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Christiansen v. Walker

March 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge


I. Introduction and Background

Pending before the Court is Defendants Roger Walker, Greg Lambert, Barb Cooksey, and Eddie Jones motion for summary judgment filed on May 10, 2006 (Doc. 20). For reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

On August 12, 2004, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging in six counts that he suffered numerous constitutional violations at the hands of ten defendants employed at Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("BMRCC"). On February 25, 2005, the Court dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, five of the six counts, and five of the ten defendants (Doc. 9). Plaintiff alleges in his sole remaining count, Count 1, that Walker, Lambert, Cooksey, Jones, and Reggi Adams interfered with the free exercise of his religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the defendants did not provide him a diet free of animal products, which his religion mandates. Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants did not provide him hygiene supplies free of animal products. Plaintiff also alleges that the defendants forced him to attend religious programs that promote Christian ideology. Lastly, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants did not permit him adequate time or space to observe his prayer rituals and participate in fasting rituals.

In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants assert that the following reasons entitle them to summary judgment as to Count 1: (1) Plaintiff's right to practice his religion was only restricted to the extent called for by the legitimate penological interests at BMRCC; (2) even if a constitutional violation occurred, Defendants lacked the requisite personal involvement necessary to render them liable for such a violation; (3) the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution bars Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their official capacities; (4) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because Plaintiff has not shown that a constitutional violation has occurred; and (5) Plaintiff has not averred any physical injury, thus he cannot obtain the compensatory damages he prays for in his complaint.

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper where the pleading and affidavits, if any, "show that 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); Oats v. Discovery Zone, 116 F.3d 1161, 1165 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)). The movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of fact issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Santaella v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 232). The Court must consider the entire record, drawing reasonable inferences and resolving factual disputes in favor of the non-movant. Regensburger v. China Adoption Consultants, Ltd., 138 F.3d 1201, 1205 (7th Cir. 1998).

In response to a motion for summary judgment, the non-movant may not simply rest upon the allegations in the pleadings. Rather, the non-moving party must show through specific evidence that an issue of fact remains on matters for which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Walker v. Shansky, 28 F.3d 666, 670-71 (7th Cir. 1994), aff'd, 51 F.3d 276 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324). In reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court does not determine the truth of asserted matters, but rather decides whether there is a genuine factual issue for trial. Dykema v. Skoumal, 261 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2001) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249). The "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient to show a genuine issue of material fact." Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 933 (7th Cir. 1997).

No issue remains for trial "unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not sufficiently probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Accord Starzenski v. Citty of Elkhart, 87 F.3d 872, 880 (7th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1055 (1997); Tolle v. Carroll Touch, Inc., 23 F.3d 174, 178 (7th Cir. 1994). "[P]laintiff's own uncorroborated testimony is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment." Weeks, 126 F.3d at 939. Further, Plaintiff's own subjective belief does not create a genuine issue of material fact. Chiarmonte v. Fashion Bed Group, Inc., 129 F.3d 391, 401 (7th Cir. 1997).

III. Analysis

A. Free Exercise in Prison

The First Amendment guarantees free exercise of religion in the prison context.O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) ("Inmates clearly retain protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion."). However, the Supreme Court has clarified that a correctional institution may adopt regulations restricting the free exercise of religion if those regulations are "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). In determining whether such a regulation serves legitimate penological interests, courts must consider the following factors: (1) whether a valid, rational connection exists between the regulation and a legitimate government interest; (2) whether there are other means of exercising the right in question for prisoners; (3) the impact accommodating the claimed right would have on guards, other inmates, and prison resources; and (4) the availability of obvious and easy alternative to the regulation. Turner, 482 U.S. at 89-90.

B. Legitimate Penological Interests

Defendants aver that Plaintiff was given a reasonable opportunity to exercise his religious beliefs, adding that the only restrictions imposed upon that exercise were those related to legitimate penological interests at BMRCC. In support of this averment, Defendants emphasize the fact that Plaintiff has been receiving a diet without animal products (or animal by-products) since 1996, and that his only objection to the diet is that it sometimes contains onions or garlic. They also call attention to the fact that, although Plaintiff was prevented from participating in certain prayer rituals and Ramadan, he was nonetheless allowed to attend weekly Catholic Mass and Islamic services two to three times per week. Next, Defendants point out that Plaintiff's avowed faith draws from the tenants of ...

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