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Thomas v. Lakin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 12, 2016

FRANK THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
LAKIN, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PILL GILBERT, District Judge

         Plaintiff Frank Thomas, who is currently detained at Madison County Jail (“Jail”) in Edwardsville, Illinois, brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Lakin. Plaintiff claims that the sheriff interfered with the free exercise of his religion by denying Plaintiff's request for a copy of the Qur'an, a prayer mat, religious worship services, and a religious diet[1] on August 27, 2015 (Doc. 2, p. 2; Doc. 2-1, pp. 1-3). According to the Complaint, the Jail makes religious materials and worship services available to Christians (Doc. 2-1, pp. 1-3). However, Sheriff Lakin has implemented no comparable policy for Muslims. In connection with this claim, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief (id.).

         This claim was severed from Plaintiff's original Complaint pursuant to a Memorandum and Order dated August 9, 2016. See Thomas v. Splittorff, No. 15-cv-0988-NJR (S.D. Ill. 2015) (“original case”) (“Count 6, ” original case). “Count 6” is the only claim at issue in this severed case. It is now subject to 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). “Count 6, ” which is renumbered to “Count 1” below, survives preliminary review under this standard.

         Merits Review Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A

         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 deems it appropriate to reorganize the severed claim into the following count:

COUNT 1: Sheriff Lakin denied Plaintiff's request for a Qur'an, prayer rug, religious worship services, and a religious diet on August 27, 2015, in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)) (Count 6, original case).

         Ordinarily, a complaint that a jail official infringed on an inmate's religious rights includes a claim under the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause and a claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). The First Amendment prohibits prison officials from imposing a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion unless the burden is reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. Kaufman v. Pugh, 733 F.3d 692, 696 (7th Cir. 2013). RLUIPA offers broader protections than the First Amendment by prohibiting substantial burdens on “any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450, 451 (7th Cir. 2012); 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A). RLUIPA applies to state and local governments and to those acting under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(4).

         Plaintiff may proceed with his individual and official capacity claims against Sheriff Lakin under the First Amendment. The allegations in the Complaint suggest that the sheriff may have interfered with Plaintiff's ability to freely exercise his religion by denying his request for a Qur'an, prayer rug, worship services, and religious diet on August 27, 2015. In addition, the sheriff allegedly failed to implement a policy generally authorizing access to these religious items for Muslim inmates. The First Amendment claim against Sheriff Lakin, in his individual and official capacity, is thus subject to further review.

         Plaintiff shall also be allowed to proceed with his official capacity claim for injunctive relief against Sheriff Lakin under RLUIPA. However, his individual capacity claim against this defendant shall be dismissed. RLUIPA “does not create a cause of action against state employees in their personal capacity, ” thus barring the individual capacity claim for money damages against Sheriff Lakin. Id. (citing Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 886-89 (7th Cir. 2009)). That portion of Count 1 encompassing the individual capacity claim for money damages under RLUIPA shall be dismissed with prejudice; all other portions of this claim shall proceed against Sheriff Lakin.

         Disposition

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the individual capacity claim against Defendant LAKIN for monetary damages under RLUIPA in COUNT 1 is DISMISSED with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that COUNT 1 is otherwise subject to further review against Defendant LAKIN. This includes the official capacity claim against this defendant under RLUIPA, as well as the individual and official capacity claims against Defendant Lakin under the First Amendment.

         IT IS ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall prepare for Defendant LAKIN: (1) Form 5 (Notice of a Lawsuit and Request to Waive Service of a Summons), and (2) Form 6 (Waiver of Service of Summons). The Clerk is DIRECTED to mail these forms, a copy of the Memorandum and Order dated August 9, 2016 (Doc. 1), the Complaint (Doc. 2), and this Memorandum and Order to Defendant's place of employment as identified by Plaintiff. If Defendant fails to sign and return the Waiver of Service of Summons (Form 6) to the Clerk within 30 days from the date the forms were sent, the Clerk shall take appropriate steps to effect formal service on Defendant, and the Court will require Defendant to pay the full costs of formal service, to the extent authorized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         If the Defendant cannot be found at the address provided by Plaintiff, the employer shall furnish the Clerk with the Defendant's current work address, or, if not known, the Defendant's last-known address. This information shall be used only for sending the forms as directed above or for formally effecting service. Any documentation of the address shall be retained only ...


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