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Larry Banks and Walter Carlos v. Raul Almazar

March 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


In this long-lived lawsuit, Plaintiffs Larry Banks ("Banks") and Walter Carlos ("Carlos") allege that Defendants violated their constitutional rights while they were involuntarily committed to the Elgin Mental Health Center. In its memorandum opinion and order of February 26, 2010, the Court dismissed portions of Plaintiffs' Fifth Amended Complaint [123]. The remaining claims, each premised on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, are as follows: (1) both Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Almazar and Ibrahim, in their individual capacities, violated their rights to practice Islam under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying them access to Jumu'ah services (Count III); (2) both Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Almazar and Ibrahim, in their individual capacities, violated their Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights by purposefully discriminating against them on the basis of their religion (Count IV); and (3) Banks alleges that Defendants Almazar, Ibrahim, Dougherty, Husain, and Watrous, in their individual capacities, violated his First Amendment rights by failing to provide him with an adequate diet that met his religious needs (Count VII).

Before the Court are the parties' motions for summary judgment. Defendants move for summary judgment on all of the remaining aspects of the complaint [150]. Plaintiffs move for summary judgment on the aspects of Counts III and IV discussed above, and argue that disputed questions of fact preclude summary judgment for either party on Count VII [153]. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion [150] is respectfully denied and Plaintiffs' motion [153] is granted in part and denied in part. Further, Plaintiffs' motion for law library time [167] is respectfully denied; however the clerk is directed to mail a copy of this order to the executive director of the Cook County Correctional Center.

I. Background*fn1

The Elgin Mental Health Center ("EMHC" or the "Center") is the largest mental health facility in Illinois and services the majority of the involuntarily committed persons in the Chicago area. It is operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services, a subdivision of the State of Illinois. Plaintiffs were involuntarily committed to EMHC after being found unfit to stand trial for criminal offenses of which they were accused. Carlos was committed at EMHC from July 25, 2006 to November 2, 2007. Banks was committed from August 2, 2007 to June 6, 2008.

Defendant Raul Almazar ("Almazar") served as the Hospital Administrator of EMHC from before the time that either Plaintiff was admitted until January 2008. Defendant Tajudeen Ibrahim ("Ibrahim") is the Acting Administrator of EMHC and has held that title since he replaced Almazar. Dr. Bonnie Benzies (who is not a Defendant in this case) was the Director of Pastoral Care Services at EMHC while Plaintiffs were detained there. Defendant Greg Dougherty ("Dougherty") was Banks' social worker at EMHC. Dr. Farazana Husain ("Husain") was Banks' psychiatrist at EMHC. Dr. Michael Watrous ("Watrous") was Banks' psychologist at EMHC.

The Director of Pastoral Care Services coordinates all religious activity at the Center and is responsible for establishing and scheduling religious services, finding appropriate individuals to lead the services, accommodating patients' religious requests, and is the liaison between outside priests and residents of the facility. The Director of Pastoral Care Services reports to the Hospital Administrator.

The Hospital Administrator is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the religious rights of all patients at the Center are respected and observed and has final policymaking authority regarding patients' religious requests. The Hospital Administrator creates an annual budget for EMHC and decides how funds are distributed so that EMHC fulfils its operational goals. Accordingly, the Hospital Administrator decides which clergy members are compensated for their services and the amount of compensation. If Dr. Benzies wanted a new religious service to be held at the Center or a clergy member to be added to the payroll, that request first had to be approved by the Hospital Administrator.

During the relevant time period, EMHC's "Policy and Procedure Manual," contained a written policy regarding the "Spiritual Needs of Patients/Pastoral Services." (See Pl. Ex. L). The policy recognized the "ethnic and cultural diversity" of EMHC's patient population and provided that "faith-specific opportunities" for worship were to be provided "to meet the varied spiritual needs of patients." Patients were to have "regular, on-going access" to religious services. Id. EMHC's practice is that residents can attend any religious service offered unless the resident poses an immediate security or safety risk or will disrupt the services and prevent others from worshipping. Security Therapist Aides ("STAs") or nurses would make the determination if a patient could go to a particular service.

EMHC maintains charts that show the breakdown of the religious affiliations of its patients. The information from these charts comes from the information patients provide when they fill out their paperwork for admission. As of August 2007, the chart contained separate categories for Jews, for Christians, and for several subcategories of Christianity (including Baptist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Methodist). However, there was no separate category for Muslims-they instead were lumped into a category called "Non-Christians." Dr. Benzies testified that on average there were twice as many Muslim patients than there were Jewish patients at the Center and that on average the Muslim population fluctuated between 10 to 15 individuals. Islam is one of the world's major religions and Muslims are well-represented in the Chicagoland area. As of October 2008, there were two Islamic mosques in Elgin, Illinois and eight mosques within 15 miles of EMHC. There are more than 50 imams in the Chicago area.

A. Facts Relating to Denial of Jumu'ah Prayer Services

Plaintiffs are practicing Muslims who sincerely believe in the tenets of the Islamic faith. Plaintiffs sincerely believe that attending "Jumu'ah" services is central and essential to their practice of the Islamic religion.*fn2 (Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Statement of Facts ("Def. Resp. Pl. SOF") [158] at ¶ 11; Defendants' Response to Plaintiffs' Statement of Additional Facts ("Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF [164] at ¶ 1). Jumu'ah is commanded by the Koran and can only be conducted on Friday afternoons between the time the sun passes its zenith until it reaches the mid-point of its decline. See O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 344 (1987) ("Jumu'ah is commanded by the Koran and must be held every Friday after the sun reaches its zenith and before the Asr, or afternoon prayer."). Jumu'ah is the central religious ceremony of Muslims and is comparable to the Saturday service of the Jewish faith or the Sunday service of various Christian sects. Attending Jumu'ah is obligatory for adult males, and it cannot be substituted by another service or switched to another time. Jumu'ah must be performed in congregation under the leadership of an imam and typically takes less than an hour to hold.

While they were committed to EMHC, both Banks and Carlos made repeated requests for the opportunity to attend Jumu'ah. However, it is undisputed that during the time that Plaintiffs were committed, EMHC never held Jumu'ah services.*fn3

During the time that he was committed, Carlos repeatedly asked members of his treatment team, the head nurse, other nurses, and STAs for the opportunity to attend Islamic services, including Jumu'ah services. In response, the nurses and STAs gave Carlos excuses as to why he could not go to Jumu'ah services, such as there was no one to pick him up, that the Center was short on staff, that individuals who were deemed unfit to stand trial could not go to the services, or that he should talk to the head nurse. Carlos spoke with a mediator on approximately two occasions and told her about his desire to attend Islamic services, including Jumu'ah. The mediator stated that she would forward his complaint to Defendant Almazar. At some point during his commitment, Carlos filed a complaint regarding his request to attend Islamic services and gave it to a nurse to put in his medical file to be submitted to the treatment team.*fn4

While Banks was committed, he made repeated requests to the Center's staff, as well as to Almazar and Ibrahim personally for Jumu'ah services. These complaints eventually culminated in the filing of the instant lawsuit. Banks filed the instant lawsuit against Almazar on October 4, 2007 and added Carlos as a plaintiff on October 29, 2007.*fn5 Almazar received the complaint on November 19, 2007 (about two weeks after Carlos left EMHC). Further, Almazar testified that he was aware that Banks had been complaining about the lack of Jumu'ah services at the Center.

On May 15, 2008, Banks provided Defendant Dr. Watrous with a written administrative complaint complaining about the lack of Jumu'ah services for him to forward to Ibrahim. Banks did this because he was told that for any complaint to reach the Hospital Administrator, it had to be first given to a treatment team member who would then forward it on.

Due to budget constraints, EMHC relied on paid clergy and on volunteers to meet patients' religious needs. During the time that Plaintiffs were committed, EMHC paid a Christian priest to conduct Christian services on most Sundays (as well as to perform other duties). EMHC paid the Christian priest around $17.50 an hour to provide around 40-45 hours of service a month. The Center also paid a Jewish rabbi to give out challah bread and lead a blessing every other Friday. The rabbi earned around $20 an hour to provide about 12 hours of services a month. The Center also paid an ecumenical chaplain around $17.50 an hour to provide 35-40 hours of service a month.*fn6 Again, Almazar and Ibrahim had control over the Center's budget and decided which priests would be paid and at what amount.

Since at least 2006, Almazar and Ibrahim did not offer a paid position to an Islamic imam. Ibrahim never looked into paying an imam because he believed that the ecumenical priest adequately covered the needs of Muslim patients at the Center. Dr. Benzies testified that she asked the Hospital Administrators for funds to pay an imam in every budget request she made. However, Almazar testified that he did not recall Dr. Benzies ever requesting funds specifically for an imam. Almazar and Ibrahim never made a request to the state legislature to increase EMHC's budget for funds to pay an imam.*fn7

While the Center did not hold Jumu'ah services, there were some activities in place for Muslim patients. Since 2005, the Center has held "Taleem" for Muslim patients. Taleem is an Islamic study period. While Plaintiffs were committed at the Center, approximately four to nine Muslim patients usually attended Taleem every week. Taleem lasted an hour and a half and was held in the visitor's room at the Center. Banks attended the Taleem services "not over 11 times" during his stay at the Center.*fn8

The Center began holding Taleem studies in response to a request from another patient around 2004. In response to that request, Dr. Benzies called the Institute of Islamic Education in Elgin to find someone to administer to the Center's Muslim patients. The Institute of Islamic Education is a local college that specializes in Islamic education. Dr. Benzies called the Institute two or three times, but never received a response until about a year later when Ali Toft (a teacher at the school) returned the calls and offered to volunteer to lead an "Islamic Studies Group." In 2007, Toft passed this role to his student, Arif Kamal. Neither Toft nor Kamal were paid for their time-they were both volunteers.*fn9

Further, EMHC staff did not prevent Plaintiffs from praying with each other or alone. For example, Carlos and Banks spent time together in the day room standing and going through demonstrations of prayers, and EMHC staff did not stop them. However, Banks testified that Center staff told him that he could not be on the floor praying for extended periods of time, and Banks had difficulty doing some of his prayers because of the traffic of patients and staff at the Center.

Following Plaintiffs' departure from EMHC, an EMHC patient named Omar began leading Jumu'ah services. In his deposition, Banks testified that going to Jumu'ah services led by Omar would have been a satisfactory accommodation.

B. Facts Relating to Banks' Religious Diet Claims

Banks sincerely believes that his Islamic faith requires him to adhere to a "halal" diet. Muslims who adhere to a halal diet cannot eat (among other things) pork or pork by-products. Banks also believes that normally acceptable food that comes into contact with (or has been placed on the same dish or tray as) a pork product becomes "haraam" (forbidden) to him. Accordingly, if ...

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