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Enoch Wilder v. Rick Sutton

December 21, 2010


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


I. Introduction and Background

Pending before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc.80). Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. 84). Based on the following, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.

Plaintiff Enoch Wilder, an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections currently housed at Lawrence Correctional Center, filed suit against Defendants for deprivations of his civil rights that he claims occurred at Pinckneyville Correctional Center pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). On August 15, 2006, the Court conducted its 28 U.S.C. § 1915A review of Wilder's complaint (Doc. 8). In that Order, the Court, based on the allegations in the complaint, set forth the following as the relevant facts surrounding Wilder's claims:

Plaintiff states that he was transferred to Pinckneyville Correctional Center on January 10, 2003. At the time of transfer, he identified himself as a practitioner of the Wiccan religion. Plaintiff submitted "request slip after request slip" seeking a meeting with Defendant Sutton so that he might obtain the materials necessary for the practice of his religion. Plaintiff informed Defendant Flagg, Assistant Warden of Programs, that Defendant Sutton had not responded to his requests. Defendant Flagg told him to keep submitting requests. After a few more weeks of his requests being ignored, Plaintiff wrote an unspecified number of letters to Defendant Pierson, Chief Administrative Officer at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, informing him of his desire to practice his religion and Defendant Sutton's failure to respond to his requests. Defendant Pierson did not respond in writing to Plaintiff's requests, but when Plaintiff saw him in person and asked him about his letters, Defendant Pierson told Plaintiff, "you must go through the Chaplaincy Department."

Because Plaintiff believed he had no other recourse, on November 19, 2003, he began filing grievances. In response, he was informed that he needed to submit a documented list of necessary items to Defendant Sutton. Plaintiff did so, but that request was also ignored. Plaintiff later saw Defendant Sutton, asked about the requests, and was informed that "your religion is not allowed to be practiced at PCC." Defendant Sutton also told Plaintiff that his request[s] were being reviewed by Defendant Watts, Chief Chaplain of the Religions Practice Advisory Board in Springfield. After "a long period of time elapsed" without response from either Defendant Sutton or Defendant Watts, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Defendant Watts personally, asking that he be allowed to practice his religion. During that same time, Plaintiff was also seeking relief through the prison's grievance system. All grievances were denied for various reasons at the prison level and later by Defendant Evans and Defendant Ford at the Administrative Review Board.

(Doc. 8, ps. 2-3).

Thereafter on January 3, 2007, Wilder filed an amended complaint based on the above incidents (Doc. 21). The Amended Complaint alleges that while he was housed at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, the Defendants (1) impeded the practice of his religion in violation of the First Amendment; (2) denied him his equal protection rights insofar as they have placed burdens on his religious practices not applicable to other religions, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1); and committed negligence under Illinois law due to violations of the "Unified Code of Corrections." Specifically, Wilder alleges that Defendants: (1) failed to recognize his religion as being legitimate; (2) failed to permit him to purchase and use "ritual utensils" essential to the practice of his religion; and (3) failed to permit him to use the prison chapel for worship. Wilder sued Defendants in their individual and official capacities. He seeks declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages and free room and board.

As to Chaplain Sutton, Wilder's amended complaint alleges that upon arriving at Pinckneyville in January 2003, he asked Sutton about making arrangements to practice his Wiccan religion. Sutton directed Wilder to fill out a request slip to meet with Sutton. Wilder did not receive a response to his request slip, but was subsequently told by his counselor to send Sutton a list of items needed and verification of their religious necessity. Wilder sent the verified list, to no avail. Wilder alleges that Sutton told him "Your religion is not allowed to be practiced at PCC."

As to Julius Flag, Wilder's amended complaint alleges that he told Flagg that Sutton had not responded to the written requests and that Flagg told Wilder that he was not a chaplain and that Wilder should continue to use the request procedures.

As to Warden Mark Pierson, Wilder's amended complaint alleges that he wrote and spoke to Pierson regarding Sutton and Flagg's inaction and that Pierson instructed Wilder to make his requests through Sutton.

As to Warden Evans, Wilder's amended complaint alleges that after ten months of inaction, Wilder turned to the grievance process, which passed his grievance about being prevented from practicing his religion to Warden Evans, who denied the grievance.

As to Melody Ford, Wilder's amended complaint alleges that he appealed the denial of his grievance to the Administrative Review Board. The Administrative Review Board, by and through Ford, rejected the grievance because the paperwork did not indicate Wilder had submitted it through a grievance officer. Wilder wrote to Ford indicating he sent the missing documentation separately and asked Ford to rectify her mistake, to no avail.

As to William Watts, the amended complaint alleges that Wilder's counselor forwarded Wilder's verified list of religious items to Watts, who chaired the Religious Practice Advisory Board.

On February 22, 2007, the Court adopted a Report and Recommendation submitted by Magistrate Judge Proud, granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Wilder's cause of action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (Doc. 55). Wilder appealed the Court's Order on March 20, 2008 (Doc. 56). On March 5, 2009, the Seventh Circuit issued its Mandate vacating the Court's Order regarding exhaustion and remanded the case for further proceedings (Doc. 72). Thereafter, Defendants filed a renewed motion for summary judgment (Doc. 80). Wilder filed his opposition to the motion (Doc. 84) and Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 85). As the matter is ripe, the Court turns to address the merits.

III. Summary Judgment Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a movant is entitled to summary judgment when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with any admissible affidavits, demonstrate there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. SeeSchuster v. Lucent Tech., Inc., 327 F.3d 569, 573 (7th Cir. 2003). At summary judgment, the "court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact." Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008).

It is significant to note that Wilder is proceeding pro se herein. The pleadings of pro se litigants should not be held to the same stringent standards as pleadings drafted by formally trained lawyers; instead they must be liberally construed. See Kyle II v. Patterson, 196 F.3d 695, 697 (7th Cir. 1999)(citing Wilson v. Civil Town of Clayton, Ind., 839 F.2d 375, 378 (7th Cir. 1988)(pro se ...

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