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Hunter v. Knapp

July 13, 2010

JASON HUNTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS KNAPP, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

A. Introduction and Procedural Summary As originally filed in May 2007, this prisoner civil rights suit presented the claims of three detainees from the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville, Illinois (Jason Hunter, Billy Ford-Bey and James Little) against four Defendants (the jail superintendent, the county sheriff, the jail, and the City of Belleville). The case survived threshold review in April 2009. Through a series of prior Orders, certain claims and parties were dismissed from this lawsuit. What remains is the claim of Plaintiff Hunter (now an inmate at USP-Atwater in California) against Defendant Thomas Knapp (the former Superintendent of St. Clair County Jail).

Hunter was detained at St. Clair County Jail for roughly two years and assigned to the segregation unit for a portion of that period.*fn1 Hunter's claim against Knapp (contained within a pro se complaint and various "supplements") is grounded on an alleged deprivation of the First Amendment right to freely exercise his religious beliefs while detained in the St. Clair County Jail. More specifically, Hunter asserts that he was not able to practice his Muslim faith in the proper fashion or attend Bible study as frequently as he desired (see, eg., Doc. 1, p. 5; Doc. 13, pp. 1-2; Doc. 90, p. 1).

In his answer, Knapp denied these allegations and interposed the affirmative defense of qualified immunity (Doc. 61, p. 4). Now before the Court is Knapp's May 21, 2010 summary judgment motion, which is ripe for disposition. Although notified of the motion and warned of the consequences of failing to timely respond thereto (see Doc. 87), Plaintiff Hunter has not filed a memorandum opposing the motion and supporting memorandum.*fn2

The failure to respond to a summary judgment motion, under the Local Rules of this District, may be considered by the Court as an admission of the merits of the motion. S.D. ILL. LOCAL RULE 7.1(c). The undersigned Judge considers Hunter's failure to respond in any way to Knapp's motion as an admission of the merits of that motion.

Even if this Court overlooks Hunter's failure to oppose Knapp's motion and thoroughly assesses the merits of the motion, Hunter fares no better. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Knapp's summary judgment motion.

B. Analysis

Defendant Knapp presents dual arguments for summary judgment. First, Knapp contends that Hunter cannot produce sufficient evidence to establish that his First Amendment right to freely exercise his Islamic faith was unconstitutionally infringed by any act or omission of Defendant Knapp. Second, Knapp asserts that he has qualified immunity from Hunter's claims. The Court's analysis begins with reference to the applicable legal standards.

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, discovery materials, and any affidavits show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Turner v. The Saloon, Ltd., 595 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2010); Durable Mfg. Co. v. U.S. Department of Labor, 578 F.3d 497, 501 (7th Cir. 2009), citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Accord Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to, draw all legitimate inferences in favor of, and resolve all doubts in favor of the non-moving party. National Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

Accord Reget v. City of La Crosse, 595 F.3d 691, 695 (7th Cir. 2010); TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007).

When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, he must demonstrate the existence of a genuine fact issue to defeat summary judgment. Reget, 595 F.3d at 695. Stated another way, to survive summary judgment, the non-movant must provide evidence on which the jury or court could find in his favor. See Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, 520 F.3d 781, 786 (7th Cir. 2008).

In the case at bar, Hunter alleges that -- while he was detained at St. Clair County Jail on a federal weapons charge -- Superintendent Knapp would not allow Muslims to have a religious worship service, that Knapp allowed only Christian services at the jail, and that Knapp did not allow inmates in segregation to worship with inmates from general population.

In its threshold review Order, the Court construed these allegations as a claim for violation of Hunter's rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution -- which secures the right to freely exercise one's religion. Now with discovery undertaken and motions filed, the picture has become clearer. Hunter mistakenly equates the unavailability of certain worship services and aids (prayer rugs, etc.) with the contravention of his federally-secured right to freely practice his religion. As is explained more fully below, the materials before this Court contain no indication ...


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