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Gerald Wilkins, A/K/A Kwanm Ari Michael Yisrayl v. Roger E. Walker

January 26, 2012


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


Gerald Wilkins (also known as Kwanm Ari Michael Yisrayl and referred to herein as Wilkins) formerly was an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).*fn1

A professed member of the African Hebrew Israelite of Jerusalem (AHI) faith, Wilkins alleges that his constitutional and statutory rights were violated while he resided at Tamms Correctional Center (Tamms), located within this Judicial District. In March 2009, he filed suit in this Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq. (RLUIPA), and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 775 ILCS 35/1--99 (IRFRA).

Now before the Court is Defendants' summary judgment motion (Doc. 64), which became ripe for disposition after the final brief was filed December 6, 2011. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion. Judge Williams will conduct a final pretrial conference herein on January 30, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.


Wilkins was incarcerated at Tamms from 2005 to 2009. He subsequently was transferred to Statesville, Galesburg, and Menard Correctional Centers (Doc. 65-1, 2). He was released from IDOC custody on November 21, 2011 (Doc. 75). In March 2009, while still incarcerated, Wilkins filed suit in this Court naming as Defendants seven individuals and the U.S. Postal Service. The case randomly was assigned to the Honorable David R. Herndon.

In January 2010, after conducting a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, Chief Judge Herndon dismissed with prejudice ten of Wilkins' claims and two defendants (one individual, Suzann Griswold, plus the U.S. Postal Service). The case was reassigned to the undersigned District Judge one year ago (see Order at Doc. 35). Wilkins secured leave to file an amended complaint in February 2011, adding claims under IRFRA.

After Judge Herndon's threshold order and Wilkins' filing of the amended complaint, remaining herein are claims under the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses,*fn2 RLUIPA, IRFRA, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.*fn3 Wilkins asks for compensatory and punitive damages, plus declaratory and injunctive relief.

His forty-five surviving legal claims stem from three broad factual allegations involving the six Defendants named in the amended complaint: (1) Roger Walker, Jr., (2) William Watts, (3) Greg Lambert, (4) Carl Miller, (5) Bonnie Sullivan, and (6) Ken Bartley (incorrectly referred to in several early pleadings/Orders as Defendant "Bantey" or "Banley").

First, Wilkins alleges that Defendant Sullivan (Tamms' dietary manager) refused to serve him religiously prescribed unleavened bread during Passover 2006, served him religiously proscribed saltines (instead of unleavened bread) during Passover 2008, and failed to serve him a special meal on the 2008 Feast of Weeks holy day.*fn4 Wilkins asserts that Sullivan thereby violated his right to practice religion freely (under the Free Exercise Clause, RLUIPA, and IRFRA) and his right to be free from religious discrimination (under the Equal Protection Clause).

Second, Wilkins claims that Defendants Walker (the IDOC director), Watts (IDOC's head chaplain), Bartley (Tamms' warden/chief administrative officer), Lambert (Tamms' assistant warden) and Miller (Tamms' senior chaplain) violated Wilkins' rights under the Free Exercise Clause, RLUIPA, and IRFRA by systematically denying Wilkins a turban, religious literature and religious videos. Those Defendants also are alleged to have violated Wilkins' Free Exercise, RLUIPA, IRFRA, and Equal Protection rights by failing to hire an AHI chaplain for Tamms. Further, Wilkins claims that not hiring an AHI chaplain in a prison that employed Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Christian clergy violates the Establishment Clause.

Lastly, Wilkins alleges Senior Chaplain Miller violated his Equal Protectionrights by deliberately denying Wilkins' requests for AHI materials while providing equivalent Christian materials to Christian inmates and by bringing Wilkins Christian materials, in an effort to convert Wilkins to Christianity.

Defendants move for summary judgment on most (but not all) of Wilkins' claims.*fn5

Defendants target various claims with the doctrines of mootness, sovereign immunity, and qualified immunity. Additionally, according to Defendants' motion, Director Walker's lack of personal involvement entitles him to summary judgment on Wilkins' § 1983 claims. All Defendants should, they argue, prevail at this stage on any individual-capacity RLUIPA claims, because RLUIPA does not entitle a plaintiff to damages against individuals. Defendants argue they are entitled to summary judgment on the Free Exercise claims because no Defendant substantially burdened Wilkins' religious practices. Defendants present a similar substantive argument about Wilkins' Equal Protection claims. The motion has been fully briefed, the entire record thoroughly reviewed, and the Court now rules as follows.


A federal court is obliged to make an inquiry sua sponte, if a doubt arises as to the existence of its jurisdiction. Tylka v. Gerber Prods. Co. , 211 F.3d 445, 447--48 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 1002 (2000); Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). Though Defendants inexplicably failed to raise the issue in either their answer or summary judgment motion, the Court is obliged to examine whether it has jurisdiction of Wilkins' IRFRA claims. It does not.
IRFRA creates a right of action "against a government," 775 ILCS 35/20, and imposes a duty to "not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion." 775 ILCS 35/15. See, e.g., St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago, 502 F.3d 616, 622 (7th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 533 U.S. 1032 (2008)("The IRFRA provides generally that the 'government may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person" is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."). The term "government" is defined broadly - it includes "a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, and official (or other person acting under color of law)." 775 ILCS 35/5.

Of course, IRFRA is an Illinois law. As to claims against the State of Illinois founded upon any Illinois law, the Illinois Court of Claims has "exclusive jurisdiction." 705 ILCS 505/8(a). Official-capacity IRFRA claims lie beyond the jurisdiction of federal courts. A suit against a public employee in his official capacity is a suit against the state, and the Illinois Court of Claims has "exclusive jurisdiction of all claims" against the state founded upon any law of the State of Illinois. Nelson v. Miller , 570 F.3d 868, 885 (7th Cir. 2009); 705 ILCS 505/8(a). Therefore, to the extent that Wilkins brings his IRFRA claims against Defendants in their official capacities, those claims must be and are hereby DISMISSED.

The Court also concludes it has no jurisdiction over Wilkins' individual-capacity IRFRA claims. Though the Seventh Circuit did not address the issue in Nelson , federal district courts have barred potential individual-capacity IRFRA claims. See, e.g., Banks v. Dougherty , 2010 WL 747870, at **31--32 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 26, 2010); Boyd v. Wright , 2011 WL 77713, at **10-- 12 (C.D. Ill. Feb. 28, 2011); Nelson v. Miller , 2011 WL 6400524, at *1--2 (S.D. Ill. Dec. 19, 2011). Interpreting Illinois caselaw, the district courts have held that IRFRA claims against state employees are in effect actions against the state, since the individuals' duties to a plaintiff arise solely from their employment with the state. Banks , 2010 WL 747870 at *31, applying Fritz v. Johnston , 807 N.E.2d 461, 468--69 (Ill. 2004). Accord Turner v. Miller , 301 F.3d 599, 600 (sovereign immunity barred IDOC inmate's negligence claim as an action against the state, because defendant's duty imposed solely by virtue of state employment).*fn6

The Court agrees with the reasoning in Banks and Boyd . Here, each Defendant owed a duty not to substantially burden Wilkins' religious practices, but only because each Defendant was employed by the IDOC. See Boyd at *12 ("Decisions on what meals would be provided to vegan IDOC inmates are uniquely governmental."). As such, Wilkins' IRFRA claims are state law claims against Illinois, over which the Illinois Court of Claims enjoys "exclusive jurisdiction." 705 ILCS 505/8(a). This Court lacks jurisdiction over Wilkins' individual-capacity IRFRA claims, so those claims also must be and are hereby DISMISSED.


Summary judgment is proper if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Dynegy Mktg. & Trade v. Multiut Corp. , 648 F.3d 506, 517 (7th Cir. 2011); FED.R. CIV.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating - based on the pleadings, affidavits and/or information obtained via discovery - the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

When a summary judgment motion is submitted and supported by evidence as provided in Rule 56(c), the adverse party may not rest on mere allegations or denials in its pleadings, but 'must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" ...

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