United States District Court, D. Arizona
ROBERT C. BROOMFIELD, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Erik Scott Maloney, who is a prisoner in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections, brought this civil rights case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). (Doc. 17.) Defendants have filed a Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings as to the claims in Counts One and Three. (Doc. 35). Plaintiff opposes the motion. (Doc. 39.) The Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.
In Count One of his Second Amended Complaint (SAC), Plaintiff alleges a violation of his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion. He contends that Defendants inhibited the exercise of his religion when they created, implemented, or enforced a regulation that inhibited his sincerely held religious beliefs by not accommodating his meal requirements during Ramadan. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants knowingly set the time for breakfast for Muslims during Ramadan for a time after the religiously mandated time for fasting had begun and that the policy forced him to either forgo breakfast during Ramadan or violate the tenets of his religion.
In Count Two, Plaintiff alleges that he has been subjected to an Eighth Amendment violation and denied due process and equal protection because Defendants knowingly provided him with a nutritionally inadequate diet during Ramadan. Plaintiff contends that in prior years during Ramadan, Muslims were provided a portion and a half of breakfast pre-dawn and a portion and a half of dinner, so that they received the same amount of food as general population inmates. Plaintiff asserts that in 2012, Defendants deliberately set the time for breakfast for Muslims during Ramadan at a time when they knew the Muslims would be prohibited from eating. In addition, for three days, Defendant Mason instructed kitchen staff to withhold a lunch sack at dinner. As a result, Plaintiff received only one of three meals on these days and suffered abdominal pain, headaches, severe exhaustion, weight loss, and mental and emotional distress.
In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges a violation of RLUIPA, arguing that he sought to engage in Sahur, an obligatory Islamic exercise during Ramadan in which Muslims prepare to fast each day before dawn by eating breakfast, drinking water, and praising and glorifying God. Plaintiff contends that the exercise of his religion was substantially burdened and he was prohibited from practicing Sahur because Defendants implemented a breakfast policy for Muslim inmates that provided breakfast after dawn.
In its screening of the original complaint, the Court determined that Plaintiff stated First Amendment and RLUIPA claims against Defendants Ryan and Linderman in Counts One and Three and stated deliberate indifference and equal protection claims against Defendants Ryan, Linderman, and Mason in Count Two. (Doc. 5.) As the Court noted in its Order of July 23, 2013, the first three counts in the SAC, all pertaining to Ramadan, are virtually identical to the first three counts in the original complaint. (Doc. 23 at 4.)
Defendants now move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) to dismiss Counts One and Three of Plaintiff's SAC on grounds of qualified immunity, arguing that there is no "clearly established constitutional right" for Muslim inmates to eat meals during Ramadan prior to 5:00 a.m., that no damages are available for RLUIPA claims, and that the Court has already determined that the injunctive relief is moot. (Doc. 35.)
II. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
A. Legal Standards
1. Rule 12(c)
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter the pleadings are closedCbut early enough not to delay trial." The purpose of a Rule 12(c) motion is "to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Herbert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (per curiam).
When brought by a defendant, a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is a "means to challenge the sufficiency of the complaint after an answer has been filed." New.Net, Inc. v. Lavasoft, 356 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1115 (C.D. Cal. 2004). It is thus similar to a motion to dismiss. Id. Indeed, the standard for deciding a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as that applied to a ...