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LaPointe v. Walker

September 15, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donald G. Wilkerson United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Philip E. LaPointe, currently an inmate in the Dixon Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lawrence Correctional Center officials Roger E. Walker, Jr., Lee Ryker, Timothy Love, and Rebecca White (collectively "Defendants") for violations of the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief because Defendants allegedly confiscated and refused to return his prayer rug while he was an inmate at the Lawrence Correctional Center. Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48) is GRANTED.


Plaintiff Phillip E. LaPointe ("LaPointe") is a Christian who has been incarcerated within the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") since 1978 (Doc. 50). From March 2005 to May 2007, LaPointe was incarcerated at the Lawrence Correctional Center ("LCC") (Docs. 1, 5). At all relevant times, Defendant Roger Walker ("Walker") was the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, Defendant Lee Ryker ("Ryker") was the warden of LCC, Defendant Timothy Love ("Love") was the chaplain at LCC, and Defendant Rebecca White ("White") was the LCC officer in charge of personal property (Doc. 1).

LaPointe practices his faith by kneeling and praying once a day. Several years ago, however, it became difficult for LaPointe to kneel and pray on the prison floor because his arthritis and scoliosis caused his knees and back to bother him (Doc. 1). In approximately 1991, LaPointe's then-chaplain suggested that he use a rug to kneel on while he prayed. Id. LaPointe purchased a rug to use as an alternative to kneeling on the prison's floor so that he is comfortable when he prays. Id.

Throughout the years, Illinois Department of Corrections officials allowed LaPointe to use his prayer rug when he kneeled and prayed. This changed when LaPointe was transferred to LCC (Doc. 1). On February 27, 2006, LCC Officer White confiscated LaPointe's rug during a prison compliance check, purportedly because he was not a Muslim and because a prayer rug was not deemed a component of LaPointe's Christian faith (Doc. 48). Moreover, at the Pavey hearing on December 10, 2009, counsel for Defendants stated that prayer rugs raise security concerns because prisoners can use them to conceal contraband (Doc. 77).

LaPointe opposed White's decision and tried to resolve his complaint with IDOC before filing this lawsuit. LaPointe alleges that he first told his counselor that he needed the rug for "medical reasons" (Doc. 48-1). The counselor then contacted Defendant Love, who informed LaPointe's counselor that LaPointe was not required to have a prayer rug because it was not a part of the Christian faith (Doc. 1). Upon learning that Love had approved of White's decision to retain the rug, LaPointe claims that he spoke to Love personally and asked that his rug be returned. Id. During this conversation, LaPointe claims that Love called someone who told him that all rugs were being taken from Christians, but states he does not know to whom Love was speaking. Id.

LaPointe also tried to get his prayer rug back by speaking to Defendant Ryker (Doc. 48-1). Ryker, however, did not engage in any decision-making with respect to the enforcement of religious policies of the prison and delegated the interpretation of those policies to the LCC Chaplain, Defendant Love (Doc. 48-1). Thus, LaPointe's attempt to recover his rug by speaking directly with Defendant Ryker proved unsuccessful because Ryker, while sympathetic, deferred to Defendant Love's decision to not return LaPointe's rug (Doc. 48-1).

Finally, LaPointe filed a formal grievance pursuant to IDOC regulations (Doc. 1). The grievance officer recommended that LaPointe's complaint regarding the confiscation of the prayer rug be denied because "[i]t had not been established that a prayer rug is required as part of the Christian faith." Id. Based upon this recommendation, Defendant Ryker concurred in the denial of LaPointe's grievance. Id. LaPointe then filed an Appeal to the Director. Id. Although LaPointe alleges that Defendant Walker, on appeal, concurred in these findings, Terry Anderson, Manager of the Office of Inmate Issues, has testified by affidavit that Defendant Walker did not personally review LaPointe's grievance (Doc 48-1). Moreover, it is evident that Defendant Walker's June 5, 2006 letter in response to LaPointe's appeal was signed by Anderson on behalf of Defendant Walker (Doc. 1). On September 7, 2006, after LaPointe was transferred from LCC to the Dixon Correctional Center, his prayer rug was returned (Doc. 17).

On November 17, 2006, LaPointe filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for violations of RLUIPA and the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Doc. 1). He seeks damages and injunctive relief because Defendants confiscated and refused to return his prayer rug while he was an inmate at LCC. Id. On December 17, 2008, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 48). In their Motion, Defendants claim that they are entitled to summary judgment because (1) LaPointe cannot show that Defendants violated RLUIPA or the First Amendment by taking away his prayer rug because LaPointe was still able to pray; (2) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (3) LaPointe is not entitled to injunctive relief because there is no ongoing violation of federal law; and (4) Defendants Walker and White are not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because they were not personally involved in violating LaPointe's constitutional rights.*fn1 While Defendants did not discuss Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim in its Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court will address


Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) ("[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."). A fact is material if it is outcome determinative under the governing law. Estate of Stevens v. City of Green Bay, 105 F.3d 1169, 1173 (7th Cir. 1997).

Under the summary judgment standard, "[t]he inquiry performed is . . . whether . . . there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The burden is on the moving party to establish that no material facts are in genuine dispute. Grun v. Pneumo Abex Corp., 163 F.3d 411, 419 (7th Cir. 1998). If the moving party meets this burden, "the non-movant must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial, and may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings." Id. In determining whether there are genuine ...

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