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McDowell v. Heffren

September 22, 2008

TERRY RAY MCDOWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFF HEFFREN, ET.AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge

SUMMARY JUDGMENT ORDER

This cause is before the court for consideration of the defendants' motion for summary judgment. [d/e 57]

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff's complaint alleges his constitutional rights were violated at the Illinois River Correctional Center by 8 defendants including Correctional Officers Jeff Heffren and Stan Whitlock; Bakery Instructors Jody Reed and Terry Sutter; Assistant Wardens Jerry Bohler and Richard Birkey; Bakery Superintendent John Dudek and Grievance Officer Julie Bohler. The plaintiff's surviving claims include:

1) Defendant Heffren violated the plaintiff's First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion based on the disciplinary ticket the plaintiff received for performing a religious prayer.

2) Defendants Sutter, Reed and Dudek violated the plaintiff's equal protection rights when they fired the plaintiff from his prison job based on his race and religion.

3) Defendants Heffren, Sutter, Reed and Dudek conspired to remove the plaintiff from his job based on his race and religion.

4) Defendant Heffren violated the plaintiff's First Amendment rights when he wrote a May 17, 2004, disciplinary ticket against the plaintiff in retaliation for previous grievance against the defendant.

5) Defendant Whitlock violated the plaintiff's First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion based on the confiscation of his religious tape.

6) Defendants Whitlock, Julie Bohler, Jerry Bohler and Birkey violated the plaintiff's equal protection rights based on the confiscation of his religious tape.

7) Defendants Whitlock, Julie Bohler, Jerry Bohler and Birkey conspired to deny the plaintiff his tape based on his race and religion.

II. FACTS

The following facts are taken from the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff's response and the attached exhibits.*fn1

Defendant Heffren states on March 8, 2008, while doing a routine check in the bakery, he found the door to the dish room closed and a dish room worker standing outside. Heffren says when he opened the door, he saw the plaintiff on his hands and knees praying. The officer says he told the plaintiff to stand up, put his shoes on and go back to his assigned work area.

McDowell's job assignment was across the bakery out on the floor as a depanner, so I gave him a direct order to stay out of the dish room. I did not deny offender McDowell the right to pray, I simply asked him not to do it in this work area. (Def. Memo, Ex. I, Heffren Aff., p. 1).

In his deposition, the plaintiff alleges he finished his prayer before he left the dish room. (Def. Memo, Ex. A, Plain. Depo, p. 7) The plaintiff also claims Defendant Heffren told him to pray in the bathroom.

Heffren says about two hours later, he saw the plaintiff in the dish room again. Heffren says he told the plaintiff since he had already given him a direct order to stay out of this room, it was time for him to go back to his housing unit. Heffren says he wrote a disciplinary ticket against the plaintiff, but had no authority to fire the plaintiff from his job. (Def. Memo, Ex. I, Heffren Aff., p. 1-2).

John Dudek says he is the Bakery Superintendent at Illinois River Correctional Center. Dudek says he has the authority to hire and fire inmate workers, but the vocational instructors do not. Dudek says on June 1, 2003, the plaintiff received an unfavorable employment evaluation. On March 8, 2004, Officer Heffren wrote the disciplinary report charging the plaintiff with insolence and disobeying a direct order. Dudek says since the plaintiff was away from his assigned work area with the door closed, he considered this violation a "security issue." (Def. Memo, Ex. F, Dudek Aff, p. 2). On March 9, 2004, the plaintiff received another unfavorable employment evaluation. (Def. Memo, Ex. F, Dudek Aff, p. 1) The plaintiff denies this, but admits receiving a disciplinary ticket.

According to my records, I terminated McDowell from his job assignment on March 9, 2004. The decision to fire McDowell was based on the 3/08/07 disciplinary report as well as his two consecutive unfavorable employment evaluations. To the best of my recollection, I made this decision independently, without input from other staff. (Def. Memo, Ex. F, Dudek Aff, p. 1)

Dudek says offenders who receive disciplinary reports are not always immediately terminated from their jobs. However, the offenses of insolence and disobeying a direct order "do often trigger ...


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