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Chesser v. Rivas

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

June 12, 2013

ZACHARY CHESSER, # XXXXX-XXX, Plaintiff,
v.
HENRY RIVAS, JEFFREY WALTON, WENDY ROAL, STEVEN CARDONA, PAUL KELLY, MILTON NEUMANN, ROBERT ROLOFF, McCLEARY, WINN, LESLIE SMITH, APRIL CRUITT, T. CAPALDO, STEPHEN COLT, and J. SIMMONS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff, who is an inmate in the United States Penitentiary in Marion ("Marion"), brings this action pro se for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). He was previously granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 4). Plaintiff is serving a twenty-five year sentence for communicating threats, soliciting others to threaten violence, and providing material support to terrorists. Plaintiff alleges that, during his incarceration in Marion, Defendants infringed on his rights under the Free Exercise, Establishment, Free Speech, and Free Association Clauses of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq. (Doc. 1, p. 2). In addition, he raises conspiracy and retaliation claims. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 1, pp. 43-44). He also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 43-44).

Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

In the complaint, Plaintiff raises more than twenty[1] claims against fourteen defendants. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or portion thereof, if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, the complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a). The Court is obliged to give Plaintiff's pro se allegations, however inartfully pleaded, a liberal construction. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). There is no heightened pleading requirement for pro se prisoner civil rights complaints. Thomson v. Washington, 362 F.3d 969, 970-71 (7th Cir. 2004). However, if a complaint pleads facts that show that a plaintiff does not have a claim, the complaint should be dismissed "without further ado." Id. at 970.

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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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. See Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). With this standard in mind, the Court will address each of Plaintiff's claims, in turn, below.

I. Religious Claims

Plaintiff alleges that he is housed in Marion's Communications Management Unit ("CMU") (Doc. 1, p. 4). Marion's CMU is one of two units of its kind[2] in the country. It houses approximately forty inmates who, for one reason or another, [3] require monitoring of all incoming and outgoing communications (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). The unit is subject to constant audio and video surveillance (Doc. 1, p. 5). The Federal Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") Counterterrorism Unit ("CTU") oversees the CMU. The CTU is responsible for monitoring all communications entering and leaving the CMUs, coordinating foreign language translation services, and producing intelligence reports on terrorist inmates.

Plaintiff has been housed in Marion's CMU since May 2, 2011 (Doc. 1, p. 6). Like most inmates in Marion's CMU, Plaintiff is a Muslim (Doc. 1, p. 5). He is "very sincere in his adherence to his religion" (Doc. 1, p. 6). As for his religious claims, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants repeatedly violated his rights under the RFRA and the First and Fifth Amendments.

The RFRA prohibits the federal government from imposing a "substantial[] burden [on] a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, " unless the government demonstrates that the burden "(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a), (b); Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 714-15 (2005). The "RFRA protects more than mandated religious exercises; it protects all religious exercises, whether compelled by, or central to, religious belief." Lind v. Warden, Fed. Corr. Inst., Terre Haute, Ind., 2013 WL 139699 (S.D. Ind. 2013) (Slip Copy).

With regard to the Bivens violations under the First Amendment, Plaintiff asserts alternative theories of liability, including claims under the Free Exercise, Establishment, Free Speech, and Free Association Clauses of the First Amendment. In Bivens, the United States Supreme Court "recognized for the first time an implied private action for damages against federal officers alleged to have violated a citizen's constitutional rights." See Bivens, 403 U.S. 388 (1971); Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009) (quoting Corr. Serv. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61, 66 (2001)). Implied causes of action are disfavored, however, so the Court has "been reluctant to extend Bivens liability to any new context or new category of defendants.'" Malesko, 534 U.S. at 68. While Bivens actions have addressed violations of the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, the United States Supreme Court has not found an implied damages remedy under the Free Exercise Clause. See Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228 (1979). In fact, the Court "has declined to extend Bivens to a claim sounding in the First Amendment." Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662; Bush v. Lucas, 462 U.S. 367 (1983).

With regard to the Fifth Amendment equal protection claims under Bivens, a prisoner must show that he is treated differently than similarly-situated inmates based upon either a suspect classification or a fundamental right. Religion is a suspect classification. Plaintiff must then show that the decision at issue was motivated by intentional or purposeful discrimination. Prison officials may restrict the religious practices of inmates only if a deprivation is necessary to further legitimate penological interests. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-77.

A. Ban on Arabic

Plaintiff claims that he is obligated for religious reasons to learn the liturgical language of Islam (Doc. 1, p. 7). Defendant Roal banned the study or teaching of foreign languages in the CMU for security reasons before her departure from Marion (Doc. 1, p. 8). Pursuant to this ban, inmates have been prohibited from purchasing books for use in learning another language. After Defendant Roal's departure, the ban against purchasing materials was lifted, but the ban against teaching foreign languages remained. Despite the broad language of the ban, Defendants Rivas, Cardona, Roloff, Neumann, and Walton enforced it only against Muslims.

Plaintiff claims that the ban violates his rights under the RFRA (Count 1), the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause (Count 2), the First Amendment Establishment Clause (Count 3), the First Amendment Free Association Clause (Count 4), and the Equal Protection Component of the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause (Count 5) (Doc. 1, pp. 10-12). At this early stage in litigation, Plaintiff shall be allowed to proceed on Counts 1-5 against Defendants Roal, Rivas, Cardona, Roloff, Neumann, and Walton.

B. Ban on Shortened Pants

According to his sincerely held religious beliefs, Plaintiff asserts that it is sinful to wear pants that extend below his ankles (Doc. 1, p. 13). Islam is the only religion known for this belief. A BOP policy explicitly prohibits inmates from wearing their pants above their ankles. At times, the CMU has enforced this ban. At times, it has not. Plaintiff claims that Defendants Rivas, Roal, Kelly, Neumann, and Roloff have prevented him from practicing this sincerely held religious belief by enforcing the ban against him (Doc. 1, pp. 13-14). He claims that this ban violates his rights under the First Amendment ...


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