United States District Court, D. Delaware
CHRISTOPHER H. WEST, Plaintiff,
PERRY PHELPS, DOC Commissioner, Defendants.
plaintiff, Christopher H. West ("West"), an inmate
at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center ("VCC"),
Smyrna, Delaware, appears pro se and was granted
permission to proceed in forma pauperis. (D.I. 6.)
West filed this lawsuit alleging violations of his civil
rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (D.I. 2.) The
court proceeds to review and screen the complaint pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b)(1).
alleges violations of the First and Eighth Amendment because
he is denied the ability to practice his religious beliefs
and rites of worship. West's religion includes elements
of the Jewish faith incorporated into the religion of
Thelema. According to West, the practice of his
religion includes a healthy kosher diet. West indicates that
he has been offered a kosher diet, but has refused it as he
does not consider it healthy. He also complains that his
religious rights are denied because the defendant Delaware
Department of Correction ("DOC") Commissioner Perry
Phelps ("Phelps") does not allow him "to
perform the great rite in worship of the Goddess" which
includes consensual, legal sex with a female to represent the
union with the descendent, West, and the Divine
Goddess." (D.I. 2 at 5.) West alleges that the DOC
policy set by Phelps has denied his repeated grievances
requesting that he be allowed to perform the rite, as well as
his requests for Tarot cards.
also alleges violations of the First, Fifth, and Eighth
Amendments as applied to the States through the Fourteenth
Amendment. He states that slavery is abhorrent to his
religious beliefs and alleges that under Phelps'
policies, in order to reduce his confinement level and speed
his release, he must accept slavery and slave wages for his
"work" as a tier janitor in violation of his
constitutional rights. (Id. at 6.) West alleges that
forcing him to accept the role of a slave or a role forced
upon him for any reason is a crime against his "very
religious bedrock." He further alleges slavery visited
upon any person violates the Thirteenth Amendment.
seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as
STANDARD OF REVIEW
federal court may properly dismiss an action sua
sponte under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b) if "the action
is frivolous or 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." Ball v.
Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2013); see
also 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in
formapauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions
in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental
defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions brought
with respect to prison conditions). The court must accept all
factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in
the light most favorable to a pro se plaintiff. Phillips
v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir.
2008); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007).
Because West proceeds pro se, his pleading is
liberally construed and his complaint, "however
inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. at 94 (citations omitted).
action is frivolous if it "lacks an arguable basis
either in law or in fact." Neitzke v.,
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). Under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and § 1915A(b)(1), a court may
dismiss a complaint as frivolous if it is "based on an
indisputably meritless legal theory" or a "clearly
baseless" or "fantastic or delusional" factual
scenario. Neitzke, 490 at 327-28; Wilson v.
Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989); see,
e.g., Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091-92
(3d Cir. 1995) (holding frivolous a suit alleging that prison
officials took an inmate's pen and refused to give it
legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to
state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and §
1915A(b)(1) is identical to the legal standard used when
ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Tourscher v.
McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to
state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). However, before
dismissing a complaint or claims for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted pursuant to the screening
provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, the
court must grant West leave to amend his complaint unless
amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Grayson v.
Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 114 (3d Cir. 2002).
well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere labels and
conclusions. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662
(2009); Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544
(2007). A plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that
a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City
of Shelby, __U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A
complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect
statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted.
See Id. at 346.
the pleading regime established by Twombly and
Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a
complaint must take three steps: (1) take note of the
elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2)
identify allegations that, because they are no more than
conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and
(3) when there are well-pleaded factual allegations, the
court should assume their veracity and then determine whether
they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.
Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d
Cir. 2016) (internal citations and quotations omitted).
Elements are sufficiently alleged when the facts in the
complaint "show" that the plaintiff is entitled to
relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2)). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a
"context-specific task that requires the reviewing court
to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."