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K-91341 v. Ligget

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 12, 2013

CHARLES E. BRAMLETT, # K-91341, Plaintiff,


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles E. Bramlett, who is confined indefinitely in the Big Muddy River Correctional Center ("BMRCC") after having been adjudicated a Sexually Dangerous Person ("SDP"), brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] The events that form the basis of his claims occurred between January 24, 2012, and July 13, 2012 (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7).

According to the complaint, Plaintiff received his semi-annual evaluation of progress in the sex offender treatment program (covering January 2011 through June 2011) on January 24, 2012 (Doc. 1, p. 6). Defendant Isaacs, the therapist/counselor who worked with Plaintiff during that period, had recommended giving Plaintiff the highest possible score (5) to show that he met program expectations on one item in the evaluation: "arousal control." However, Defendant Carich (the program administrator at the time) changed that score to zero. Plaintiff believes Defendant Carich lowered his score because Plaintiff refused to practice masturbation (as recommended by Defendant Carich) in order to accomplish arousal control, and instead chose to practice abstinence, in accordance with his religious beliefs (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff equates the practice of masturbation with a renunciation of his faith. Plaintiff filed a grievance over this scoring change on March 8, 2012.

Plaintiff argues that Defendant Carich's action amounted to cruel and unusual punishment because it could result in prolonging his imprisonment, denied him due process, violated his First Amendment right to freedom of religion, and constituted retaliation for Plaintiff's refusal to "worship" Defendant Carich by following his treatment advice instead of Plaintiff's own religious beliefs (Doc. 1, pp. 7-9).

On March 5, 2012, Defendant Isaacs issued Plaintiff a "program ticket" for "sleeping under the stairs the first half of Victim Awareness and staying under the stairs" (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff never explains what, if any, consequences resulted from this ticket, but claims that his receipt of the ticket could cause his incarceration to be extended for another two to five years. He argues that he was subjected to a "double standard" because other SDP detainees housed with Plaintiff on Wing 4-B were never issued tickets, even though they failed to show up for the session (Doc. 1, p. 9). Further, Defendant Isaacs never informed him of the rule which he violated before writing him the ticket, but had advised detainees on the 4-C Wing of the regulations. The responses to Plaintiff's grievance illuminate the facts somewhat, by noting that residents of 4-B Wing are exempt from some of the treatment requirements that govern the residents of Wing 4-C (Doc. 1-1, pp. 5, 8). However, if a 4-B resident chooses to attend treatment, he must follow the same guidelines that apply to the 4-C residents. Plaintiff's grievance over the program ticket was denied, noting that Plaintiff admitted he slept under the stairs during the treatment program (Doc. 1-1, p. 8, 9). Based on this incident, Plaintiff claims he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, denied due process, suffered unconstitutional retaliation, and suggests he was denied equal protection under the law (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

Plaintiff's second claim against Defendant Isaacs is that on April 3, 2012, during a group therapy session, she threatened to have Plaintiff's property shaken down and kick him out of her group if he did not bring his copy of his March 8 grievance against Defendant Carich to the group for discussion (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff had refused to discuss the grievance in the group. He claims herein that this threat interfered with his right to have the grievance system work on his behalf, in violation of his due process rights. Further, if he had been kicked out of the group, he could be denied release from custody. Finally, the threat constituted retaliation for his refusal to locate and discuss the grievance document (Doc. 1, p. 9).

Plaintiff's last claim is against Defendant Ligget, the former mailroom supervisor at BMRCC. Plaintiff paid for postage on May 3, 2012, to send a package of legal mail to an attorney. This package was returned to him on May 18, 2012, undelivered (Doc. 1, p. 7). He claims it had no markings, stickers, or stamp impressions to indicate it had ever left the prison mailroom, and maintains it was never mailed. He filed a grievance; the response stated that the package had indeed been mailed out because it was marked with a United States Postal Service tracking number and had been marked return to sender (Doc. 1-1, pp. 21-22). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Ligget violated the Eighth Amendment by charging him postage without ever mailing the package, and violated his First Amendment right to communicate with the outside world. He also asserts that she refused to send out this legal mail in retaliation for his bringing a previous lawsuit against other BMRCC employees[1] (Doc. 1, pp. 8-9).

Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, compensatory and punitive damages.

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, which shall receive further review:

Count 1: Against Defendant Carich for violating the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)) ("RLUIPA"), [2] when he gave Plaintiff a detrimental evaluation because Plaintiff refused to go against his religious beliefs which prohibit the practice of masturbation;

Count 2: Retaliation claim against Defendant Carich, in that he gave Plaintiff a detrimental evaluation for asserting his First Amendment right to refuse to engage in behavior which would violate the tenets of his faith;

Count 3: Retaliation claim against Defendant Ligget, for refusing to send out Plaintiff's legal mail after he filed a lawsuit against other BMRCC employees.

As to Count 3, if the package was in fact mailed out and then returned through the U.S. Mail (as described in the grievance response), then no retaliation will have occurred. However, at this early stage it is not appropriate for the Court to make a determination on a disputed factual issue; therefore, this claim may go forward at this time. Nonetheless, the claim in Count 3 cannot remain in this action, because it is not legally or factually related to the claims against Defendant Carich in Counts 1 and 2. In accordance with George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (unrelated claims against different defendants belong in separate lawsuits) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, the Court shall sever Count 3 of Plaintiff's complaint, and shall open a new case with a ...

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