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Widmer v. Vaughn

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

May 29, 2013

MICHAEL WIDMER, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID VAUGHN, and MARCUS HODGE, Defendants. Civil No. 13-cv-00417-JPG.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Michael Widmer, currently incarcerated at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). Plaintiff claims that prison chaplain David Vaughn and the warden of Lawrence, Marcus Hodge, have violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion. More specifically, Plaintiff asserts that, beginning in December 2012, Defendants Vaughn and Hodge have denied Plaintiff's repeated written and oral requests for permission to attend Hebrew Israelite religious services. It is further asserted that other "similarly situated" inmates have been permitted to attend religious services. The complaint also relates an incident where Chaplain Vaughn told Plaintiff that he, Vaughn, was a Christian, and Plaintiff could attend a Christian service, yet Vaughn never permitted Plaintiff to attend a Hebrew Israelite service, which could suggest a religious bias.

Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief (although no immediate relief is requested).

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.

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). The claim of entitlement to relief must cross "the line between possibility and plausibility. Id. at 557. 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although the Court is obligated to accept factual allegations as true, see Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), 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).

The Complaint

Although Plaintiff Widmer only specifies that he is asserting a First Amendment claim regarding freedom of religion, based on the allegations of the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into two counts. 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: Against Chaplain David Vaughn and Warden Marcus Hodge for denying Plaintiff Michael Widmer's First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion; and
Count 2: Against Chaplain David Vaughn and Warden Marcus Hodge for discriminating against Plaintiff Michael Widmer's religious beliefs in violation of the Equal ...

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