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Evans v. Bilal

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 2, 2017

JOHN EVANS B-41234, Plaintiff,
v.
MR. BILAL, THOMAS DART, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA R. PALLMEYER United States District Judge

         Plaintiff John Evans (“Evans”), an Illinois prisoner, brought this action pro se under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was denied religious services while detained at Cook County Jail. Sheriff Tom Dart has moved for summary judgment. As explained below, the court concludes Plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed. The volunteer chaplain he named as a Defendant is not responsible for any harm to Plaintiff, and the record does not support a finding that his rights were violated. Dart's motion for summary judgment [80] is granted, and the court dismisses claims against Mr. Bilal on its own motion. This case is terminated.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts are set forth in parties' submissions pursuant to Local Rule 56.1. Under that Rule, a party seeking summary judgment files “a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law.” Ammons v. Aramark Uniform Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting N.D.Ill. R. 56.1(a)(3)). The opposing party must then file a response that supports any denials with references to “affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon.” Cracco v. Vitran Express, Inc., 559 F.3d 625, 632 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting N.D.Ill. R. 56.1(b)(3)(B)). A statement in the moving party's submission that is supported by the record and not addressed by the opposing party is deemed admitted. See Raymond v. Ameritech Corp., 442 F.3d 600, 608 (7th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's pro se status does not excuse him from complying with these rules. See Greer v. Bd. of Educ. of City of Chi., 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001); Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1061 (7th Cir. 2006) (“[E]ven pro se litigants must follow rules of civil procedure”).

         Sheriff Dart filed a statement of uncontested material facts, supported by evidentiary material, as required by the Rule. (Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts [hereinafter “DSOF”] [85].) He also notified Evans of the requirements of the Rule. (Local Rule 56.2 Notice [83].) Evans's response (Pl.'s Mot. for Relief from Mot. for Summ. J. [hereinafter “Pl.'s Resp.”] [87]), however, does not include a response to Dart's version of the facts, nor did Evans submit his own statement of facts. The facts presented by Sheriff Dart are therefore deemed admitted. See N.D. Ill. R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) (“All material facts set forth in the statement required of the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement of the opposing party.”); Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 880 (7th Cir. 2012).

         The record shows that Evans entered Cook County Jail in November 2014 and was housed in Division Eight. (See DSOF ¶ 4; Dep. of John Evans, Ex. B to DSOF [85-2], at 18:7- 19:8.) Division Eight, also known as Cermak, is a division of the jail that operates as a hospital. (DSOF ¶ 5.) Many detainees in Cermak are disabled, have communicable diseases, or suffer from serious medical conditions. (Id.) Because of the specialized needs of Cermak inmates as well as the lack of an appropriate communal space, group religious services are not offered in Cermak. (DSOF ¶ 7.) Instead, a religious volunteer meets individually with inmates. (DSOF ¶ 7.)

         Evans, a Muslim, testified at his deposition that he asked to participate in Muslim services on several occasions. (See Evans Dep. 20:17-21:3.) He explained that he “wanted to get into the service” and believed he needed to contact Mr. Bilal, who Evans described as “the mumin of the Muslim service[.]” (Evans Dep. 21:21-22:1; see DSOF ¶ 9.)[1] To that end, Evans completed several form requests, selecting Muslim services from various kinds of religious services listed in the form. (DSOF ¶ 10.) The request slips were collected by a social worker and, Evans believes, delivered to Bilal. (Evans Dep. 23:5-25:7; see DSOF ¶ 10.) Evans also gave request slips to fellow inmates and asked that they be delivered to Bilal. (DSOF ¶ 12.) Evans claims that in the two months from January 15, 2015 to March 14, 2015, he submitted 60 to 70 request slips. (DSOF ¶ 11; Evans Dep. 23:12-16.) From its own records, the jail produced copies of nine such request forms. (Inmate Request Forms, Cook County Dep't of Corr., Ex. E to DSOF [85-5].)

         When he did not receive a prompt response, Evans submitted a grievance dated February 5, 2015, requesting to “meet with a religious leader from my (faith-base) and to attend religious services with my members.” (Inmate Grievance Form (Feb. 5, 2015), Ex. F to DSOF [hereinafter “Feb. 5, 2015 Grievance”] [85-6], at 1; see DSOF ¶ 16.) The grievance was “processed” as a “non-grievance (request).” (See Feb. 5, 2015 Grievance at 1.) Evans did receive a response to the grievance while he was incarcerated at the jail. (DSOF ¶ 18.) The response, signed by “J. Mueller, ” stated: “All religious services and materials are provided by volunteers/donation. The CCDOC does NOT mandate services or religious materials from individuals or groups donating/volunteering their time. Your request was forwarded to the visiting volunteer chaplains.” (See Feb. 5, 2015 Grievance at 2-3 (emphasis in original); Aff. of John Mueller, Ex. C to DSOF [85-3], at ¶¶ 17-18.) Evans then sent the grievance to an address in Springfield. (Evans Dep. 28:4-29:15, 31:6-10; see DSOF ¶ 19.) He explained that “at the bottom of the grievance, it got an address to Springfield. And that's where I sent it to.” (Evans Dep. 31:18- 32:6.) He submitted no other grievances concerning religious services at the jail. (DSOF ¶ 18.) Though he was able to practice his faith in other ways, by for example, by praying in his cell (DSOF ¶ 8; Evans Dep. 22:2-8), Evans was not offered a chance to participate in Muslim services with other inmates “[a]nd the mumin, Mr. Bilal.” (Evans Dep. 22:11-14; see DSOF ¶¶ 6, 8.) He filed this federal lawsuit in March 2015, while incarcerated at the jail. (See Compl. [1].) He also filed two other lawsuits around the same time: Evans v. Dart, No. 15 C 1826 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 24, 2016) (Pallmeyer, J.), and Evans v. Brown, No. 15 C 2295 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 24, 2016) (Pallmeyer, J.). (DSOF ¶¶ 21-22.) In March 2016, Evans entered into a settlement agreement in case numbers 15 C 1826 and 15 C 2295. (DSOF ¶¶ 26-27.) Pursuant to the settlement agreement, Evans released “Defendants, and their agents, employers and former employers, either in their official or individual capacities, from any and all . . . claims . . . that are the subject of the Actions, along with any other claims he might have had at the Cook County Jail arising out of the subject matter of the Actions[.]” (DSOF ¶ 28.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The court's role in deciding a motion for summary judgment “is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact.” Nat'l Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). The court considers the facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Zuppardi v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 770 F.3d 644, 649 (7th Cir. 2014). Summary judgment is appropriate “if, on the evidence provided, no reasonable juror could return a verdict in favor of” the non-movant. Ball v. Kotter, 723 F.3d 813, 821 (7th Cir. 2013).

         DISCUSSION

         Before proceeding to the parties' arguments, the court pauses to describe the procedural history of this case. Evans initiated this action against the “mumin, ” Mr. Bilal, complaining that he had not been allowed to attend Muslim services while at the jail and stating that he would “like to pray with fellow members of [his faith].” (Compl. 5.) The court dismissed Evans's original complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, noting that it is not necessarily a violation of the First Amendment for a jail inmate to be deprived of access to formal religious services, especially when those services are provided by volunteers. (Order (Apr. 25, 2015) [5].) The court also explained that Evans alleged no facts showing that Bilal was responsible for the jail's failure to hold Muslim services. (Id.) Evans submitted an amended complaint, alleging that Bilal “is the person who you send all request form[s] [pertaining] to Muslim studies everything go[e]s through Mr. Bilal.” (Am. Compl. [7], at 4.) Evans also alleged that he submitted several requests to attend Muslim services to Bilal as well as a grievance. (Id.) According to Evans, he received a response to his grievance from Bilal's “office . . . stating[] religious services and material are provided by volunteers, but still I never got on the list.” (Id.) Based on Evans's representations, the court allowed the amended complaint to proceed against Bilal. (Order (Jun, 16, 2015) [8].)

         For reasons that have never been articulated to the court, Cook County does not represent Bilal in this matter. Bilal (like Evans) is proceeding pro se. In that capacity, Bilal answered Evans's amended complaint (Answer [25]), and participated in a telephonic status hearing on June 14, 2016. Bilal explained in the telephone conference that he had no control over whether inmates were permitted or denied leave of worship. (See Order (Jun. 14, 2016) [37] (describing events at status hearing).) He also explained that he did not see or respond to grievances filed by Evans, was unaware of which division of the jail Evans was assigned to, and learned about Evans's claim for the first time when he was served with the summons and complaint. (Id. at 1.) Evans, for his part, expressed his belief that Bilal had signed at least one of his grievances. (Id. at 2.) The court ordered Evans to “provide copies of grievances to demonstrate Mr. Bilal's involvement in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's rights[, ]” and warned that, “[i]f Mr. Bilal's signature does not appear on any grievance, the court is inclined to dismiss this case as against him.” (Id. at 1-2.) The court continued:

[E]ven if Mr. Bilal did at some point see or review a grievance filed by Plaintiff, it appears that he had no power to arrange for Plaintiff to attend worship services. If Mr. Evans nevertheless believes he has valid claims against Mr. Bilal, he should explain this in writing within 21 days. Alternatively, if there is another jail official who is responsible for keeping Plaintiff from attending worship services, he is invited to submit an amended complaint identifying such person[s] as Defendants.

(Id. at 2.)

         By letter dated June 20, 2016, Evans informed the court that he had requested but not yet received copies of his “request slips” and “grievances” from the jail. (Letter from John Evans to Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, Jun. 20, 2016 [39].) Evans was by then no longer incarcerated at the jail, so the court added Sheriff Dart as a defendant for the “purpose of assisting Plaintiff to identify the jail personnel who participated in the events giving rise to this lawsuit.” (Order (Jul. 5, 2016) [40].) The court again expressed its belief that Bilal likely was not a proper defendant ...


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