226 F.3d 247 (3rd Cir. 2000), 98-1385, Allah v Al-Hafeez

Docket Nº:98-1385
Citation:226 F.3d 247
Case Date:September 06, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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226 F.3d 247 (3rd Cir. 2000)





No. 98-1385

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 6, 2000

Argued: July 20, 2000

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 96-cv-06587, District Judge: Hon. Marvin Katz

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Deena Jo Schneider Michael J. Barry (Argued) Ninette Byelich Schnader Harrison Attorneys for Appellant: Segal & Lewis LLP Philadelphia, PA 19103

D. Michael Fisher Attorney General J. Bart DeLone (Argued) Calvin R. Koons Senior Deputy Attorney General John G. Knorr, III Chief Deputy Attorney General Chief, Appellate Litigation Section Office of Attorney General Appellate Litigation Section Harrisburg, PA 17120, Attorneys for Appellees

David W. Ogden Acting Assistant Attorney General Michael R. Stiles United States Attorney John C. Hoyle Susan L. Pacholski (Argued) Attorneys, Appellate Staff Civil Division Department of Justice Washington, D.C. 20530-0001, Attorneys for Intervenor

Before: SLOVITER, NYGAARD and FUENTES, Circuit Judges


SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

Michael Malik Allah appeals the District Court's order granting the motion of defendants Humza Al-Hafeez and William W. Ennis for judgment on the pleadings and dismissing Allah's claims alleging infringement of his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion in violation of 42 U.S.C. S 1983. The appeal requires us to interpret the scope of S 803(d)(e) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(e), and to determine its applicability to Allah's First Amendment claims.


Allah, who was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, filed his pro se complaint on October 15, 1996, naming as defendants Ennis, the chaplain for S.C.I. Frackville, and Al-Hafeez, the appointed outside minister for the Nation of Islam within S.C.I. Frackville. Allah, a follower of the Nation of Islam, alleges that his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion1 and that of other followers of the Nation of Islam in S.C.I. Frackville is being violated because Al-Hafeez is not a member of the Nation of Islam and engages in teachings that contradict the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam.2 His complaint

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states that he seeks injunctive relief as well as $10,000 from each defendant in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

On April 30, 1997, Allah filed an amended complaint adding 26 defendants (mostly prison officials and guards) and alleging that they harassed him in retaliation for filing this lawsuit and trying to practice his religion. The District Court treated Allah's filing as a motion to amend his complaint and, over objection by Ennis and Al-Hafeez, granted the motion, stating that "Defendants' contentions may be raised by a Motion for Summary Judgment following completion of discovery." Allah v. Al-Hafeez, No. 96-6587 (E.D. Pa. May 30, 1997). However, apparently those 26 additional defendants were never served with the amended complaint, and they were not added to the docket.

In July 1997, Allah was transferred from S.C.I. Frackville to S.C.I. Greene. On April 3, 1998, Ennis and Al-Hafeez filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. They argued that Allah's complaint against them should be dismissed because his claim for injunctive relief was rendered moot by his transfer and because his claims for damages were barred under the PLRA, 42 U.S.C. S 1997e(e). By order dated April 22, 1998, the District Court granted the motion.3 After dismissing the complaint against Al-Hafeez and Ennis upon their motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court closed the case without addressing the remaining 26 unserved defendants and the retaliation claims alleged against them in the amended complaint. Allah timely appealed.

This court appointed counsel to represent Allah on appeal.4 We also granted the United States Department of Justice leave to intervene to defend the constitutionality of S 1997e(e). The appeal was consolidated with another appeal brought by Allah in a separate case captioned Allah v. Seiverling, No. 97-3627. The two consolidated appeals present distinct legal issues, and we address the issues in separate opinions.

We have jurisdiction over the appeal from the final order of the District Court under 28 U.S.C. S 1291. As this is an appeal from the District Court's dismissal of Allah's complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), we exercise plenary review, accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Allah. See Turbe v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427,

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428 (3d Cir. 1991); Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290 (3d Cir. 1988). The District Court's judgment may be affirmed only if no relief can be granted under any set of facts that could be proved. See Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428.


Section 1997e(e), entitled "Limitation on recovery," provides:

No Federal civil action may be brought by a prisoner confined in a jail, prison, or other correctional facility, for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury.

Allah concedes that his claims for injunctive relief were mooted by his transfer from S.C.I. Frackville to S.C.I. Greene and that only his claims for damages remain. Therefore, our examination of S 1997e(e) focuses on whether the section precludes Allah's claims for damages.

Allah emphasizes that he is seeking damages for harm allegedly suffered as a result of the defendants' violation of his First Amendment rights. The plain language of S 1997e(e) makes no distinction between the various claims encompassed within the phrase "federal civil action" to which the section applies. We turn first to consider Allah's claims for compensatory damages.

It is well settled that compensatory damages under S 1983 are governed by general tort-law compensation theory. See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 255 (1978). In other words, "damages are available under [S 1983] for actions `found . . . to have been violative of . . . constitutional rights and to have caused compensable injury . . . .' " Id. (emphasis omitted) (quoting Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 319 (1975)).

In elaborating on this principle, the Supreme Court has explained that compensatory damages for claims brought under S 1983 for violations of constitutional rights "may include not only out-of-pocket loss and other monetary harms, but also such injuries as `impairment of reputation . . . , personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering.' " Memphis Community Sch. Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299, 307 (1986) (quoting Gerte v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 350 (1974)). By the same token, however, the Court held that substantial damages may only be awarded to compensate for actual injury suffered as a result of the violation of a constitutional right. See id. at 308. Indeed, in that case the Court overturned a substantial jury verdict for the plaintiff because the jury had been erroneously instructed to place their own subjective value on the constitutional rights transgressed. See also Carey, 435 U.S. at 248 (absent proof of actual injury, compensatory damages may not be awarded); Makin v. Colorado Dep't of Corrections, 183 F.3d 1205, 1214-15 (10th Cir. 1999) (reversing an award of damages for a free exercise claim where the district court calculated damages based on an abstract, per diem calculation rather than on evidence of actual mental or emotional harm suffered by prisoner). "[T]he abstract value of a constitutional right," the Supreme Court has stated, "may not form the basis for S 1983 damages." Stachura, 477 U.S. at 308.

We see no construction of Allah's complaint that would save his claims for compensatory damages from the bar imposed by S 1997e(e). Allah seeks substantial damages for the harm he suffered as a result of defendants' alleged violation of his...

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