United States District Court, N.D. Ohio
OPINION & ORDER
S. GWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
se Plaintiff John Thomas Goff filed this action against
Grafton Correctional Institution (“GCI”) Warden
LaShaunn Eppinger, GCI Deputy Warden of Special Services
Ronald Armbruster, GCI Chaplain Ronald Smith, and Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction
(“ODRC”) “RL” Dr. Michael Davis. His
initial Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order
were vague and did not contain much factual information.
Instead, Plaintiff attached 97 pages of exhibits from which
he intended the Court to glean a factual basis for his
claims. He asserted violation of his First and Fourteenth
Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Person Act (“RLUIPA”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. He requested only injunctive relief.
This Court ordered Plaintiff to file an Amended Pleading that
includes all of his legal claims and all of the factual
allegations that support those claims.
April 23, 2018, Plaintiff's sister Lynne Benek, using a
Power of Attorney, signed and filed an Amended Complaint on
Plaintiff's behalf. Unfortunately, this document cannot
be used as Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Cases in
federal courts may be filed and litigated only by the parties
personally or through licensed attorneys. An unlicensed
layman cannot represent anyone in federal court other than
herself. The Plaintiff's signature is required to invoke
this Court's subject matter jurisdiction over the
pleading. Because Plaintiff did not personally sign the
Amended Complaint, this Court cannot consider it and is left
only with the Original pleading.
indicates his religion of record has always been Judaism. It
appears he identified as a Messianic Jew at some point, but
states he dropped that designation and now practices a
conservative form of the Jewish faith. (Doc No. 1 at 3).
Plaintiff indicates he entered GCI in April 2017. He states
he presented the Chaplain with his religious accommodation
form from the ODRC and began receiving kosher food. He states
that in December 2017, he became aware that GCI had been
violating Jewish dietary restrictions with respect to
Passover, but he does not elaborate on what those violations
were. The only explanation he provides is that having a
non-kosher kitchen renders kosher food non-kosher,
particularly at Passover. He states he completed a request
for religious accommodations, but the Chaplain did not follow
policy by failing to address the request in a timely manner.
He does not specify what accommodations he requested. He
alleges that in the past, GCI has allowed inmates to bring
their meals back to the housing units during Jewish and
Muslim fasts, pagan feasts, medical lay-ins, and work details
that extend through meal times. It is possible this is at
least one of the accommodations he requested. He states that
while he would prefer the recommended remedy all year, he is
only asking the Defendants to provide this accommodation for
the eight days of Passover each year.
the Court does not hold pro se pleadings to the same
standard as those filed by attorneys, the Court is required
to dismiss an in forma pauperis action under 28
U.S.C. §1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis in
law or fact. A claim lacks an arguable basis in law or
fact when it is based on an unquestionably meritless legal
theory or when the factual allegations are clearly
baseless. A cause of action fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted when it does not contain
enough facts to suggest Plaintiff has a plausible claim that
entitles him to the relief he seeks. This does not mean a
Plaintiff is required to allege the facts of his Complaint in
great detail, but he still must provide more than “an
accusation.” A Complaint that offers only legal
conclusions or a simple listing of the elements of a cause of
action will not meet this standard. When reviewing the Complaint
under § 1915(e), the Court must read it in a way that is
the most favorable to the Plaintiff.
initial matter, Plaintiff did not allege any facts pertaining
to Eppinger, Armbruster, or Davis. Plaintiff cannot establish
the liability of any Defendant absent a clear showing that
the Defendant was personally involved in the activities which
form the basis of the alleged unconstitutional
behavior. It is possible they are named as
Defendants because they hold supervisory positions in the
prison or the ODRC. Being a supervisor, alone, is not a basis
for liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff must
prove that they did more than play a passive role in the
alleged violations or show mere tacit approval of the
action. Plaintiff must allege facts suggesting
each of these Defendants personally encouraged or condoned
the actions of their employees. Nothing in the Complaint
suggests Eppinger, Armbruster or Davis actively participated
in the decision to deny the accommodations.
also fails to state a claim for relief under the RLUIPA.
Section 3 of RLUIPA provides in pertinent part: “No
government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious
exercise of a person residing in or confined to an
institution, ” unless the burden furthers “a
compelling governmental interest, ” and does so by
“the least restrictive means.” Because the
RLUIPA specifically addresses government action, it does not
provide a cause of action against individual
defendants. Plaintiff cannot proceed with this claim
against the named individual Defendants.
although Plaintiff does not allege specifically to which of
the prison's practices he objects, it appears to concern
the handling of Kosher and non-Kosher food during Passover.
He suggests this practice rendered his food non-Kosher for
Passover. To the extent Plaintiff seeks a Temporary
Restraining Order, his request is denied for the reasons
stated in this Court's Order on March 30, 2018 (Doc. No.
4). Plaintiff, however, has stated a plausible claim for
relief under the First Amendment against the Chaplain Ronald
Smith. This action shall proceed solely against Smith on
Plaintiff's First Amendment claims.
Plaintiff's claims against Eppinger, Armbruster and Davis
are dismissed under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e). His claims
against all Defendants under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, are
also dismissed. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could
not be taken in good faith. The Clerk's Office shall
forward the appropriate ...