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Gregory Dabbs v. Chaplain Vaughn

August 22, 2012


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


Plaintiff, who is currently released from prison but at the time of the events in question was incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center, has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 At the time that the lawsuit was filed Plaintiff was incarcerated at Lawrence, thus a review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A is still applicable. Jaros v. Illinois Department of Corrections, 684 F.3d 667, 670 n.2 (7th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff claims that Defendants Chaplain Vaughn, unknown Assistant Warden of Programs, Rick Densmore, unknown Record Officer Supervisor, Warden Marc Hodge, and the Religious Practice Advisory Board violated his First Amendment Right to free exercise of religious beliefs. He also alleges that the Defendants violated federal statutory rights protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (hereinafter RLUIPA). More specifically, Plaintiff claims that since arriving at Lawrence Correctional Center, Chaplain Vaughn has taken many Jewish prisoners, including Plaintiff, off of Kosher diets. Plaintiff notes that specifically on December 9, 2011, without notice, Dietary Manager Densmore cut all but five Jewish inmates off of the Kosher diet list. At the same time, Defendant Vaughn removed the same inmates off of the monthly call passes for religious visits. Vaughn allegedly informs the inmates that they were being taken off the list for buying non-Kosher foods from the commissary and required Jewish prisoners to document their need for such a diet by submitting a two paragraph essay.

Under 28 U.S.C. §1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. On review, the Court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss any portions of the Complaint that are frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant with immunity. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b). The law is clear that a prisoner retains his First Amendment right to practice his religion, subject to prison regulations that do not discriminate between religions and are reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives. O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349, 107 S.Ct. 2400, 96 L.Ed.2d 282 (1987); Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987); Sasnett v. Litscher, 197 F.3d 290, 292 (7th Cir. 1999). The observance of religiously mandated dietary restrictions is a form of religious practice protected by the First Amendment. Hunafa v. Murphy, 907 F.2d 46, 47 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing cases). To establish a constitutional violation, the prisoner must show that the restriction substantially burdens the exercise of a constitutional right. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 877 (7th Cir. 2009); see, e.g. Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789, 799 (7th Cir. 2008). To establish a RLUIPA claim, a prisoner must show that the prison is imposing a substantial burden on the exercise of his religious rights, even if it is by the rule of general applicability. Construing Plaintiff's complaint liberally, the Court finds that it should be divided into two counts; Plaintiff's federal cause of action for violations of the First Amendment (Count 1) and RLUIPA (Count 2).

Count 1 -- First Amendment Violations

Plaintiff's first Count seeks monetary damages for violations of his First Amendment rights from all Defendants. Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable federal cause of action for violations of his First Amendment rights against Defendants Chaplain Vaughn and Rick Densmore.

However, as to the Assistant Warden of Programs, the Warden Marc Hodge, and the Record Office Supervisor, the Court DISMISSES the First Amendment claims against them without prejudice. Plaintiff states in his complaint that the Assistant Warden is liable because he directs the programs at Lawrence and is over the Chaplain and should have stopped the Chaplain from his actions. Plaintiff also maintains the Warden is liable because he is responsible for the conduct of the other defendants in the case. Plaintiff states that the record office used inadequate procedures for which the Record Office Supervisor is liable and that he supervises data entry. The Assistant Warden of Programs, Record Office Supervisor and Marc Hodge, the Warden, however, cannot be held liable under a doctrine of respondeat superior and there is no allegation that they had any personal involvement in Plaintiff's claim. Sanville v. McCaughtry, 266 F.3d 724, 740 (7th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). Further, as to the Record Office Supervisor, Plaintiff has not alleged a First Amendment claim. Plaintiff merely states that the supervisor should be asked what he thought when Defendant Vaughn dropped twenty-five inmates from the Kosher list and that the records office had inadequate procedures and that the supervisor was responsible for those entries, although Plaintiff does not indicate what those procedures were. Plaintiff only indicates that the Record Office Supervisor is in charge of entering the data for the special diet list.

Further, as to the Religious Practice Advisory Board, the Court finds that Plaintiff cannot maintain an action against this entity. The Supreme Court has held that "neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983" for damages purposes. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989); see also Wynn v. Southward, 251 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2001); Billman v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir. 1995). As the Religious Practice Advisory Board is a division of IDOC, it is a state agency and not subject to a suit for damages under § 1983. Will, 491 U.S. at 71. As to any injunctive relief sought by Plaintiff against this Defendant under RLUIPA, the Court will discuss that as part of its RLUIPA analysis.

Count 2 -- RLUIPA

Plaintiff has also brought a claim for injunctive relief under RLUIPA. RLUIPA prohibits prisons from imposing a substantial burden on an inmate's religious exercise unless prison officials can demonstrate that imposing the burden (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 877 (7th Cir. 2009), (citing 42 U.S.C.§ 2000cc-1(a)). But sovereign immunity shields state officials from monetary damages in their official capacity, Sossamon v. Texas, 131 S. Ct. 1651, 1663 (2011), and RLUIPA does not allow for damages against prison officials in their individual capacity. Nelson, 570 F.3d at 886--89. So RLUIPA only affords an inmate injunctive relief.

However, injunctive relief is not proper in this case as any claim for injunctive relief by Plaintiff is now moot. The Plaintiff's March 9, 2012, change-of-address notice indicates, and the IDOC's website confirms, that he has been paroled. A prisoner's request for injunctive relief is rendered moot by his release from prison. Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789, 804 (7th Cir. 2008) (suit by inmate subscribing to Thelema religion who sought a meat-free diet was dismissed as moot to the extent that he sought injunction relief); Pearson v. Welborn, 471 F.3d 732, 743 (7th Cir. 2006) (stating that once inmate transferred his prayer for declaratory relief largely dropped out): Young v. Lane, 922 F.2d 370, 373 (7th Cir. 1991) ("Unaccompanied by any continuing present injury or real and immediate threat of repeated injury, their past exposure to illegal conduct...does not show a pending case or controversy requiring injunctive relief, and we must vacate as moot that portion of their prayer for relief."). Because the plaintiff is no longer incarcerated, he has no standing to seek injunctive relief. Thus, the Court DISMISSES without prejudice as moot Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim (Count 2) which seeks injunctive relief, as he is no longer in prison. To the extent Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief as part of his First Amendment claim (Count 1), that request for relief is also moot and thus the Court DISMISSES without prejudice that part of his First Amendment claim which seeks injunctive relief as moot due to his release from prison.


Pending before the Court is a motion for temporary restraining order, motion for preliminary injunction (Doc. 6). Plaintiff seeks an injunction or restraining order requiring the prison to provide all Jews with Kosher diets which are varied in nature, and preventing prison staff from eating prisoner's Kosher meals.

A TRO is an order issued without notice to the party to be enjoined that may last no more than 14 days. FED.R.CIV.P. 65(b)(2). A TRO may issue without notice only if:

(A) Specific facts in an affidavit or a verified complaint clearly show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the movant before the adverse party can be heard in opposition; and (B) the movant's attorney certified in writing any ...

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