United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL, District Judge.
Plaintiff, an inmate who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., against Salvador Godinez (Illinois Department of Corrections' ("IDOC") director) and Jody Goetting (Pinckneyville's assistant warden) (Doc. 1). According to the complaint, Plaintiff wears dreadlocks for religious reasons, and his religious beliefs prohibit him from removing them. Defendant Godinez instituted a policy within the IDOC that requires an inmate to cut his hair if it presents a security risk ("grooming policy"). Pursuant to the grooming policy, Defendant Goetting ordered Plaintiff to remove his religious dreadlocks for photo identification purposes. Plaintiff now sues Defendants Godinez and Goetting for violating his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and RLUIPA. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief, in the form of an order prohibiting prison officials from removing his dreadlocks (Doc. 1, p. 12).
Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under 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). The complaint survives threshold review under this standard.
According to the complaint, Plaintiff is a practitioner of the African Hebrew-Israelite religion (Doc. 1, p. 8). As part of his religious practice, Plaintiff has taken a vow that requires him to grow his hair into dreadlocks and also prohibits him from cutting his hair.
On September 6, 2013, Plaintiff transferred from Stateville Correctional Center ("Stateville") to Pinckneyville. In consideration of Plaintiff's religious beliefs, Stateville's warden granted Plaintiff permission to transfer without shearing his dreadlocks, after declaring him a "low security risk" (Doc. 1, p. 8).
Within a few days of his arrival at Pinckneyville, Plaintiff was informed that his dreadlocks would need to be removed before his photograph was taken for identification purposes. Plaintiff filed an emergency grievance on September 9, 2013. In it, he explained that his religious beliefs prohibited him from removing his dreadlocks. He also explained that the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had already addressed this issue in a lawsuit that he initiated. See Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450 (7th Cir. 2012). Plaintiff received no response to this emergency grievance.
On September 18, 2013, Defendant Goetting visited Plaintiff's cell. He confirmed that Plaintiff was required to remove his dreadlocks for the photograph, but explained that Plaintiff could "put them back" after the photo was taken. Because dreadlocks present a security risk, Defendant Goetting explained, they must be removed before an inmate is photographed, and his photo identification card is created. (Doc. 1, p. 9).
The complaint describes a second incident that recently occurred at Pinckneyville. This incident gives rise to Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting Pinckneyville officials from removing his dreadlocks (Doc. 2). On February 17, 2015, Plaintiff's dreadlocks were evaluated by Pinckneyville's internal affairs officers. These officers allegedly wanted to make sure that Plaintiff did not have "big, thick dreadlocks" (Doc. 1, p. 10). Officials took photographs of Plaintiff's hair and deemed it to be "searchable."
On February 20, 2015, Plaintiff was called back to Pinckneyville's Internal Affairs Office (Doc. 1, p. 10). There, Plaintiff learned that his dreadlocks would need to be removed for his updated photo identification because, although "searchable, " the dreadlocks still presented a "security risk." He was given a "few days" to remove the dreadlocks on his own. He was warned that the tactical team would forcibly remove them, if Plaintiff declined to do so.
According to the complaint, the only practical way to "remove" dreadlocks is to shear them (Doc. 1, p. 8). It allegedly takes "weeks" to comb them out, and "the hair gets ripped and torn out [in the process], resulting in having to ultimately get a haircut" anyway (Doc. 1, p. 8). Plaintiff alleges that "haircuts are inevitable for dreadlock removals" ( Id. ).
Plaintiff now sues Defendants Goetting and Godinez for creating and implementing a policy that violates his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (based on religion, race, and sex), and the Religious Land Use ...