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Lewis v. Grounds

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 28, 2014

PETER A. LEWIS, #A82902, Plaintiff,


STACI M. YANDLE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Peter A. Lewis, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Robinson Correctional Center ("Robinson"), brings this pro se action seeking injunctive relief. To initiate this suit, Plaintiff filed a "Motion for Emergency Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction" pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 (Doc. 1). In it, he claims that an individual grooming policy at Robinson requires him to cut his religious "hairlocks, " which Plaintiff's religion strictly forbids. The policy, as applied to him, violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the prohibition against Cruel and Unusual Punishment under the Eighth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. Based on the allegations, the Court construes the motion as a complaint filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights by persons acting under color of state law.[1] As such, the complaint is subject to preliminary review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

According to Section 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).

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). 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, some factual allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff's claim. Smith v. Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011); 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). After carefully considering the allegations, the Court concludes that the complaint survives preliminary review under Section 1915A.

The Complaint

Plaintiff's claims arise from an individual grooming policy that Warden Grounds posted at Robinson in Housing Unit 5 on October 3, 2014 (Doc. 1, pp. 2, 20). According to the warden's bulletin, prison officials are authorized to enforce the grooming policy against "any offender whose hairstyle... present[s] a security risk" (Doc. 1, p. 2). A security risk is posed where: (1) "the hairstyle impedes or prevents staff from conducting a thorough search of the hair for contraband;" (2) "contraband hidden in the hair may not be detected;" (3) "contraband hidden in the hair may injure staff attempting to search the hair;" or (4) "[t]he hairstyle signifies a security threat group affiliation" (Doc. 1, p. 3). Plaintiff claims that this policy unlawfully targets inmates who wear dreadlocks, including him.

Plaintiff is a member of a religious sect known as the Hebrew Israelites. He was "born into" this sect and is therefore subject to the Nazarite vow (Doc. 1, p. 4). This vow forbids him from cutting his "hairlocks" (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). Plaintiff claims that the practice of wearing hairlocks is deeply rooted in his religious beliefs (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff believes that cutting his hairlocks "will weaken and interrupt the spiritual growth [and] the personal relationship with the Creator" (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 19). As of the date he commenced this action, Plaintiff's hairlocks were still intact (Doc. 2, p. 13). However, on October 18, 2014, Major Erickson (Badge No. 796) and Lieutenant Frapp (Badge No. 10853) met with Plaintiff (Doc. 1, p. 20). They advised him of the policy and gave him the option of either cutting his hair or "tak[ing] down" his religious hairlocks.

Plaintiff compares this incident to one he experienced in 2003 (Doc. 1, p. 10). He filed a lawsuit against prison officials for similar reasons. The case ultimately settled, after the parties entered into a written agreement in which IDOC officials agreed not to cut Plaintiff's religious hairlocks. Not long after settling the lawsuit, however, the officials allegedly reneged on their agreement and cut Plaintiff's hair (Doc. 1, p. 11). This caused Plaintiff to suffer humiliation and severe depression. His weight plummeted from 175 pounds down to only 98 pounds. His hairlocks have since grown back naturally (Doc. 1, p. 12). However, Plaintiff expresses concern that cutting his religious hairlocks could trigger another similar depressive episode.

Plaintiff has named Robinson's warden, Randy Grounds, as the only defendant in this action. He asserts claims against Defendant Grounds under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and RLUIPA (Doc. 1, pp. 9, 12). Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief, in the form of a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction prohibiting prison officials from cutting his religious hairlocks before he is released from prison on October 28, 2015 (Doc. 1, p. 12).


Count 1 - Free Exercise Claim

After carefully considering the allegations, the Court finds that Plaintiff has articulated a colorable claim against Defendant Grounds under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment (Count 1). It is well established that "a prisoner is entitled to practice his religion insofar as doing so does not unduly burden the administration of the prison." Hunafa v. Murphy, 907 F.2d 46, 47 (7th Cir. 1990); see Al-Alamin v. Gramley, 926 F.2d 680, 686 and nn. 3-5 (7th Cir. 1991) (collecting cases). A prison regulation that impinges on an inmate's First Amendment rights is nevertheless valid "if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987) (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). Such interests include inmate security and the proper allocation of limited prison resources. See id. at 348, 352-53; Turner, 482 U.S. at 90; Al- Alamin, 926 F.2d at 686.

Relative to the constitutional implications of the individual grooming policy, the Seventh Circuit has upheld the IDOC policy regarding dreadlocks under the factual scenario presented in Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450, 452 (7th Cir. 2012) ("The case law indicates that a ban on long hair, including dreadlocks, even when motivated by sincere religious belief, would pass constitutional muster.") (citations omitted). See Blakemore v. Godinez, 2013 WL 6096548 (S.D. Ill. 2013). However, the appellate court also recognized that the ruling may conflict with O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348-50 (1987), requiring prison authorities to "accommodate" an inmate's religious preferences, if consistent with security and other legitimate penological concerns. Grayson, 666 F.3d at 452-53. In Lewis v. Stearnes, 712 F.3d 1083, 1085 (7th Cir. 2013), the appellate court observed that O'Lone still stands. Given these opinions, ...

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