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Naseer Shabazz v. Morales

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

September 27, 2019

ABDUL HAKEEN JAHMAL NASEER SHABAZZ, aka Owen D. Denson, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
JOHNNY MORALES, Correctional Officer - Colonel and SCOTT STEWART, Adm. Lieutenant, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. STEELE, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Morales’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. 88, “Morales Motion”) filed February 6, 2019 and Defendant Stewart’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint (Doc. #96, “Stewart Motion”) filed May 13, 2019. Plaintiff responded to the Morales Motion on March 4, 2019 (Doc. #90) and to the Stewart Motion on June 26, 2019 (Doc. #99). The Court finds these matters ripe for review.

         I. Background and Factual Allegations

         Abdul Hakeeen Jahmal Naseer Shabazz, also known as Owen D. Denson, is a Florida state inmate proceeding pro se on his Amended Complaint filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on May 7, 2018 (Doc. #78). By way of background, on November 21, 2017, the Tampa Division transferred this action to this Court after issuing a Temporary Restraining Order (Doc. #17) which enjoined the then named defendants[1] from requiring Shabazz to shave his beard or impose discipline on Shabazz for violating the DOC grooming policy. By operation of law, the Temporary Restraining Order expired. See March 12, 2018 Order of Court (Doc. #71). The Court sought clarification from Plaintiff whether he was seeking to enjoin the current DOC grooming policy set forth in the Florida Administrative Code which, in pertinent part, provides:

All inmates shall elect either to be clean shaven or to grow and maintain a half-inch beard. Such a beard shall include all the hair that grows naturally on the face and front of the neck, excluding eyebrows and eyelashes. . .. Those male inmates who desire to remain clean shaven shall be clipper shaved three times per week, and those inmates who desire to grow a half-inch beard shall have their beards trimmed three times per week with a clipper with a half-inch guard.

Fla. Admin. Code, Ch. 33-602.101 Care of Inmates (4)-(5) (effective 7-20-2017). (Id., ¶ 2). On April 2, 2018, Plaintiff advised the Court that he was challenging the current DOC grooming policy under RLUIPA. (Doc. #74). At that time, Plaintiff’s original complaint remained pending. (See generally docket). On March 7, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff’s motion requesting leave to file an amended complaint (Doc. #68), and on April 17, 2018, granted Plaintiff an extension of time to file his amended complaint (Doc. #77). As noted above, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on May 7, 2018 (Doc. #78) which sues only Desoto Correctional Officers Scott Stewart and Johnny Morales in their individual capacities. (Id. at 2). On May 10, 2018, the Court finding the Amended Complaint the “operative pleading for this action” denied the various pending motions to dismiss by the original named defendants as moot. (Doc. #79, ¶¶ 1-2). The Court then directed service of the Amended Complaint on Defendants Morales and Stewart. (Doc. #81).

         The Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants Stewart and Morales violated Shabazz’s “First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to the free practice of religion” by forcing him to choose between engaging in conduct that “seriously violates Plaintiff’s religious beliefs” or violating the DOC grooming policy that permits inmates to grow a one-half inch beard. Shabazz contends that the DOC grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq. because it prevents him “clipping the mustache and letting the beard flow.” (Doc. #78 at 6). The Court interprets this language to mean that Shabazz asserts that his deeply held religious beliefs require him to grow a beard of an indeterminate length. The Amended Complaint in passing also alleges a First Amendment retaliation claim against Defendant Stewart for an incident that took place on April 26, 2018 (Id. at 4, 15). Shabazz seeks declaratory relief, monetary damages, and temporary and permanent injunctive relief. (Id.). The Court accepts these facts as true for this motion.

         Defendant Morales

         In the first week of April 2018, Defendant Morales summoned Plaintiff to his office and advised him that the assistant attorney general notified him the temporary restraining order that had been entered had expired. Doc. #78 at 12. Morales told Plaintiff that he needed to comply with the DOC grooming policy and shave his beard to a one-half inch length or he would be placed in confinement. Id. Morales directed his officers to make sure that Plaintiff continued to keep his beard groomed pursuant to the DOC policy. Id. In response to Plaintiff’s objection that he had litigation pending, Morales replied “I don’t give a damn about your religion, you are going to shave, or you will be placed in confinement. If you want to grow your beard it can be no longer than ½ [inch].” Id.

         Defendant Stewart

         On an unspecified date in July 2017, [2] Defendant Stewart forced Plaintiff to “be shaved.” Id. at 14. Plaintiff advised Defendant Stewart that it was against his religion to shave his beard to the one-half inch set forth by the DOC policy because his religion “requires me to ‘clip’ the moustache and let the beard flow.” Id. Stewart replied, “he did not give a damn about [Shabazz’s] religion that policy calls for [Shabazz] to either shave or grow a ½ [inch] beard.” Id. Stewart then ordered Sergeant Gill to escort Plaintiff to the barbershop “to bald his face.” Id.

         Defendant Stewart states that Plaintiff’s allegation that he “bald his face” or “shave” means “trim his beard to one-half inch length.” Doc. #96 at 3, n.1. In response, Plaintiff states he was forced “to bald his face or be placed in disciplinary confinement not to a one-half inch beard in July, 2017.” Doc. #99 at 2.

         Plaintiff filed a grievance about the forced shaving incident involving Stewart and it was finally denied on August 11, 2017. Id. at 15. Plaintiff alleges “there is a reasonable probability that Defendant Stewart took the denial of Plaintiff’s grievance as an [sic] carte bla[n]che to continue to violate Plaintiff’s” constitutional rights. Id. On April 26, 2018, Defendant Stewart came into Shabazz’s living quarters and “flipped Plaintiff’s mattress, tipped Plaintiff’s holy Quran and other legal documents and left them scattered.” Id. Plaintiff admits that “no grievance was filed” for the April 26, 2018 incident “because the issue is already in litigation” in the instant case. Id.

         II. Motion to Dismiss and Standard of Review

         Defendants seek dismissal of the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and qualified immunity. See generally Doc. #88 and #96. In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). In general, a complaint must give the defendants fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds on which it rests to satisfy the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Id. at 555. In addition, the plaintiff’s claim must be plausible on its face to overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 556. The court must be able to draw a reasonable inference from the complaint that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the facts need not be detailed, they must “raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” in favor of the plaintiff’s claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Labels, conclusions, and a ...


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