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Damron v. Dodrill

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

February 26, 2018

JAMES E. DAMRON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LEN DODRILL, et al., Defendants.

          Magistrate Judge, Deavers

          OPINION & ORDER

          ALGENON L. MARBLEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs, James E. Damron and Ray Heid, inmates at the Ross Correctional Institution (“RCI”) who are proceeding without the assistance of counsel, bring these claims under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, § 1985(3) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) against Len Dodrill, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (“ODRC”) Unit Manager at RCI and several other prison officials. This matter is before the Court for consideration of the Magistrate Judge's July 19, 2017 Order and Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 11), recommending that Plaintiffs' case be DISMISSED on the grounds that the Complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated herein, upon de novo review, this Court OVERRULES Plaintiffs' Objections, AFFIRMS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, and hereby DISMISSES Plaintiffs' claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs are members of the Christian Separatist Church and are currently inmates at the Ross Correctional Institution (ECF No. 14). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants prohibited them from engaging in public worship, conducting Bible study, and accessing relevant literature, and prevented them from observing Holy Days. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff Damron filed suit in a previous action in 2009 against the then-ODRC Religious Services Director Wanza Jackson. Damron brought claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, citing the defendant's alleged failure to provide religious accommodations, including allowing observance of religious Holy Days and Feast Days. Damron v. Jackson, No. 2:09-cv-050, 2011 WL 4402767 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 21, 2011). These claims were largely identical to those asserted in the instant case. The Court entered into summary judgment against Plaintiff Damron for all claims that are relevant to the instant case. Id.

         In 2015, Plaintiff Damron, Plaintiff Heid and other plaintiffs, all members of a group of inmates who adhere to the Christian Separatist Church Society beliefs, advanced claims for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, First Amendment and RLUIPA. The Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio; the Wife of Christ, Prosopopoeia et al. v. the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections et al., 2:15-cv-2757 (S.D. Ohio) (“Christian Separatist Church I”). Ultimately, this Court found that Plaintiff Damron's claims were barred under the doctrine of res judicata, but allowed the remaining plaintiffs, including Plaintiff Heid, to proceed with their First Amendment and RLUIPA claims (2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 12 at 7-8). Additionally, this Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation that the First Amendment claim be dismissed. Id. at 5-7. Plaintiff Heid remains a plaintiff in the ongoing Christian Separatist I case and is litigating only the RLUIPA claim. Id. at 7-8.

         During the initial screening process for Christian Separatist I, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint without having properly sought leave from the Court. (2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 42 at 2). The court struck the first proposed Amended Complaint. Id. Plaintiffs Damron and Heid requested leave to file an amended complaint on September 4, 2017. (2:15-cv-2757, ECF No. 42 at 2). The Court affirmed the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, which found that the second proposed amended complaint did not assert any “new material facts regarding the events underlying the remaining claims at issue.” Id.; (2:15-cv-2757; ECF No. 33 at 9-10). The Court also found that the new allegations from the second proposed amendment would still fail. (2:15-cv-2757; ECF No. 42 at 7).

         B. Procedural Background

         On April 19, 2017, Plaintiffs, inmates at the Ross Correctional Institution (“RCI”), filed this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, naming as defendants various prison officials employed at RCI, including RCI Unit Manager Len Dodrill. Plaintiffs Damron and Heid bring claims under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and RLUIPA, among other statutes and constitutional amendments. (ECF No. 14). The Complaint indicates that Plaintiffs are suing all Defendants in both their respective individual and official capacities. (ECF No. 14 at PageID 2-5).

         This Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's facts pertaining to the procedural background in full. On July 19, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R recommending the dismissal of all claims in this instant case. The Magistrate Judge recommended that Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants be dismissed as the Complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. The Magistrate Judge found that since the Plaintiffs did not assert any new material facts that cure any deficiencies in their claims dismissed in Christian Separatist I, the Complaint amounted to another attempt to litigate the amended complaint which the Court previously denied leave to file in the concurrent litigation of Christian Separatist I. The Magistrate Judge also pointed out that Plaintiff Damron had been barred from participating in Christian Separatist I under the doctrine of res judicata and would furthermore be precluded from the instant litigation even if the suit was not considered frivolous. As for Plaintiff Ray Heid, a party to Christian Separatist I, the Magistrate Judge saw no legal basis or value in pursuing a separate action for the same claims.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         If a party objects within the allotted time to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendation to which the objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Upon review, the Court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         In the instant case, the Magistrate Judge reviewed Plaintiffs' Complaint under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A to identify cognizable claims and to recommend dismissal of Plaintiffs' Complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see also Spencer v. Moore, 2012 WL 6594969, *1 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 18, 2012). In conducting an initial screen of Plaintiffs' Complaint, the Magistrate Judge recognized that Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se. Pro se complaints are held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Ogle v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC, 513 Fed.Appx. 520, 521 (6th Cir. Jan.31, 2013) (quoting Haines v. Kerner,404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). While pro se litigant's allegations ...


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