
Complaint alleged that Plaintiff is a member of the Asatru
religion and has been practicing this religion since the year
2000. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) On November 11,
2014, LCC’s religious coordinator, Defendant Jeff
Miller, sent Plaintiff a memorandum stating that the Asatru
worship time was going to be reduced from 120 minutes to 60
minutes beginning December 1, 2014. As a result, Plaintiff
had to “modif[y]” his worship practices “to
omit essential worship elements.” These omissions
“cause[d] the Asatru worship service to be
incomplete.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.)
alleged that on January 5, 2015, Miller informed Plaintiff
that the Asatru members would also be limited to 3 pieces of
wood for their weekly sacred fire. (Id.) Miller
stated the limitation “was in response to grievances
filed by [Plaintiff] about staff requiring the extinguishment
of the Asatru sacred fire.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p.
2.) Plaintiff alleged a religious group with similar needs,
the Native American faith group, did not face the same
restrictions and limitations as the Asatru faith group.
(Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 3.)
court conducted an initial review of Plaintiff’s
Complaint on February 3, 2016. (Filing No. 17.) The
court found that Plaintiff failed to state RLUIPA and First
Amendment claims upon which relief could be granted. In so
finding, the court reasoned that Plaintiff’s
allegations were conclusory and “did not explain what
worship elements were omitted from the service and how the
omission of these worship elements substantially burdened his
exercise of religion.” (Filing No. 17 at CM/ECF
p. 4.) Similarly, the court found that
Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim failed because
Plaintiff did not allege a substantial burden on his
religious exercise. (Id.)
court also concluded that Plaintiff’s Complaint failed
to state cognizable equal-protection and retaliation claims
against Frakes, Peart, and Religious Studies Committee
Members. The court found that Plaintiff had not alleged that
any of these defendants were personally involved in the
incidents underlying his claims. Further, the court found
that to the extent Plaintiff alleged that Frakes and Peart
were liable as prison supervisors, his claims failed because
respondeat superior is not a basis for liability
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court dismissed the claims
against these defendants without prejudice to reassertion in
an amended complaint.
court did, however, find that Plaintiff had alleged plausible
equal protection and retaliation claims against Defendant
Miller. Accordingly, these claims were allowed to proceed to
service of process against Miller in his individual and
official capacities. Miller was subsequently served and filed
an answer to the Complaint on April 15, 2016. (Filing No.
has requested leave to file an amended complaint. Under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15, the Court should
“freely give leave” to amend a pleading
“when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15.
Nevertheless, a party does not have an absolute right to
amend and “denial of leave to amend may be justified by
undue delay, bad faith on the part of the moving party,
futility of the amendment or unfair prejudice to the opposing
party.” Amrine v. Brooks, 522 F.3d 823, 833
(8th Cir. 2008) (quotation and citation omitted). Whether to
grant a motion for leave to amend is within the sound
discretion of the district court. Popoalii v. Corr. Med.
Servs, 512 F.3d 488, 497 (8th Cir. 2008).
proposed amended complaint reasserts the causes of action set
forth in the original Complaint. Again, the defendants are
named in their official and individual capacities. Plaintiff
continues to seek monetary and injunctive relief. However,
the amended complaint includes far more detailed allegations
than the original Complaint. (Filing No. 31-1.)
respect to his RLUIPA and First Amendment claims, Plaintiff
describes the parts of his worship service in detail and
identifies the specific portions of the worship service that
must be omitted or modified given the new time restrictions.
Plaintiff also explains why each of the omitted or modified
portions of the service are fundamental to his faith. He
alleges that his practices “have been substantially
burdened” and ...