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Diggs v. Snyder

July 8, 2002

ROBERT DIGGS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DONALD N. SNYDER, JR., ROGER D. COWAN, LEORA HARRY, CAPTAIN KORANDO, CAPTAIN MOORE, LIEUTENANT ROBERT E. GALES, TOM CARTER, MINH SCOTT, AND D. SULLINS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County. No. 01-MR-31 Honorable William A. Schuwerk, Jr., Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins

Rule 23 Order filed July 8, 2002

Motion to publish granted August 13, 2002.

Robert Diggs (plaintiff) appeals from the dismissal by the circuit court of Randolph County of his complaint filed under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the Act) (775 ILCS 35/1 et seq. (West 2000)). He contends that the motion to dismiss filed by Donald N. Snyder, Jr., Roger D. Cowan, Leora Harry, Captain Lloyd Korando, Captain Eva Moore, Lieutenant Robert E. Gales, Tom Carter, Minh Scott, and Doug Sullins (defendants), all of whom are employees of the Department of Corrections (the Department), failed to demonstrate that his rights under the Act were not violated by the confiscation of a religious pamphlet. He asserts that defendants impinged on his right to the free exercise of his religion because they did not use the least restrictive means by which to achieve a compelling governmental interest. Plaintiff seeks the reversal of the trial court's order and an order from this court granting the relief requested in his complaint.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is an inmate in the Department at Menard Correctional Center (Menard) serving a 30-year prison sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault, a 20-year prison sentence for another aggravated criminal sexual assault, a 30-year prison sentence for armed robbery, one 15-year prison sentence for residential burglary, and two four-year prison sentences for residential burglary. The date for his discharge from mandatory supervised release is April 27, 2032.

On April 10, 2001, plaintiff, a follower of Islam, filed an action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from the circuit court. He complained that on June 19, 2000, he was disciplined for an unspecified infraction of Department rules, that he was punished with time in segregation, and that upon his release from segregation, where he was not allowed to have a television set, he was unable to persuade the authorities to give him a State-loan television on which to view Friday Jumu'ah services. He asked the court to direct defendant Roger Cowan, warden of Menard, to provide a free State television to plaintiff so that he could participate in the televised Jumu'ah services. He also asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment finding that Cowan had failed to provide him with an alternative means to physical presence at Jumu'ah services by denying him a free State-loan television, thereby violating his rights under the first amendment of the United States Constitution, the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the Act. Exhibits attached to the pleading demonstrated that plaintiff had pursued a grievance about his lack of a State-loan television to the point of exhaustion. Because the disposition of this filing is not an issue on appeal, it need not be discussed further.

On April 11, 2001, plaintiff filed a complaint under the Act. He asserted that on June 14, 2000, he was improperly ticketed for gang or unauthorized organization activity when correctional officers shook down his cell and found an Islam-related pamphlet that "condemned" all correctional officers and any others who would interfere with the practice of Islam. The pamphlet, which is not a part of the record on appeal, apparently included a "condemnation pledge"-a "pledge to condemn all correctional officer[s] and any people who deny, deprive[,] or hinder the practice of worshiping Allah"-but plaintiff asserted that he had not signed the pledge. He contended that his Muslim religion was authorized by the Department, that he was not given notice that the pamphlet constituted contraband or unauthorized property, and that he was not informed that it was necessary for him to disavow Islam because it was a gang or an unauthorized organization. Nonetheless, plaintiff was found guilty of gang or unauthorized organizational activity and possession of contraband or unauthorized property, confined to segregation for three months, and reduced to C grade for three months. No good-conduct credit was revoked as a result of the disciplinary action, but plaintiff lost his prison job as a consequence of the ticket. Plaintiff sought a declaration by the court that defendants' actions violated the Act.

Exhibits to the complaint established that plaintiff grieved the discipline imposed, but he did not assert that the practice of his Islamic religion was in any way burdened by the confiscation of the pamphlet. His grievance was denied based on the grievance officer's finding that possession of the pamphlet was not authorized by the facility and that the contents, while not specifically gang-related, constituted unauthorized organizational materials. The officer also relied on Muslim chaplain Mu'min's statement, "[T]he pledge is not literature condoned or disseminated by the Chaplaincy Department." Plaintiff appealed the discipline imposed to the point of the exhaustion of his administrative remedies. The finding of guilt on the first charge (gang or unauthorized organizational activity) was expunged from his record by the administrative review board. The adjustment committee's finding of guilty of possession of contraband or unauthorized property was affirmed in a hearing report that stated, "It is the Board's opinion that the material should be considered [c]ontraband/[u]nauthorized [p]roperty based on the reference to 'condemning all correctional officers ...[.]' "

On June 6, 2001, defendants moved, pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-619 (West 2000)), to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for injunctive relief and his complaint under the Act. In regard to the complaint, they noted that plaintiff failed to assert that defendants' actions constituted a substantial burden on his religious practices. They contended that the confiscation of a single pamphlet due to its threatening content did not constitute a substantial burden on plaintiff's right to the free exercise of his Islamic religion. They further claimed that even if it did, the Department may infringe on an inmate's constitutional rights by confiscating unauthorized, threatening printed matter if that impingement is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, in this case maintaining order and security in the prison. Defendants argued that because the administrative review board deleted the disciplinary action related to gang or unauthorized organization activity from plaintiff's institutional record, his argument that the Department was somehow requiring him to renounce his religion was baseless.

On July 6, 2001, plaintiff filed a response to the motion to dismiss, moved for injunctive relief, and filed a "motion for economic and non[]economic loss" seeking $45 per day for each day he spent in segregation as a result of the disciplinary action. He asserted that he was entitled to advance notice in the form of an institutional directive that the pamphlet constituted contraband and that, absent such notice, he should not have been disciplined. Plaintiff claimed that he was still being punished on the basis of his religion because, despite the fact that the disciplinary action for gang or unauthorized organizational activity was expunged from his record, he lost his State-loan television as a result of the discipline and he had no alternative means by which to participate in the televised Friday Jumu'ah service. Plaintiff's injunction demand sought an order directing defendants to expunge the second disciplinary report from his record, return him to his job assignment at the rate of pay he previously had enjoyed, return the confiscated pamphlet to him, and submit all documents to the publications review committee in the future.

On July 9, 2001, the trial court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. In relevant part, it found that no notice was required prior to the adoption of regulations that affected religious practices, that plaintiff's exercise of religion had not been substantially burdened by the confiscation of the pamphlet, that defendants confiscated the pamphlet as the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling government interest, and that plaintiff was not punished on the basis of his Muslim religion.

CONTENTIONS ON APPEAL

Plaintiff argues that defendants' motion to dismiss failed to demonstrate that his rights under the Act were not violated by the confiscation of his pamphlet. He asserts that defendants impinged on his right to the free exercise of his religion because they did not use the least restrictive means to achieve a compelling governmental interest. He argues that, first, the confiscation was not done in the furtherance of a governmental interest, second, he lacked notice that the possession of the pamphlet was against Department rules, and third, the Department did not submit the pamphlet to the publications review committee. He contends that the dismissal of his complaint should be reversed and his complaint should be granted, presumably by this court. He has ...


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