United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN U.S. District Judge
Benjamin Sangraal, formerly an inmate at Centralia
Correctional Center and Pickneyville Correctional Center,
brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional
rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although Plaintiff
is no longer incarcerated, he has moved to proceed pro-se in
the action. Therefore the Court will conduct a preliminary
review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2), which provides:
withstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may
have been paid, the court shall dismiss at any time if the
court determines that the action or appeal
i. is frivolous or malicious;
ii. fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
iii. seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune
from such relief.
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). 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, see Smith v.
Peters, 631 F.3d 418, 419 (7th Cir. 2011), some factual
allegations may be so sketchy or implausible that they fail
to provide sufficient notice of a plaintiff’s claim.
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).
careful review of the complaint and any supporting exhibits,
the Court finds it appropriate to exercise its authority
under § 1915; portions of this action are subject to
filed a typed 62 page complaint, one which falls just short
of violating Rule 8’s mandate that complaints should be
short and plain. Nevertheless, while much of
Plaintiff’s complaint lapses into argument, which is
improper in a complaint, he does manage to articulate some
a practicing Pagan, set up a Pagan/Wiccan study circle at
Centralia. (Doc. 1, p. 1-2). Despite this, he remained
unsatisfied with the degree of accommodation to his religious
practices at the prison, and filed a lawsuit alleging certain
violations of his religious rights. (Doc. 1, p. 2). Plaintiff
filed the lawsuit on June 4, 2014, see Case No. 14-cv-661,
although he alleges that he finished writing it on May 12,
2014 and that the defendants were aware that he intended to
file it as of that date. (Doc. 1, p. 14). Plaintiff alleges
that other inmates wished to join in his lawsuit, and to that
end, he prepared form grievances for them to sign. (Doc. 1,
p. 11-12). Three inmates submitted identical grievances with
their personal information and signatures, while another
copied out the template Plaintiff had provided in longhand.
(Doc. 1, p. 12). Altogether, four inmates submitted
grievances based on Plaintiff’s template.
14, 2014, Leek interviewed Plaintiff regarding the three
identical grievances, at McCabe’s direction. (Doc. 1,
p. 15). Leek then wrote Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket dated
May 16, 2014 for the offenses 309 “Petitions” and
310 “Abuse of Privileges, ” based on
Plaintiff’s conduct in preparing the grievances for
others. (Doc. 1, p. 17). The ticket was sanctioned by Greg
Schwartz and served by L. Waters. (Doc. 1, p. 17). Counselor
Murray rejected three out of the four ghostwritten
grievances, as well as Plaintiff’s own grievance, on
May 15, 2014. (Doc. 1, p. 16-17).
wrote an emergency grievance to Warden Flagg regarding his
impending disciplinary hearing, but the grievance was
rejected as a non-emergency. (Doc. 1, p. 16).
adjustment committee, consisting of Stephen Johnson, McCance,
and Mathias, held hearing on May 19, 2014. (Doc. 1, p. 20).
Plaintiff alleges that Stephen Johnson and McCance should
have recused themselves because Plaintiff filed grievances
against them in the past. (Doc. 1, p. 20). Plaintiff further
alleges that he was not permitted to call any witnesses to
the hearing via institutional mail, and that a correctional
counselor should have been present. (Doc. 1, p. 19-20). He
was allegedly not granted a continuance so that he could call
witnesses. (Doc. 1, p. 20). Plaintiff was also not permitted
to submit a four page written statement that he had prepared
because he did not have copies, and so was forced to read it
aloud. (Doc. 1, p. 20). While Plaintiff read his statement,
Mathias made “abusive personal” comments towards
Plaintiff, specifically, “You think you’re so
smart . . . look where that’s got you.” (Doc. 1,
p. 21). The committee sentenced Plaintiff to one month
segregation, two months of c-grade, two months exercise
restriction and a disciplinary transfer to a higher-security
facility. (Doc. 1, p. 22). Plaintiff alleges that Flagg
conspired with the members of the adjustment committee to
produce this outcome in order to transfer Plaintiff to moot
the claims for injunctive relief in Sangraal v. Godinez,
personal property was then searched on May 19, 2014 due to
his placement in segregation. (Doc. 1, p. 22). During the
search, Officers Downs and Drannan found Plaintiff’s
journal. (Doc. 1, p. 22). The first page of the journal
contained a notice: “Privileged Material
Attorney-Client Work Product Record.” (Doc. 1, p. 22).
The officers read the journal in its entirety. (Doc. 1, p.
22). The journal contained descriptions of instances of staff
misconduct, documentation regarding grievances and legal
filings, notes on Plaintiff’s physical and mental
condition, thoughts, dreams, spiritual experiences, etc.
(Doc. 1, p. 22-23). Prison staff accused Plaintiff of
including accounts of sexual activity between Plaintiff and
his cellmate in the journal, in violation of the Prison Rape
Elimination Act. (Doc. 1, p. 26).
and Downs wrote Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket for 308
contraband/unauthorized property for having excess property.
(Doc. 1, p. 23). Pitts signed off on the ticket. (Doc. 1, p.
23). Plaintiff alleges that this ticket was issued due to
continuing retaliation. (Doc. 1, p. 23). In fact,
Plaintiff’s property had been inspected the morning of
May 19, 2014 during a routine compliance check, and nothing
had been found amiss. (Doc. 1, p. 23). Plaintiff’s
entire stash of foodstuff was confiscated, along with a large
plastic bowl he used to prepare meals, which he was not able
to replace. (Doc. 1, p. 24).
was not given a hearing on the excess property ticket;
instead, the disciplinary report was allegedly falsified to
show that he pled guilty on May 22, 2014. (Doc. 1, p. 24).
When Plaintiff was released from segregation, he found that
his property box was only half full. (Doc. 1, p. 24).
met with Christopher Johnson of Internal Affairs on May 21,
2014. (Doc. 1, p. 25). Christopher Johnson told Plaintiff
that the warden was aware of his complaints about
retaliation, and that he had ordered Plaintiff’s
placement in segregation. (Doc. 1, p. 25). Christopher
Johnson revealed that Hemker had searched Plaintiff’s
legal box and discovered material that she believed was not
legal. (Doc. 1, p. 25). Plaintiff maintains that all the
property in his box was legal, although he characterized
certain creative works in his box as legal because he
intended to copyright them. Christopher Johnson then produced
the disputed box and ordered Plaintiff to open several sealed
envelopes in the box, or face additional disciplinary
charges. (Doc. 1, p. 26). Christopher Johnson conceded that
the sealed envelopes contained legal materials. (Doc. 1, p.
Johnson questioned Plaintiff about the sexual passages in his
journal. (Doc. 1, p. 27). Under duress, Plaintiff told
Johnson that the accounts were fantasies. (Doc. 1, p. 27).
Christopher Johnson then allegedly interviewed
Plaintiff’s cellmate and showed him the journal. (Doc.
1, p. 27). Plaintiff alleges that as a result of this
incident, rumors about Plaintiff’s sexuality spread
through Centralia and Pickneyville, exposing him to risk from
the inmate population. (Doc. 1, p. 27). Plaintiff was
ultimately issued a disciplinary ticket based on his journal
for 204 insolence, 308 contraband, and 310 abuse of
privileges. (Doc. 1, p. 29). The ticket was written by
Christopher Johnson, sanctioned by Schwartz and investigated
by McCance. (Doc. 1, p. 29).
disciplinary ticket regarding the journal was heard on May
27, 2014 by Stephen Johnson, Burton, and Ritzheimer. (Doc. 1,
p. 30). Burton was the only person present when Plaintiff
arrived; he smirked at Plaintiff and told him
“Everything’s funny.” (Doc. 1, p. 31).
Plaintiff also noticed the Burton had already filed out the
segregation placement form with Plaintiff’s information
prior to any hearing being conducted. (Doc. 1, p. 31).
Plaintiff alleges that Burton was biased against him prior to
the hearing, and continually interrupted and harassed him
during the hearing. (Doc. 1, p. 32, 34). No counselor was
provided at the hearing. (Doc. 1, p. 31). Plaintiff was
sentenced to one month of segregation, two months of c-grade,
and two months exercise restriction. (Doc. 1, p. 34). Flagg
signed off on the adjustment committee report. (Doc. 1, p.
journal was never returned. (Doc. 1, p. 35). Plaintiff
alleges that the failure to return the journal, which
allegedly contained details of numerous interactions with
IDOC staff that violated Plaintiff’s civil rights, made
filing these claims impractical or impossible. (Doc. 1, p.
on May 27, 2014, Christopher Johnson brought Plaintiff a
mail-voucher to sign in order to send the non-legal materials
found in his legal property box out of the institution. (Doc.
1, p. 35). Plaintiff started to ask why he had to send the
material out as it was not contraband, when Christopher
Johnson became visibly irate and yelled “I’m not
going over this with you! I’ll just write you a ticket
then!” and slammed the chuck hole. (Doc. 1, p. 36).
Plaintiff received a disciplinary ticket for this incident on
May 29, 2014 for 303 false information, 308 contraband, and
310 abuse of privileges. (Doc. 1, p. 37). Christopher Johnson
wrote the ticket, Schwartz sanctioned it, and Ritzheimer
served it. (Doc. 1, p. 37). Although Plaintiff eventually
signed a voucher so that the materials could be mailed out to
his family, they were ultimately forwarded to him at
Pickneyville, despite the fact that his account was debited
$6.99. (Doc. 1, p. 42).
appeared before an adjustment committee consisting of Stephen
Johnson, Burton, and McCance on June 5, 2014 on charges
stemming from his alleged refusal to mail out the non-legal
materials found in his legal property box. (Doc. 1, p. 40).
Plaintiff objected to these officers, as he had just named
them enemies on June 3, 2014. (Doc. 1p. 40-41). Plaintiff
requested his cell mate as a witness, but his cell mate was
released from prison prior to the hearing. (Doc. 1, p. 41).
Burton once again made hostile comments to Plaintiff
throughout the hearing. (Doc. 1, p. 41). Plaintiff also
believes that Stephen Johnson did not properly consider his
rebuttal arguments or evidence. (Doc. 1, p. 42). Flagg signed
off on the adjustment committee report on June 5, 2014. (Doc.
1, p. 42).
alleges that as a result of the time he spent in segregation
at Centralia, he was unable to attend Pagan religious
services, lost phone privileges, and had diminished access to
law library materials. (Doc. 1, p. 43-45). He further alleges
that as a result of his disciplinary transfer to
Pickneyville, he lost his LED television through property
damage, lost weight because Pickneyville’s two-meal
plan is inadequate, suffered from fewer exercise
opportunities and smaller cells, lost muscle tone, had fewer
opportunities to use the phone, received fewer visits from
his mother, and was deprived of all Pagan worship
opportunities and a Pagan diet. (Doc. 1 p. 45-48). Plaintiff
also alleges that an unknown IA officer at Pickneyville
threatened him to prevent him from filing more grievances and
told him that he had been “warned” about
Plaintiff by one or more persons at Centralia. (Doc. 1, p.
divided his complaint into approximately 67 individual
counts. Previously, based on the allegations of the
complaint, the Court found it convenient to divide the pro se
action into a mere 23 counts. Two claims were severed off
into separate cases. (Doc. 5). Twenty one claims proceeded in
this case, and are now subject to review. The following
claims survive threshold review.
- Leek, McCabe, Schwartz, Flagg, Pitts, Downs, Austin,
Christopher Johnson, and Drannan retaliated against Plaintiff
for engaging in protected conduct by writing Plaintiff four
2: Stephen Johnson, Mathis, McCance, and Flagg retaliated
against Plaintiff when they found him guilty of the
disciplinary ticket on 5/19/14
3: Stephen Johnson, Mathis, McCance, Flagg, and John Doe
improperly burdened the exercise of Plaintiff’s
religion by approving a disciplinary transfer to Pickneyville
Correctional Center in violation of the First Amendment
4: Stephen Johnson, Burton and Ritzheimer retaliated against
Plaintiff when they found him guilty on the third
disciplinary ticket on 5/27/14.
5: Stephen Johnson, McCance, Burton, and Flagg retaliated
against Plaintiff when they found him guilty of the fourth
disciplinary ticket on 6/5/14
6: Flagg improperly burdened Plaintiff’s exercise of
his religion when he refused to allow him to attend chapel
service while in segregation Plaintiff has also attempted to
bring other Counts, but for the reasons elucidated below,
these claims do not survive threshold review
7: Hemker violated Plaintiff’s right of access to the
Courts when he charged him for case law due to his status as
a segregation inmate
8: John Doe retaliated against Plaintiff when he contacted
internal affairs at Pickneyville to warn them about