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Blakemore v. Godinez

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 20, 2013

MALCOLM X. BLAKEMORE, No. K59411, Plaintiff,
v.
S.A. GODINEZ, TY BATES, MARC HODGE, LT. JENNINGS, LT. BROWN, LT. McCALLISTER, LT. DIXON, OFFICER SCHRER, OFFICER EDWARDS, OFFICER LOCKHART, ASSISTANT WARDEN TREADWAY, RUSSELL L. GOINS, MARK STORM, and THOMAS STUCK, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Malcolm X Blakemore, an inmate in Hill Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") and Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence") policy requiring him to either cut his dreadlocks or be disciplined and placed in segregation. Plaintiff wears his hair in dreadlocks as part of his Rastafarian religious beliefs; consequently, he alleges that the dreadlocks' policy as applied to his situation, violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

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

The Complaint is lodged against IDOC Director S.A. Godinez, Deputy Director Ty Bates, Lawrence Warden Marc Hodge, and Assistant Warden Mark Storm, Assistant Warden Treadway, Adjustment Committee Chairperson Russell L. Goins, Adjustment Committee Member Thomas Stuck, Lt. Jennings, Lt. Brown, Lt. McCallister, Lt. Dixon, Officer Schrer, Officer Edwards and Officer Lockhart. According to the complaint, in October 2012 Plaintiff left Lawrence on a medical furlough. Plaintiff was reluctant to leave the facility because of a policy requiring any prisoner entering or reentering the facility to cut his dreadlocks. However, Plaintiff was assured by Lt. Ochs (who is not a defendant) that he could leave the facility and return without having to cut his hair. When Plaintiff returned from the medical furlough, he was informed that Assistant Warden Storm had ordered Plaintiff's dreadlocks cut pursuant to the policy of Deputy Director Ty Bates-Plaintiff's dreadlocks had been deemed a "security risk" ( see Doc. 1, p. 22). Plaintiff refused to have his hair cut and was therefore sent to segregation and ultimately issued a disciplinary ticket for disobeying an order ( see Doc. 1, pp. 22-24).

A hearing was held before Adjustment Committee members Goins and Stuck. Plaintiff explained his religious beliefs, but was told that if he did not comply the Orange Crush tactical team would forcibly cut his hair. Warden Hodge and Assistant Warden Treadway both spoke to Plaintiff about the hair policy; they reiterated that Plaintiff would receive 9-12 months in segregation, lose six months of good time credit, and his hair would be forcibly cut. Documentation attached to the complaint reflects that Plaintiff was convicted of the disciplinary charge, sentenced to three months in segregation, demoted to C grade for one month, and lost one month of good time credit ( see Doc. 1, p. 25). On October 24, 2012, Plaintiff cut his dreadlocks. From Plaintiff's perspective, he cut his hair due to the coercive policy ( see Doc. 1, p. 17), but prison officials viewed the action as voluntary ( see Doc. 1, p. 27).

Based on the allegations in the complaint, the Court finds it convenient to frame the allegations in the pro se complaint into a single count.

Count 1: The Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq., when they enforced a policy requiring that he cut his dreadlocks, resulting in Plaintiff being ...

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