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Snowden v. Prince George's County Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 14, 2018

KENNETH SNOWDEN et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PETER J. MESSITTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Kenneth Snowden, David Francis, Kevin Stewart, Darnell Munden, Duran Carrington, and Michael Harris have sued the Prince George's County Department of Corrections and several of its employees-namely, the Director, Mary Lou McDonough, in her official capacity, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Operations, Colonel Mark E. Person, in his official capacity, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Administration, Correne Labbe, in her official capacity, and the Chaplain, Reverend James Penn, in his official and individual capacities-alleging various statutory and constitutional violations of their right to the free practice and exercise of religion. ECF No. 12. Defendants have moved to dismiss certain counts in the Amended Complaint and ask that Prince George's County, Maryland, be substituted as the sole Defendant in the case. ECF No. 21.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendants' Motion.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are all Muslim inmates currently detained at Prince George's County Department of Corrections (the DOC). ECF No. 12 ¶¶ 10-15. The DOC confines sentenced persons in its facilities as well as those awaiting trial and promulgates policies, customs, and practices regarding the religious exercise of its inmates. Specifically, the DOC has a Religious Services Policy that states in pertinent part:

Religious services, study and counseling (including crisis intervention) are conducted and coordinated by the Center's Chaplain and approved volunteers. The Chaplain is a full-time nondenominational chaplain available to assist you with your religious needs. Services are offered daily and/or weekly depending on your housing unit . . . . If you are interested in any religious services or counseling assistance, you must submit an Inmate Request for Information form to the Chaplain's office . . . .

Id. ¶ 31.

         Defendants McDonough, Person, and Labbe (Official Capacity Defendants) are all employees of the DOC with authority to approve DOC policies, including policies regarding religious services for inmates. Id. ¶¶ 17-19. Defendant Penn is the DOC's Chaplain and has supervisory authority and control over the approval and coordination of religious services requests by inmates. Id. ¶ 20.

         Despite having a Religious Services Policy, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have not permitted Muslim inmates to perform Friday religious services or daily congregational prayers. Plaintiffs have each requested to perform such services. Because the DOC has refused to provide them with the appropriate form to request a religious accommodation, Plaintiffs have written these requests on other forms or on blank sheets of paper. Id. ¶¶ 42-43. However, Defendants have purportedly taken the requests and refused to process them. Id. ¶ 44.

         Moreover, Plaintiffs, along with several other Muslim inmates at the facility, signed a petition requesting to perform Friday religious services and daily congregational prayers, which they say they gave to Defendant Penn. These requests were denied without explanation. Id. ¶¶ 45-46.

         In the event that Plaintiffs do perform a religious service or congregational prayer, they are threatened with a disciplinary ticket, locked down in their cell, or held in solitary confinement. Id. ¶¶ 34-35.

         On the other hand, Plaintiffs submit that Christian inmates are permitted to perform religious services and attend daily classes in groups of approximately 25-30 individuals. Id. ¶¶ 36-37. In fact, Plaintiffs allege, neither Christian inmates nor inmates that subscribe to any other faith, besides Islam, have been given a ticket, locked down in their cell, or held in solitary confinement for performing a congregational prayer or religious service. Id. at 38.

         Similarly, nonreligious groups are also permitted to congregate and, according to Plaintiffs, regularly meet in groups of approximately 25-30 individuals. Id. at 39.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint on January 18, 2018, which they subsequently amended on January 23, 2018. ECF No. 12. The Amended Complaint states six causes of action: 1) violation of Plaintiffs' right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) against the DOC and Official Capacity Defendants;[1] 2) religious discrimination in violation of RLUIPA against the DOC and Official Capacity Defendants; 3) violation of Plaintiffs' right to free exercise of religion in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution against all Defendants; 4) Equal Protection Clause violations against all Defendants; 5) ...


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