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Hamrick v. Baird

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 29, 2016

RODNEY C. HAMRICK, #01192-087, Plaintiff,
v.
MAUREEN P. BAIRD, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Rodney Hamrick filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights by persons acting under the color of federal authority. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Specifically, he is suing to challenge the denial of congregate prayer at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois (“Marion”), which he alleges is required by the tenets of his religion. (Doc. 1). He sues Maureen P. Baird, warden of Marion, for declaratory and injunctive relief.

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the complaint 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). Upon review of the allegations, the Court finds that the complaint survives preliminary review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff Rodney Hamrick is a prisoner who, at the time of filing the complaint, was incarcerated in the Communications Management Unit (“CMU”) at Marion. (Doc. 1, p. 4). He is currently incarcerated in the Federal Correctional Complex (“FCC”) in Terre Haute, Indiana.[1](Doc. 9, p. 1). According to the complaint, Hamrick is an adherent of the Hanbali School of Islam, in which the completion of five daily prayers in congregation is a firmly rooted religious exercise. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Hamrick further alleges that he believes congregation for all five daily prayers is a mandatory part of his religion. Id. According to the complaint, congregate prayer and Hamrick's ability to engage in daily group prayer with his fellow Muslim inmates is absolutely prohibited at Marion by Defendant's current policy, which has resulted in numerous Muslim inmates being written up and punished for praying in groups, while other non-Muslims are allowed to engage in various group activities. Id. Hamrick alleges that the continuous risk of discipline for engaging in daily congregate prayer has had a chilling effect on his ability to follow the tenets of his faith. Id.

         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 organize the claims in Plaintiff's pro se complaint into the following enumerated counts:

Count 1: Defendant denied Plaintiff access to congregate prayer with fellow Muslims in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) (42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a));
Count 2: Defendant denied Plaintiff equal protection of the law guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause when she imposed a policy resulting in treatment of Muslims participating in group religious activities to be different from non-Muslims.

         Discussion

         Count 1-Free Exercise and RFRA

         The First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause 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). RFRA offers broader protections than the First Amendment and provides a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by the government, including prison officials. 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb(b)(2). RFRA specifically restores “the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972)” and guarantees “its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb(b)(1).

         Allegations in the complaint suggest that Plaintiff and other Muslim inmates were denied the ability to exercise their faith by participating in congregate prayer due to a policy implemented by Defendant without a compelling reason and without consideration of less restrictive alternatives. (Doc. 1, p. 4). This gives rise to a colorable First Amendment and RFRA claim against Defendant.

         Count ...


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