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Wallace v. Miller

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 12, 2014

CARL MILLER, et al., Defendants.


J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the Report and Recommendation ("Report") (Doc. 190) of Magistrate Judge Philip M. Frazier recommending that the Court grant in part and deny in part the defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 158, 160 & 162) and deny the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. 164). The parties have objected to the Report (Docs. 193 & 194) and have responded to the opposing parties' objections (Docs. 198 & 199).

I. Report and Recommendation Review Standard

The Court may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge in a report and recommendation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3). The Court must review de novo the portions of the report to which objections are made. Id. "If no objection or only partial objection is made, the district court judge reviews those unobjected portions for clear error." Johnson v. Zema Systems Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999).

II. History

The Report sets for a detailed description of the relevant facts and evidence in this case, so the Court will only touch generally on the basics and only to the extent necessary to frame its rulings. Plaintiff Maurice Wallace was an inmate at Tamms Correctional Center ("Tamms") at all relevant times. He was transferred to Menard Correctional Center ("Menard") in preparation for the Illinois Department of Corrections' ("IDOC") closure of Tamms in 2013. He brought this case because he believes various Tamms personnel interfered with the free exercise of his religion (Satmar Hasidic Judaism), retaliated against him for filing grievances and this lawsuit, deprived him of sufficient nutrition within his religious dietary restrictions, and treated him differently than other inmates because of his religion. He further believes the defendant supervisors are liable for the wrongful conduct of their subordinates. The Report adequately describes the five counts of Wallace's complaint.

III. Analysis

The Report addressed each pending summary judgment motion separately, and the Court finds it convenient to address the objections in the same fashion.

A. Motion by Ford, Houston, Moore and Osman (Doc. 158)

These defendants participated in reviewing Wallace's complaints and grievances about other defendants' failure to accommodate Wallace's religious practice. Wallace claims these defendants failed to adhere to prison grievance review procedures when investigating and making recommendations regarding his complaints.

1. Count 1

Magistrate Judge Frazier found that these defendants were not personally involved in any infringement on Wallace's free exercise of his religion because they did not cause or participate in the alleged violations. Magistrate Judge Frazier found that, at the most, these defendants were negligent in any duty they may have had to detect and remedy constitutional violations. Furthermore, he found that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity from damages because it was not clearly established at the time of their conduct that merely processing or responding to a grievance amounted to a constitutional violation based on an underlying constitutional violation set forth in the grievance. Wallace objects, arguing that the evidence allows an inference of deliberate indifference along the same lines as a "failure to intervene" claim.

After a de novo review of the issues, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Frazier's conclusion. No evidence suggests these defendants were involved in the underlying decisions that impacted Wallace's ability to exercise his religion. "[I]f the defendants were not involved in the underlying harm, the mishandling of an inmate grievance alone cannot be a basis for liability under § 1983." Montanez v. Feinerman, 439 Fed.App'x 545, 547-48 (7th Cir. 2011) (citing Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953-54 (7th Cir. 2011); George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609-10 (7th Cir. 2007)). Furthermore, no evidence suggests that these defendants actually knew at the time that their colleagues' conduct violated Wallace's First Amendment rights. Additionally, these defendants are entitled to qualified immunity from claims for money damages because Wallace has not pointed to any caselaw in existence at the relevant time from which a reasonable officer in their positions would have known that their treatment of Wallace's grievances violated the constitution.

Magistrate Judge Frazier further found that Wallace's claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, et seq., which only provides for injunctive relief, are moot because of Wallace's transfer to Menard and the closure of Tamms. Wallace objects, arguing that the defendants may be employed at Menard or another institution to which he may be transferred, so he still may be exposed to them.

Again, after a de novo review, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Frazier. Transfer of a prisoner to a another institution renders a prisoner's request for injunctive relief against officials at the first prison moot unless he makes a showing that he will likely be retransferred to that first institution. Higgason v. Farley, 83 F.3d 807, 811 (7th Cir. 1996). Here, there is no possibility that Wallace will be transferred back to Tamms since the institution has closed, and any suggestion that the defendants may have further contact with him elsewhere and continue the same offensive conduct is pure speculation.

Magistrate Judge Frazier found that the Illinois Court of Claims has exclusive jurisdiction over claims under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("IRFRA"), 775 ILCS 35/1 et seq., so Wallace's IRFRA claim should be dismissed without prejudice. No party objects to this conclusion, and the Court finds it is not clearly erroneous.

2. Count 2

Magistrate Judge Frazier found these defendants did not present sufficient evidence of the absence of retaliation to warrant summary judgment, although Wallace's claims for injunctive relief were mooted by his transfer to Menard. The defendants object that Magistrate Judge Frazier failed to consider the application of qualified immunity to this claim.

After de novo review, the Court agrees with Magistrate Judge Frazier. While these defendants have pointed to a lack of evidence of their personal involvement in denying religious accommodation as alleged in Count 1, a reasonable jury could find they were personally involved in processing certain grievances adversely to Wallace in retaliation for his filing of other grievances. Furthermore, the Court has carefully reviewed the motion for summary judgment and agrees that these defendants did not raise the issue of qualified immunity with respect to Count 2 in their motion.

3. Count 4

Magistrate Judge Frazier found no evidence that Houston intentionally discriminated against Wallace and others of his faith on the basis of their religion. No party objects to this conclusion, and the Court finds it is not clearly erroneous.

B. Motion by Dillon, Johnson and Lambert (Doc. 160)

Johnson was the warden and Dillon and Lambert were assistant wardens at Tamms during Wallace's incarceration there. Wallace claims that Johnson and Dillon were responsible for failing to accommodate his religious practice in a variety of ways, that Dillon retaliated against him by failing to help him obtain a proper diet and clothing, that Lambert retaliated against him through an undesirable cell assignment, that Johnson intentionally discriminated ...

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