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Brian Nelson v. Carl Miller

December 19, 2011

BRIAN NELSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARL MILLER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Proud, Magistrate Judge:

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

This matter is before the Court for further proceedings following remand. See, Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court now makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

1. Qualified Immunity

The Court determines that defendant Miller is not entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's First Amendment claim.

The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred from April, 2001, through April, 2006. Nelson, 570 F.3d at 871-874. The Seventh Circuit held that Mr. Miller substantially burdened Mr. Nelson's exercise of his religion in two ways: by requiring that he provide documentation that his religion required a meatless diet, and by denying his requests for such a diet. Nelson, 570 F.3d at 878-879.

In Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789 (7th Cir. 2008), the Seventh Circuit held the defendants did not have qualified immunity for a claim brought under RLUIPA based on substantially the same actions by defendants. The events giving rise to the claims in Koger occurred during the same period of time, i.e., May, 2001, through December, 2006. Koger, 523 F. 3d at 793-795. The Court noted that "the components of [RLUIPA] analysis have been used in constitutional analysis for some time." Koger, 523 F.3d at 802. The court held that it was well established at the relevant time that requiring clergy verification or requiring that the practice be required by recognized tenets of an organized religion violate the Free Exercise clause:

Likewise, in requiring clergy verification, the prison officials employed a clergy-as-arbiter-of-orthodoxy standard that had long been rejected. See Frazee, 489 U.S. at 834, 109 S.Ct. 1514 (rejecting "the notion that to claim the protection of the Free Exercise Clause, one must be responding to the commands of a particular religious organization" and holding that the believer's sincerity is the appropriate consideration); Jackson, 196 F.3d at 320 (rejecting a prison's policy of deferring to Jewish authorities on the question of whether an inmate is Jewish for the purposes of providing a kosher meal, and directing the prison officials to consider the sincerity of the inmate's beliefs).

Koger, 523 F.3d at 803.

For the reasons discussed in Koger, it was clearly established at the relevant time that defendant Miller's actions violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights. Therefore, the Court finds that Mr. Miller is not entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's First Amendment claim.

2. Claim under IRFRA

There is no case from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals or the Illinois Supreme Court deciding whether defendant can be sued in his individual capacity under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (IRFRA), 775 ILCS 35/1, et seq. However, other District Courts in this Circuit have held that an individual capacity claim is barred by sovereign immunity.

In Banks v. Dougherty, 2010 WL 747870 (N. D. Ill, 2010), the Northern District held that plaintiff could not bring an individual capacity claim under IRFRA because the source of the duty the defendant violated existed solely by virtue of the defendant's state employment. See, Banks, at *9-11. Banks relies on an Illinois Supreme Court case (which did not involve IRFRA) and is well-reasoned. In Boyd v. Wright, 2011 WL 77713 (C.D. Ill, 2011), the Central District agreed with Banks and held that there is no individual capacity claim under IRFRA against defendants who denied requests for religious meals.

This Court agrees with the reasoning of Banks and Boyd, and likewise holds that an individual capacity claim under IRFRA is barred by sovereign immunity. Thus, the individual capacity claim under IRFRA is dismissed. In addition, as directed by the Seventh Circuit, the official capacity claim under IRFRA is dismissed as that claim is within ...


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