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McDonald v. Adamson

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 17, 2016

Donald Lee McDonald, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
George Adamson, Chaplain, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued September 22, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 13-cv-2262 - Joan B. Gottschall, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Posner, and Manion, Circuit Judges.

          Manion, Circuit Judge.

         In 2013, Illinois state prison inmate Donald McDonald filed what should have been a typical federal constitutional suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. McDonald alleged that Defendants Warden Marcus Hardy, Assistant Warden Daryl Edwards, and Chaplain George Adamson were denying his First Amendment free exercise rights as a practicing Muslim. He sought only injunctive relief in the district court.

         McDonald's case hit a procedural snag because three years earlier he had filed a claim for damages based on the same facts in the Illinois Court of Claims. More than two years later, when he had received no decision from the Court of Claims, he filed this case pro se in the district court. After the Court of Claims denied McDonald's request for relief, the district court dismissed his federal complaint as barred by res judicata.

         On appeal, defendants concede that McDonald's suit is not barred by res judicata. Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for proceedings in conformity with this opinion. We express no opinion regarding the merits of defendants' remaining arguments on appeal, which are not properly before the court at this stage.

         I. Background

         Donald McDonald is an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. On July 23, 2010, he filed a complaint in the Illinois Court of Claims against the Illinois Department of Corrections for violation of his free exercise rights. In his complaint, McDonald alleged, inter alia, that Muslim inmates at Stateville are not permitted to attend prayer service each Friday, that prison officials regularly steal Arabic prayer cassette tapes and Muslim prayer rugs, and that Christians are permitted to have more volunteers enter the facility than are Muslims. He sought a damages award of $5, 000 and an order requiring the Department to cease violating his religious rights.[1]

         The Court of Claims held a hearing on McDonald's claims, but it then failed to issue a decision for more than two years. While he was awaiting that decision, McDonald filed this case in the district court on March 14, 2013. His pro se complaint named Chaplain George Adamson, Warden Marcus Hardy, and Assistant Warden Daryl Edwards as defendants in their official capacities. It sought only injunctive relief. Although the factual allegations in the federal complaint differ in some small respects from the Court of Claims filing, McDonald clearly considered it part of the same case he had filed in 2010.[2]

         On July 24, 2013, the Court of Claims finally issued a decision in McDonald's original case. The court rejected all of McDonald's allegations in a terse two-page order. The order directly addressed only one of McDonald's factual allegations, stating that evidence indicated that Muslim services occurred each Friday at Stateville unless the facility was on lock-down. Defendants then moved to dismiss the federal complaint, arguing that the Court of Claims order rendered McDonald's federal complaint barred by res judicata. The district court granted the motion, and McDonald timely appealed.

         II. Discussion

         We review the grant of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo; we accept all facts pleaded as true and draw all reasonable inferences in McDonald's favor. Thulin v. Shopko ...


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