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Watford v. Ellis

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 13, 2016

MARLON L. WATFORD, # R-15678, Plaintiff,


          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         This action is before the Court for case management. On May 25, 2016, following the Memorandum and Order entered in Watford v. Wooley, et al., Case No. 15-cv-567-MJR-SCW (Doc. 1 in the instant case), this matter was severed from the original civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case consists of the claim designated as Count 3 in the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 2) and described in Doc. 1 as follows:

         Count 3: Ellis, Bramlet, Knust, and Ream violated the First Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and RLUIPA when Watford was prohibited from using the bathroom in the law library.

         This incident occurred on or about August 23, 2013, while Plaintiff was confined at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”) (Doc. 2). Plaintiff was recently transferred to Stateville Correctional Center (Doc. 7).

         The portion of the complaint supporting Count 3 is now before the Court for a preliminary 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 a portion of the claim in Count 3 survives threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 2)

         Plaintiff claims that his constitutional and statutory rights were violated when Defendant Correctional Officer Ellis prohibited him from using the law library bathroom (Doc. 2, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and Helicobacter pylori (or H. pylori) and so is forced to use restroom facilities frequently (Doc. 2, p. 7). Despite this fact, Defendant Ellis did not allow Plaintiff to use the library restroom on August 23, 2013. Defendant Correctional Officers Bramlet, Knust, and Ream were all present at the time, but failed to intervene on Plaintiff's behalf. Plaintiff experienced pain and aggravation of his irritable bowel syndrome as a result of being unable to relieve himself. He filed a grievance, and at some point was told that he could use the restroom “as soon as it was safe by security standards to do so.” (Doc. 2, p. 6).

         Plaintiff is a member of the Al-Islam faith. According to Plaintiff, a tenet of that faith is the belief that Plaintiff's body is “a gift from his Lord to hold in trust during this life. He has a spiritual obligation to maintain his body and keep it free from strains.” (Doc. 2, p. 7). Plaintiff claims that Defendants' actions which prevented his access to the restroom caused him to violate this religious obligation.

         He seeks monetary damages for the violation of his rights (Doc. 2, p. 7).

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

         The claim that Defendants refused to allow Plaintiff to use the bathroom in the law library implicates three potential federal claims: alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment, the First Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). Each of these shall be examined in turn.

         Eighth ...

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