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Chambers v. Harrington

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 3, 2013

SCOTT CHAMBERS, No. B94665, Plaintiff,
v.
HOWARD HARNER, and RICHARD HARRINGTON, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Scott Chambers, an inmate in Menard Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on the denial of a religious diet and certain religious reading materials.

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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that "no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit." Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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 plaintiffs 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

According to the complaint, in August 2013 Plaintiff, who is an African Hebrew

Israelite, submitted a request to Chaplain Howard Harner for certain religious reading materials: The Mosses Laws; Ten Commandments; and Kosher Diet Guidelines. In keeping with his religious beliefs, Plaintiff also submitted a request for a kosher diet and certain herbs. He subsequently filed two grievances when his dietary request was denied, but he never received a response to his grievances.

Plaintiff submitted several more grievances to Chaplain Harner and Warden Richard Harrington seeking the religious reading materials and kosher diet, to no avail. Plaintiff did receive a religious diet request form from Chaplain Harner, which Plaintiff completed and submitted on October 10, 2013. Chaplain Harner and Warden Harrington both signed the response denying Plaintiffs request for a kosher diet, noting "Per IDOC Chaplaincy Handbook, vegan is the religious diet of [the] African Hebrew Israelite faith." (Doc. 1, p. 10). A subsequent grievance went unanswered. Because Plaintiff can eat only the kosher items in the regular meal plan, he cannot maintain his weight.

Plaintiff attributes the denial of a kosher diet and religious reading materials to racial animus and a conspiracy. Inmate Widmer, a Caucasian, submitted an identical request form seeking a kosher diet (both citing their African Hebrew Israelite religion and half-Jewish mothers), but Widmers request was granted. Plaintiff notes that he is African American, while Chaplain Harner, Warden Harrington and inmate Widmer are Caucasian. As evidence of a conspiracy, Plaintiff also cites unspecified racial remarks made by Warden Harrington to inmate Herrera, as alleged in Herrera v. Harrington, a case purportedly filed in this judicial district.

Based on the allegations in 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 ...


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