A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a Connecticut prison inmate who said his First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated because he never received a religious book that was mailed to him on two occasions. The ruling does allow for inmate Jose Ramos to file an amended complaint by Oct. 1.
Judge Victor Bolden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut said he was giving Ramos, a prisoner at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute in Suffield, time to fix what he said were “deficiencies” in his April lawsuit against the state Department of Correction and Gov. Dannel Malloy, among others.
At issue were claims by Ramos, who is acting as his own attorney, that he never received the book “All Religions are One” by Jeffery Moses. The book was mailed by a third party to him twice, Ramos claims in the suit.
But Bolden, in his nine-page ruling on Monday, went through each claim by Ramos and dismissed them.
With regard to Ramos’ First Amendment rights, Bolden said the plaintiff needed to show he “sincerely holds a particular belief, that the belief is religious in nature, and that the challenged action substantially burdened his exercise of that belief.”
“He has failed to do so,” the judge found.
Furthermore, Bolden wrote: “Mr. Ramos makes no reference to his religion or religious practices at all. Absent any allegations suggesting that Mr. Ramos’ ability to exercise his religious beliefs has been burdened, he fails to state a First Amendment claim.”
Bolden also found that Ramos failed to say who, specifically, might be responsible for him not getting his mail. In addition, the judge said, Ramos’ Fourth Amendment claims were not adequately pleaded.
“Although the Supreme Court has recognized that a person, while incarcerated, possesses a legitimate expectation of privacy, severely curtailed as it may be, Mr. Ramos has failed to plead sufficient factual matter to give rise to a claim under the Fourth Amendment,” Bolden wrote. “Mr. Ramos alleges no facts indicating that the book actually arrived at the correctional facility, much less that, upon the book’s arrival at the correctional facility, someone took the book and refused to deliver it to him. Thus, Mr. Ramos has not named any person responsible for allegedly seizing the book in question.”
According to DeVaughn Ward, a Hartford solo practitioner whose specialty includes prisoner rights, inmates often do not get mail sent to them.
“Getting mail for prisoners is difficult,” Ward said Tuesday. “The Department of Correction reads every piece of mail that goes in and goes out. Through my practice, I routinely have clients who allege they do not get their mail. I’ve mailed clients things and it never gets to them. It’s a real and persistent problem.”
Ward said he’d encourage Ramos to file the amended complaint.
“At this point, he should be able to ascertain what guards might have opened the mail,” the attorney said. “But at the same time, conducting discovery for any prison inmate is very difficult.”
From his perspective, attorney Jamie Sullivan, a managing partner with Hartford’s Howard Kohn Sprague & FitzGerald, believes Bolden was correct.
“It appears the complaint was not sufficiently pled to support a religious discrimination claim,” Sullivan said. “The judge left it open for him to make a prima facie case, which has not happened yet.”
Andrius Banevicius, who is with the public information office at the Department of Correction, declined to comment Tuesday. The governor’s office referred all calls to the office of the Connecticut Attorney General. Jacyln Severance, a spokeswoman for that office, also declined to comment.