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Jessup v. Illinois Department of Corrections

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 11, 2013

WILLIAM C. JESSUP, # N-90052, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT of CORRECTIONS, S.A. GODINEZ, VICTOR DOZIER, and
v.
C.C. WARDEN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, currently incarcerated at Vandalia Correctional Center ("Vandalia"), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, who is of the Catholic faith, raises several claims stemming from Defendants' refusal to provide him with a meat-free diet during Lent.

More specifically, Plaintiff claims that in February 2013, on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays during Lent, meat was served to Plaintiff and other Catholic inmates (Doc. 1, p. 4). Defendants admitted to Plaintiff that no alternative diet was provided because it was not "feasible or economical" to do so. Id. Plaintiff was told it was his choice whether to eat the meat, but no replacement food was offered. He asserts that in contrast, Muslim prisoners are given a pork-free diet, and are fed during special hours to conform with the tenets of their faith during the observance of Ramadan (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff argues that these actions violated his First Amendment rights; deprived him of his right to a wholesome and nutritional diet in violation of the Eighth Amendment (Doc. 1, p. 4); and discriminated against him and other Catholics and denied them equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Doc. 1, p. 5). Furthermore, Defendants have failed to provide him and other Catholic offenders with the services of a Catholic priest, thus infringing on his right to worship and violating both the United States and the Illinois Constitutions (Doc. 1, p. 7).

Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as injunctive relief to obtain equal treatment, an alternative diet during Lent, and access to the services of a Catholic priest (Doc. 1, p. 8).

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

Under § 1915A, the Court is required to conduct a prompt threshold review of the complaint, and to dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from an immune defendant.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated the following colorable federal claims against Defendants Dozier (the Vandalia Warden) and Godinez (Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections), that shall receive further consideration:

Count 1: First Amendment claim for denial of a nutritionally adequate meat-free diet during Lent;

Count 2: Equal protection and discrimination claims arising under the Fourteenth Amendment, for Defendants' denial of dietary accommodations to Plaintiff (a Catholic) during Lent although they provided for Muslim prisoners' dietary needs during Ramadan;

Count 3: First Amendment claim for failure to provide Plaintiff access to a Catholic priest, unduly burdening his right to practice his religion.

In addition, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiff's claim that Defendants' actions have violated his rights under the Illinois Constitution (Count 4).

However, Plaintiff's allegations that the denial of a meat alternative in his diet violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment (Count 5) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This claim shall be dismissed.

An Eighth Amendment claim has both an objective and a subjective component. 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 human needs like food, medical care, sanitation, and physical safety, or deprive inmates of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities. Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981); accord Jamison-Bey v. Thieret, 867 F.2d 1046, 1048 (7th Cir. 1989); Meriwether v. Faulkner, 821 F.2d 408, 416 (7th Cir. 1987). The subjective component of unconstitutional punishment is the intent with which the acts or practices constituting the alleged punishment are inflicted, that is, deliberate indifference to an inmate's health or safety. Jackson, 955 F.2d at 22. The deliberate indifference standard is satisfied if the plaintiff shows that the prison official acted or failed to act despite the official's knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 842 (1970).

In some circumstances, a prisoner's claim that he was denied food may satisfy the objective element but, as the Seventh Circuit has held, the denial of food is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment. Rather, a district court "must assess the amount and duration of the deprivation." Reed v. McBride, 178 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 1999). In Plaintiff's case, he was not denied all food, but was not offered a meat replacement on Fridays during Lent, and on Ash Wednesday. This deprivation is not sufficiently frequent or serious to result in a significant threat to Plaintiff's health. Nor does the complaint indicate that a Defendant had the requisite subjective intent of deliberate indifference to a ...


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