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Gunderson v. Pharis

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 22, 2014



AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sean Gunderson ("Plaintiff") brings this action[1] against Defendants Jeff Pharis, Paul Brock, Dee Barber, and Elgin Mental Health Center ("EMHC") (collectively, "Defendants") alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. §2000cc et seq. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC") in its entirety, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendants also assert that the Court should abstain pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). For the following reasons the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss.



The State of Illinois, through its Department of Health Services ("IDHS"), has held Plaintiff at multiple mental health facilities since 2005. (R. 18, FAC ¶¶ 2; 9-11.) In 2005, Plaintiff was found not guilty by reason of insanity ("NGRI") by an Illinois court. ( Id. ¶ 9.) As required under 735 ILCS 5/5-2-4(a), the state court referred Plaintiff to the IDHS for an evaluation. The IDHS determined that Plaintiff was in need of mental health services on an in-patient basis. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Since September 2011, Plaintiff has been a patient at the Elgin Mental Health Center ("EMHC"). ( Id. ¶11.)

The EMHC is operated by the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services and is located in Elgin, Illinois. ( Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) Jeff Pharis serves as the director of the Forensic Treatment Program at the EMHC, Paul Brock serves as the administrator of the EMHC, and Dee Barber serves as the Director of Pastoral Care Services from the EMHC. ( Id. ¶¶ 4-6.)

Every 60 days, pursuant to 730 ILCS 5/5-2-4(a), Defendant Pharis is required to file a treatment plan in writing with an Illinois court detailing: (a) an assessment of Plaintiff's treatment needs, (b) a description of the services recommended for Plaintiff's treatment, (c) the goals of each type of element of service, (d) an anticipated timetable for the accomplishment of Gunderson's goals, and (e) a designation of the qualified professionals responsible for the implementation of the plan. ( Id. ¶ 16.) This treatment plan also must include an opinion as to whether Gunderson still needs mental health services on an inpatient basis. ( Id. ¶ 17.)

II. Plaintiff's Access to Legal and Educational Resources

Plaintiff alleges that the law library at the EMHC is inadequate and consists only of the Illinois Complied Statutes for the years 1994, 1998, and 2000, and a law dictionary. ( Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff further alleges that the EMHC does not maintain or make available (a) the Illinois Administrative Code, which Plaintiff contends contains numerous sections that directly affect patients at EMHC; (b) current Illinois Compiled Statutes; (c) relevant and current case law; or (d) the U.S. Code. ( Id. ¶ 21.) According to Plaintiff, while other relevant and current legal documents are available through the Internet, residents at EMHC are not permitted to access websites that provide legal materials. ( Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) In 2011, Plaintiff filed a civil complaint pro se against EMHC and a number of its employees. ( See Gunderson v. Malis, et al., 11-cv-8562 (N.D. Ill.).) The district court dismissed that complaint and entered judgment in February 2012. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 26.)[2] Plaintiff never appealed the district court's dismissal of his 2011 complaint. Plaintiff alleges that the district court would not have dismissed this 2011 complaint if he had access to adequate legal resources at the EMHC law library. ( Id. ¶ 27.)

Plaintiff attends Wilbur Wright College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, through the College Distance Learning Program ("CDL") that EMHC offers. ( Id. ¶ 28-31.) EMHC has a computer lab with seven computers for participants in the CDL program to access the Internet. ( Id. ¶ 32.) Access in the computer labs is available from 8:45 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 12:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is closed on federal and state holidays. ( Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff alleges that many, if not all, of the computers in the EMHC computer lab lack the minimum system requirements prescribed by Wright College for those accessing educational materials through a learning distance program. ( Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants refuse to allow him to access the Internet using his personal computer and that this precludes him from making meaningful progress toward his college degree. ( Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that "on information and belief, other patients at the EMHC have been permitted to access the Internet through their own personal computers in order to participate in the CDL." ( Id. ¶ 37.)

III. Plaintiff's Religious Faith

Plaintiff has practiced Hinduism for nearly a decade and has requested access to a Hindu spiritual leader. ( Id. ¶ 39-41.) In 2012, the EMHC provided Plaintiff with a Hindu spiritual leader who spoke Gujarati as his primary language and knew very little English. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Plaintiff alleges that this language barrier prevented the spiritual leader from administering proper instruction in guided meditation. ( Id. ¶ 44-45.) In August of 2013 the EMHC provided Plaintiff with access to a new spiritual leader affiliated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness ("ISKC"), which Plaintiff alleges is not the same religion as Hinduism. ( Id. ¶ 46-47.) Plaintiff also alleges that the ISKC spiritual leader was not able to provide instruction on yoga or meditation - acts which Plaintiff contends are requirements for practicing Hinduism. ( Id. ¶ 48.)

In addition, Plaintiff alleges that sacred Hindu texts, including the Kama Sutra, compel Hindus to engage in sexual intercourse. ( Id. ¶¶ 52-54.) Plaintiff contends that on September 7, 2012, he submitted a request to Defendant Pharis seeking permission to have conjugal visits but that Pharis has not responded. ( Id. ¶¶ 58-60.)

Plaintiff performs meditation and yoga multiple times each day: when he wakes up, shortly after lunch, before dinner, and before he goes to bed. ( Id. ¶ 62.) He maintains that he performs meditation and yoga in practice with his Hindu faith. ( Id. ¶¶ 61-62.) Plaintiff alleges that he attempts to perform a 90-minute yoga and meditation session shortly after waking in his room at 5:45 a.m. ( Id. ¶ 64.) According to Plaintiff, the EMHC has prevented him from completing this session because Defendant Pharis institutes patient lockouts between 6:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. every weekday and requires all patients to convene in a communal room. ( Id. ¶ 67.) ...

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