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Nelson v. Miller

January 30, 2007

BRIAN NELSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARL MILLER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Proud, Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Brian Nelson, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections, incarcerated at Tamms Correctional Center. His amended complaint alleges that defendant Carl Miller, the chaplain at Tamms, refused to allow him to receive a diet that comported with the requirements of his religion, in violation of the "free exercise" and "establishment"clauses of the First Amendment, the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1), and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (775 ILCS 35/1, et seq.). (Doc. 33). Before the Court is defendant Carl Miller's motion for summary judgment and memorandum in support thereof. (Docs. 45 and 46). Defendant argues:

1. Plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies regarding the denial of a diet based on a religious requirement that he abstain from eating all meat;

2. Injunctive relief is no longer an available remedy because there is no continuing violation, as plaintiff is now receiving a vegan diet;

3. Sovereign immunity bars official capacity claims for monetary damages;

4. Qualified immunity bars individual capacity claims for damages; and

5. Plaintiff's pendant state law claim should be dismissed if defendant obtains summary judgment on all federal law claims.

Relevant Procedural History

The analysis of defendant's motion requires an understanding of both the amended complaint (Doc. 33), which is controlling at this juncture, and the original complaint (Doc. 2).

Plaintiff signed the complaint on January 24, 2003, filed suit in state court on February 20, 2003, and the action was removed to federal court on April 23, 2003. (Docs 1 and 2). The complaint described plaintiff as a Roman Catholic who also follows the Rule of St. Benedict, which forbids eating "the flesh meat of any four[-]legged animal at any time." (Doc. 2, pp. 4-5 and 14). From plaintiff's perspective, defendant Miller, a Lutheran, was supplanting the true, documented requirements of plaintiff's religion with his own limited interpretation of the general Catholic faith. (Doc. 2, pp. 6-7 and 12). Furthermore, plaintiff observed that Muslims were permitted to receive a vegan diet that comported with their religious beliefs. (Doc. 2, p. 17). Plaintiff's claims were based upon the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("IRFRA"); and the Court construed plaintiff's reliance upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as incorporating the First Amendment-- presumably the "free exercise" and "establishment" clauses. (Docs. 2 and 9).

Plaintiff's amended complaint was filed July 17, 2006, and also revolves around the defendant's refusal to authorize a diet that complied with the requirements of plaintiff's faith. (Doc. 33). However, the amended complaint outlines an evolution of faith premised upon the practice of his childhood of not eating meat on Fridays and during Lent, adding adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict regarding abstaining from eating the flesh of four-legged animals, and ending with a stricter construction of St. Benedict's Rule that bars the consumption of all meat. (Doc. 33, pp. 3-4). In addition to the RLUIPA, IRFRA and First Amendment Claims from the original complaint, a Fourteenth Amendment "equal protection" claim is added to the mix. Taking full advantage of the federal notice pleading standard, plaintiff does not pin any particular claim to any particular date or period within the evolution of his beliefs.

Three grievances plaintiff pursued are also relevant to the analysis of defendant's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 Two grievances were pursued prior to the filing of the original complaint in this case. The third grievance was pursued during the pendency of this case, and fully exhausted prior to the filing of the amended complaint.

The first grievance (Doc. 50-4, pp. 6-9 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)) was lodged May 8, 2002. Plaintiff complained that, as a Roman Catholic, he was forbidden to eat "flesh meat" on Fridays and during Lent, and that non-Catholic chaplains were imposing their beliefs upon him. Plaintiff wanted a vegan diet on Fridays and during Lent, but he indicated his willingness to accept a vegan diet on a daily basis for the sake of convenience. Plaintiff cited a religious reference document and Father Fortenberry, the Catholic priest serving Tamms, in support of his request for a religious diet. The fact that Muslims and Buddhists at Tamms were permitted vegan diets was noted by plaintiff. This grievance was denied at the institutional level, and ultimately by the Illinois Department of Corrections Administrative Review Board. (Doc. 5-4, pp. 10-11 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)).

The second relevant grievance (Doc. 50-4, pp. 12-13 and 15 (as numbered in the CMECF system)) was submitted September 15, 2002. Plaintiff essentially complained that Chaplain Miller denied his request for a religious diet out of ignorance, having failed to consult Father Fortenberry or the Rule of St. Benedict. Plaintiff explained that his religious beliefs as a Catholic following the Rule of St. Benedict forbade eating "the flesh meat of four[-]legged animals." In denying the grievance at the institutional level, prison officials noted that plaintiff had declared himself a "Catholic," and, per Chaplain Miller, until plaintiff can establish that he is a Cenobic monk he will not be provided with the requested vegan diet. (Doc. 50-4, p. 14 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)). The grievance was subsequently denied by the Illinois Department of Corrections Administrative Review Board. (Doc. 50-5, p. 1 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)).

The third grievance was submitted November 13, 2005. (Doc. 50-5, pp. 2-3 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)). Plaintiff claimed discrimination because non-Christians were allowed to participate in the Christian celebration of Christmas, but non-Muslims were not allowed to participate in Muslim celebrations. More specifically, plaintiff complained that Muslims were receiving bean pies and oranges to mark a religious feast day, and his request for a bean pie and orange was denied because he is admittedly Catholic. Plaintiff also asserted that Chaplain Miller held him to a stricter standard regarding the dietary requirements of his religion. The grievance was denied at the institutional level and by the Illinois Department of Corrections Administrative Review Board based on the fact that a Catholic is not required to participate in Muslim feast days. (Doc. 50-5, pp. 4-5 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)).

On April 12, 2006, in response to a formal request, defendant Miller approved a vegan diet "[b]ased on the seriousness of his religion," and that diet was further approved by the warden of Tamms. (Doc. 50-7, p. 9 (as numbered in the CM-ECF system)).

Standard of Review

Summary judgment should be granted where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party has the responsibility of informing the Court of portions of the record or affidavits that demonstrate the absence of a triable issue. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party may meet its burden of showing an absence of disputed material facts by demonstrating "that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Cain v. Lane, 857 F.2d 1139, 1142 (7th Cir. 1988).

If the moving party meets its burden, the non-moving party then has the burden of presenting specific facts to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact.Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go beyond the pleadings and produce evidence of a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. In other words, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586. Nevertheless, this Court must "view the record and all inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party]." Holland v. Jefferson Nat. Life Ins. Co., 883 F.2d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1989). Summary judgment will be denied where a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Hedberg v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 47 F.3d 928, 931 (7th Cir. 1995).

Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

According to the Prison Litigation Reform Act:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.

42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).

The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held in Perez v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 182 F.3d 532 (7th Cir. 1999), that exhaustion of administrative remedies, while not jurisdictional per se, is a "precondition" to suit, regardless of the apparent futility of pursuing an administrative remedy, regardless of whether money damages are sought as a tangential remedy, and regardless of notions of judicial economy. Exhaustion means that the prisoner has "complete[d] the administrative process by following the rules the state has established for that process." Pozo v. McCaughtry, 286 F.3d 1022, 1023 (7th Cir. 2002). "Any other approach . . . would defeat the statutory objective of requiring the prisoner to give the prison administration an opportunity to fix the problem-or to reduce the damages and perhaps to shed light on factual disputes that may arise in litigation even if the prison's solution does not fully ...


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