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Brames v. Hodge

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 5, 2014

SHAUN BRAMES, #M21607 Plaintiff,


MICHAEL J. REAGAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Shaun Brames, an inmate at Lawrence Correctional Center ("Lawrence"), brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. He also asserts state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotion distress. The complaint is now before the Court for a preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under § 1915A, the Court is required to promptly screen prisoner complaints to filter out nonmeritorious claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court is required to dismiss any portion of the complaint that is legally frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or asks for money damages from a defendant who by law is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Upon careful review of the complaint and supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority under § 1915A; portions of this action fail to state a claim and are thus subject to dismissal.

The Complaint

In a 27-page complaint (supported by 54 pages of exhibits), Plaintiff asserts multiple counts against nine defendants. For purposes of this threshold review, the following facts are relevant:

Plaintiff entered IDOC's custody in June, 2011. Shortly thereafter, on September 9, 2011, he filed his first grievance, which stated "I am a Hebrew Isrealite [sic] Practicing under the Jewish Faith Judaism. I am being denied the right to attend Jewish Services." (Doc. 1, Ex. 1(a)). His requested relief was to be "allowed to attend Jewish Services and worship My God the way I see fit." Id. On September 21, 2011, Defendant T. Kittle provided the following response: "Per Chaplain: Hebrew Israelites are not classified as Jews. If the offender desires more study materials pertaining to the Hebrew Israelite faith it will be provided upon request." Id. Since 2011, Plaintiff's offender identification card has stated that he is Jewish. (Doc. 1, ¶ 42).

At various times over the next two and a half years, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied a kosher diet and not allowed to participate in Jewish religious services and celebrations, including Passover and Hanukkah. ( See Doc. 1 ¶¶ 21, 27, 41, 43-44 and Exs. 1(a)-7). Plaintiff continued to file grievances and appeals, which Plaintiff maintains were never properly addressed. Plaintiff alleges that he sent Defendant Vaughn, head chaplain, numerous letters requesting that he be allowed to participate in Jewish services. ( See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 22, 27 and Ex. 7). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Vaughn never responded to his inquiries and continued to refuse to allow him to participate in Jewish services.

On February 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed a grievance stating that he had been taken off the kosher diet because he had purchased items from the commissary which were not kosher. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1(b)). Plaintiff asserted that he was not aware of which items were permissible to buy and that he attempted to meet with the chaplain to discuss the issue but was not able to. On March 7, 2012, Counselor K. Hordon reviewed the grievance and responded, "Your concern has been expressed to the chaplain. You have been added back on the kosher list." Id.

On April 7, 2012, Plaintiff filed another grievance, which stated that Plaintiff had requested for two years to be added to the Passover Commemoration, but had always been denied. (Doc. 1, Ex. 1(c)). In addition, on May 9, 2012, Plaintiff sent Defendants Hodge and Storm (wardens at Lawrence) notarized letters informing them of the situation ( See Doc. 1, Ex. 2, 3). On June 5, 2012, Counselor Schoon responded, "At this time we do not have a passover commemoration' service. If you need more information in order to practice your faith send a request to the chaplain." Id.

Plaintiff then filed an appeal with the administrative review board on June 18, 2012, but it was returned and Plaintiff was instructed to provide a copy of his grievance report. (Doc. 1, Ex. 5). In addition, Sarah Johnson, the official who reviewed the appeal wrote on the appeal form, "You should first contact the Chaplain in writing with this request." Id. It is unclear what documents Plaintiff filed with this initial appeal, but in an exhibit dated June 18, 2012 and entitled, "Appeal, " Plaintiff stated, "The counselor has the nerve to tell me to send a request to the chaplain. If the chaplain had been doing his job I would not have filed the grievance. I've written requests to the chaplain and I've heard nothing from him." (Doc. 1, Ex. 4). On July 18, 2012, Plaintiff sent another notarized letter to Defendant Storm informing him of the situation and asking him to intervene. (Doc. 1, Ex. 6.)

Plaintiff alleges that sometime in September 2012 he was again removed from the kosher diet and denied the right to attend religious services with others practicing the Jewish faith. ( See Doc. 1, ¶¶ 27-32). Over the next several months, Plaintiff states that he contacted the chaplain in writing several times and requested that he be allowed to attend religious services, but the chaplain never responded. (Doc. 1, ¶ 32). He also filed over a dozen grievances regarding the same issues ( See Doc 1, Ex. 8(b)-23) and a second appeal to the administrative review board (Doc. 1, Ex. 19). Defendant T. Keen reviewed the administrative appeal on August 1, 2013 and indicated on the review form that additional information was required. However, he also checked the box "This office previously addressed this issue on 7/2012" under the section "No further redress." Id. It appears that the other grievances went unanswered.

Plaintiff further contends that beginning sometime in September 2012, when he was taken off a kosher diet, he went on a "hungerstrike" and began "eating only salads and fruit to keep from violating Plaintiff's kosher laws." (Doc. 1, ¶ 41). In July 2013, Plaintiff was seen by APN-L. Phillippe at the health care unit. Plaintiff states that Phillippe was concerned about how much weight Plaintiff had lost and she wrote a prescription instructing that he be put back on the kosher diet. Id. However, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Chaplain Vaughn voided the prescription. Id. Plaintiff claims that he then went on a total hunger strike for five days. (Doc. 1, ¶ 45).[1] On the fifth day, Plaintiff states that he ran into Defendant Warden Hodge at the afternoon feeding and told him about the hunger strike. Plaintiff further states that "Hodge immediately informed the kitchen staff to put Plaintiff back on the kosher diet." Id.

Since that time, Plaintiff has remained on a kosher diet. Plaintiff, however, complains that the kosher diet is comprised of 40% beans and Plaintiff contends that he cannot eat beans "because the beans make gas build up around Plaintiff [sic] heart to the point that Plaintiff is in agony." (Doc. 1, ¶ 48). Plaintiff has been seen by Defendant Dr. Coe, but apparently Dr. Coe has refused to approve Plaintiff's request for a no-bean diet. Id. Plaintiff maintains that he is unable to eat many of his meals because even the juice of the beans causes him to experience severe pain.

As a result of the above allegations, Plaintiff claims he has experienced physical and mental injuries including the loss of 40 pounds, hunger pangs for 11 months, four dead fingernails on his right hand, and severe emotional and psychological distress. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.


To facilitate the orderly management of future proceedings in this case, and in accordance with the objectives of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(e) and 10(b), the Court finds it appropriate to reorganize the claims in Plaintiff's pro se complaint, as shown below. 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 designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit.

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must do at this preliminary stage, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated the following constitutional and ...

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