McEachin v. McGuinnis, Docket No. 02-0117.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtCalabresi
Citation357 F.3d 197
Docket NumberDocket No. 02-0117.
Decision Date05 February 2004
PartiesGuy McEACHIN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Michael MCGUINNIS, Superintendent, W.E. Wilcox, Acting Dep. Supt. of Security, Southport, J. Irizarry, Food Service Administrator, Defendants-Appellees.
357 F.3d 197
Guy McEACHIN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Michael MCGUINNIS, Superintendent, W.E. Wilcox, Acting Dep. Supt. of Security, Southport, J. Irizarry, Food Service Administrator, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket No. 02-0117.
United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.
Submitted: November 24, 2003.
Decided: February 5, 2004.

Page 198

Guy McEachin, pro se plaintiff-appellant, Upstate Correctional Facility, Malone, NY.

Before: CALABRESI, B.D. PARKER, and RAGGI, Circuit Judges.

CALABRESI, Circuit Judge.


In January 2002, pro se plaintiff-appellant Guy McEachin ("McEachin" or "plaintiff"), then an inmate at the Southport Correctional Facility in Pine City, New York ("Southport"), filed suit against various Southport officials in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. In his complaint, which was accompanied by a motion to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP"), McEachin claimed that the defendants, Superintendent Michael McGuinnis ("McGuinnis"), Deputy Superintendent of Security W.E. Wilcox ("Wilcox"), and Food Service Administrator J. Irizarry ("Irizarry") (collectively, "defendants"), infringed plaintiff's rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The district court (Larimer, C.J.) dismissed McEachin's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B), which provide for the judicial screening of civil actions filed by prisoners against governmental entities or their officers, and for the dismissal of claims that are "frivolous, malicious, or fail[] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." See id. § 1915 A(b)(1). We affirm the dismissal of McEachin's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, but reverse the lower court's ruling with respect to the plaintiff's claim that defendants violated his First Amendment right to religious free exercise, and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

McEachin's complaint and accompanying documents can be read to allege the following facts. After sunset on December 4, 2001, in the Southport dining facility, McEachin, who is Muslim, was engaged in prayer (salat) upon breaking his daily Ramadan fast. A Correctional Officer named Sheremeta ordered him to return his food

Page 199

tray and cup. When McEachin did not respond, Sheremeta issued a Tier II1 misbehavior report based on McEachin's failure to obey his order. McEachin contends that the instruction was deliberately issued while he was engaged in prayer and that Sheremeta knew McEachin's religious beliefs prohibited his responding to the instruction while praying.

As a result, pending a disciplinary hearing, the plaintiff was subjected to a week-long restricted diet of "loaf." McEachin complained to each of the defendants that this diet violated his religious beliefs, which required him to break his Ramadan fast each day with properly blessed (Halal) food. He claims that the defendants' failure to suspend the punitive diet (1) was a denial of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, because applicable regulations permit the imposition of the "loaf" diet only when a Tier III report is filed; (2) constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment because it caused plaintiff severe stomach pain and a three-pound weight loss; and (3) infringed his First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion by depriving him, for one week, of Halal meals with which to break his fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.2

The district court granted the plaintiff permission to proceed IFP, but dismissed his complaint on the grounds that McEachin failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See McEachin v. McGinnis, No. 02-CV-6005CJS(Fe) (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 12, 2002) ("McEachin"). In disposing of his Eighth Amendment claim of cruel and unusual punishment, the court concluded that McEachin had established neither that the deprivation imposed by the restrictive diet was of constitutional magnitude, nor that the defendants acted "maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." McEachin, at 4 (quoting, inter alia, Romano v. Howarth, 998 F.2d 101, 105 (2d Cir.1993)). Finding no allegation that the "loaf" diet was nutritionally inadequate, posed an imminent health risk, or physically injured McEachin,

Page 200

the court held that the circumstances warranted the deference usually accorded to prison officials who are charged with preserving "internal order and discipline" and "maintain[ing] institutional security." See McEachin, at 4-5 (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 524, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979)).

With respect to McEachin's due process claim, the court noted that under Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293, 132 L.Ed.2d 418 (1995) and Frazier v. Coughlin, 81 F.3d 313 (2d Cir.1996) (per curiam), a plaintiff, to demonstrate entitlement to relief, must allege "that the restricted diet was `an atypical and significant hardship' and that the state, by regulation or statute, granted him a `protected liberty interest in remaining free from' being placed on the restricted diet." McEachin, at 6 (quoting, inter alia, Frazier, 81 F.3d at 317). Regardless of whether state law created such a liberty interest, the district court found no "atypical and significant" hardship sufficient to implicate McEachin's due process rights. Id.

The district court also dismissed McEachin's First Amendment claim. Emphasizing the "`great deference' ... afforded to prison officials who are charged with the `difficult responsibility' of maintaining order in prisons," id. at 6-7 (quoting Young v. Coughlin, 866 F.2d 567, 570 (2d Cir.1989)), the court characterized McEachin's complaint as alleging a de minimis burden on his religion, rather than a burden of constitutional magnitude, see id. at 7. "Plaintiff does not allege a routine or blanket practice of interfering with his religious practices and thus the imposition of seven days restricted diet on this one occasion does not implicate constitutional concerns," the district court concluded. Id.

On April 12, 2002, the district court (Siragusa, J.) granted McEachin permission to file a late Notice of Appeal, which he did. Subsequently, McEachin requested appointment of counsel and permission to proceed IFP. On October 2, 2002, this Court granted his motion for IFP status, but declined to appoint counsel. The defendants, who were not served with and did not file an answer to plaintiff's complaint, informed the court that they would neither submit a brief nor participate in the oral argument of this appeal.

II. Discussion

We review de novo a district court's dismissal of complaints under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). See Larkin v. Savage, 318 F.3d 138, 139 (2d. Cir.2003) (per curiam). The settled rule is that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Flores v. S. Peru Copper Corp., 343 F.3d 140, 148 (2d Cir.2003) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). Further, when the plaintiff proceeds pro se, as in this case, a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations. See Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir.2001). We have frequently reiterated that "[s]ua sponte dismissal of pro se prisoner petitions which contain non-frivolous claims without requiring service upon respondents or granting leave to amend is disfavored by this Court." Moorish Sci. Temple of Am., Inc. v. Smith, 693 F.2d 987, 990 (2d Cir.1982) (citing cases); see also Benitez v. Wolff, 907 F.2d 1293, 1295 (2d Cir.1990) (per curiam) ("Sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint prior to service of process is a draconian device, which is warranted only when the complaint lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. Where a colorable claim is made out, dismissal is improper

Page 201

prior to service of process and the defendants' answer." (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

Our reluctance to dismiss these complaints at such an early stage of the proceedings stems in part from the limited legal knowledge and resources available to pro se plaintiffs, which may hamper their ability to articulate potentially valid claims in legally cognizable language. See Mawhinney v. Henderson, 542 F.2d 1, 3-4 (2d Cir.1976). We have also noted the difficulties attendant to appellate proceedings where the defendant has not answered the plaintiff's allegations, see Lewis v. New York, 547 F.2d 4, 5-6 (2d Cir.1976), and the waste of judicial resources that results when remand for fact development proves necessary, see id. at 6 ("Untimely dismissal may prove wasteful of the court's limited resources rather than expeditious, for it often leads to a shuttling of the lawsuit between the district and appellate courts."); see also Ron v. Wilkinson, 565 F.2d 1254, 1258 (2d Cir.1977) (listing these factors). Therefore, "[w]e must reverse a district court's dismissal pursuant to § 1915A whenever a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated." Larkin, 318 F.3d at 139. The issue at this stage "is not whether a plaintiff is likely to prevail ultimately, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir.1998).

We agree with the court below, substantially for the reasons it gave, that McEachin's complaint fails to state cognizable Eighth Amendment or due process claims. We therefore AFFIRM the judgment with respect to these claims. But, since McEachin's allegations may implicate serious First Amendment concerns, we hold that his religious free exercise claim was improperly dismissed by the district court.

A. First Amendment Claim

When McEachin's complaint is...

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1138 practice notes
  • Tomczyk v. N.Y. Unified Court Sys., 19-CV-2753(JS)(AYS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • June 10, 2019
    ...of a pro se plaintiff liberally. See Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008); McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). However, a complaint must plead sufficient facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. ......
  • Evans v. Solomon, No. 06-CV-3284 (SLT)(LB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 19, 2010
    ...defense." Beckman v. U.S. Postal Serv., 79 F.Supp.2d 394, 407 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (internal citations omitted); see also McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 199 n. 2 (2d Cir. 2004) ("It is well established that the failure in a complaint to cite a statute, or to cite the correct one, in no way ......
  • Goonewardena v. New York, No. 05 Civ. 8554 PKC FM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2007
    ...must read the pleadings liberally and view them as raising the strongest arguments that are suggested therein. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). However, even under the lenient pleading requirement of Rule 8(a)(2), as articulated in Swierkiewicz, "conclusory allegatio......
  • Dixon v. Blackensee, No. 17-cv-7359 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 11, 2019
    ...a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) citing Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir.2001). A pro se plaintiff, however, is still bond by the plausibilit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1134 cases
  • Tomczyk v. N.Y. Unified Court Sys., 19-CV-2753(JS)(AYS)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • June 10, 2019
    ...of a pro se plaintiff liberally. See Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008); McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). However, a complaint must plead sufficient facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. ......
  • Evans v. Solomon, No. 06-CV-3284 (SLT)(LB).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • January 19, 2010
    ...defense." Beckman v. U.S. Postal Serv., 79 F.Supp.2d 394, 407 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (internal citations omitted); see also McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 199 n. 2 (2d Cir. 2004) ("It is well established that the failure in a complaint to cite a statute, or to cite the correct one, in no way ......
  • Goonewardena v. New York, No. 05 Civ. 8554 PKC FM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • February 14, 2007
    ...must read the pleadings liberally and view them as raising the strongest arguments that are suggested therein. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004). However, even under the lenient pleading requirement of Rule 8(a)(2), as articulated in Swierkiewicz, "conclusory allegatio......
  • Dixon v. Blackensee, No. 17-cv-7359 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • June 11, 2019
    ...a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations. McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) citing Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir.2001). A pro se plaintiff, however, is still bond by the plausibilit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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