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Mitchell v. Heberer

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 9, 2016

DANNEL MAURICE MITCHELL, # R-07374, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAPLAIN HEBERER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MICHAEL J. REAGAN United States District Court Chief Judge.

         This matter is before the Court for case management. In a sealed order dated May 2, 2016, entered in Mitchell v. Foster, et al., Case No. 16-cv-97-MJR (Doc. 1 in the instant case), this matter was severed from the original case. The newly severed case was randomly assigned to the undersigned Judge.

         Since he filed the original action, Plaintiff has been transferred from Vandalia Correctional Center (“Vandalia”) to Shawnee Correctional Center (“Shawnee”).

         This case contains the following claim, as designated in the original action:

Count 9: First Amendment and RLUIPA claims against Defendant Heberer for denying Plaintiff permission to pray in the chapel with inmates of other faiths because Plaintiff is a Buddhist.

         Pursuant to the Court’s order in Plaintiff’s original case (Doc. 1), this claim is now subject to preliminary review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         As it relates to this claim against Defendant Heberer, Plaintiff’s complaint (Doc. 2) alleges that on December 5 and 12, 2015, while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Vandalia, Defendant Chaplain Heberer denied Plaintiff permission to pray in the prison chapel along with inmates of other religions (Doc. 2, pp. 20-21).[1] Plaintiff is a Buddhist, and Defendant Heberer told him he could not pray in the chapel unless he became a Christian. Plaintiff asserts that this denial of his right to commune with God in fellowship with others is a violation of his rights. Id.

         Plaintiff’s complaint seeks injunctive relief including the right to exercise his Buddhist religion in chapel. He also seeks compensatory and punitive damages (Doc. 2, p. 23).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         Under § 1915A, the Court is required to screen prisoner complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must 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). Frivolousness is an objective standard that refers to a claim that “no reasonable person could suppose to have any merit.” Lee v. Clinton, 209 F.3d 1025, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 2000). 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, 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 Arnett v. Webster, 658 F.3d 742, 751 (7th Cir. 2011); Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Applying these standards, the Court finds that part of Plaintiff’s claim survives threshold review under § 1915A.

         Plaintiff invokes both the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) in ...


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