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James Munson v. Donald Gaetz

March 30, 2012


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


Plaintiff James Munson, an inmate in Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. Plaintiff is serving a life sentence for murder. This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening.-- The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.

(b) Grounds for Dismissal.-- On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint--

(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or

(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

An action or claim is frivolous if "it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). An action fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Conversely, a complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Additionally, Courts "should not accept as adequate abstract recitations of the elements of a cause of action or conclusory legal statements." Id. At the same time, however, the factual allegations of a pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action are subject to summary dismissal. Additional Defendants

As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff names several individuals in the body of his complaint whom it appears he intended to include as Defendants in this action. However, they were omitted from the enumerated Defendants in the first section of the complaint. The Clerk is DIRECTED to add the following as Defendants in this action: Brockhouse (Food Service Supervisor), Dr. Fahim, Dr. Feinerman, Dr. Fuentens, and Lillard (Food Service Supervisor).

The Complaint

Plaintiff has been incarcerated since 1991, and has been housed at Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") since February 2003. Based on his Buddhist religious beliefs (Doc. 1-6, p. 25), Plaintiff has been a vegetarian since 2000, and has followed a lacto-ovo-vegetarian*fn1 diet for approximately 11 years. Plaintiff claims that he has become ill due to the high TVP/soy content in his diet, and that his health problems have become worse over time as he continued to consume high quantities of soy (Doc. 1, p. 12). He also claims that staff have repeatedly failed to provide food items in accordance with the IDOC-issued menu and have reduced portion sizes, resulting in Plaintiff's minimal nutritional needs not being met.

As a result of the high soy content of Plaintiff's diet, the lack of adequate protein from other food sources, and the other deficiencies in the diet provided at Menard, Plaintiff asserts he has experienced significant weight loss (down to a weight of 141 pounds) including loss of muscle mass, strength, and endurance. The severe digestive problems he attributes to the high soy consumption include irritable bowel syndrome; chronic diarrhea with occasional loss of bowel control; painful hemorrhoids from frequent bowel movements; gas and bloating; and severe stomach pain and debilitating abdominal cramps following nearly every meal. In 2007, Plaintiff was diagnosed with gallstones and had his gallbladder removed, which he expected to alleviate his abdominal pain, but the pain has continued without relief.

Starting in August 2009, Plaintiff requested his medical providers to put him on a soy free diet, however, each doctor refused. Plaintiff then removed himself from his religious vegetarian diet in an attempt to reduce his soy intake. Plaintiff claims he had no alternativeSbecause he could not afford to pay for food from the commissary, he had no choice but to break his vows and eat meat in order to avoid going hungry. Even after going off his vegetarian diet in an effort to cut down his soy intake, he often has had to eat TVP/soy or not eat at all. Based on the failure of Defendants to provide a vegetarian diet that Plaintiff can consume without causing the serious health problems he describes, he claims an infringement of his right to freely practice his religion by following the diet required by his religious beliefs.

Plaintiff claims that he has not been given any medication to relieve his severe stomach pain (Doc. 1, p. 20-21). He further complains that his grievances filed over the soy diet and lack of medical treatment were either never answered or were destroyed.

Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and nominal damages and injunctive relief, including that he be provided a soy free vegetarian diet and at least fifteen minutes to eat each meal, and medical testing to check for ill effects of soy consumption.


To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(e) and 10(b), the Court finds it appropriate to break the claims in Plaintiff's thirty-five page pro se complaint into numbered counts, as shown below. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Count 1 - Failure to Provide Nutritionally Adequate Vegetarian Diet

Not all prison conditions trigger Eighth Amendment scrutiny -- only deprivations of basic human needs like food, medical care, sanitation, and physical safety. See Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 346; see also James v. Milwaukee Cnty., 956 F.2d 696, 699 (7th Cir. 1992). In order to prevail on a conditions of confinement claim, a plaintiff must allege facts that, if true, would satisfy the objective and subjective components applicable to all Eighth Amendment claims. See Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991); McNeil v. Lane, 16 F.3d 123, 124 (7th Cir. 1994). The objective component focuses on the nature of the acts or practices alleged to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. See Jackson v. Duckworth, 955 F.2d 21, 22 (7th Cir. 1992). The objective analysis examines whether the conditions of confinement "exceeded contemporary bounds of decency of a mature, civilized society." Lunsford v. Bennett, 17 F.3d 1574, 1579 (7th Cir. 1994). The conditions must result in unquestioned and serious deprivations of basic ...

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