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Brooks v. Williams

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 19, 2017

COREY BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL WILLIAMS and JEFFERY DENNISON as Warden of Shawnee Correctional Center, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          STEPHEN C. WILLIAMS United States Magistrate Judge

         Introduction

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pro se Plaintiff Corey Brooks filed his complaint against Michael Williams and Jeffery Dennison, as the Warden of Shawnee Correctional Center for violations of Plaintiff's rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a), equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and his rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied Plaintiff access to Rastafari Sabbath services (Count 1) and they treated his request for such services differently than identical requests of members of other religions (Count 3). This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion of administrative remedies (Docs. 27 and 28). Plaintiff has filed a response (Doc. 30) in opposition to the motion.

         The matter has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Williams by United States District Judge Michael J. Reagan pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(B) and (c), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), and Local Rule 72.1(a). The undersigned held a hearing on December 15, 2017. Based on the following, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DENY Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Factual Background

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on August 29, 2016 against Defendants Jeffrey Dennison and Michael Williams (Doc. 1). As narrowed by the Court's threshold order, Plaintiff alleges that he is a recent convert to Rastafarianism and he seeks to participate in a Sabbath service on Fridays and Saturdays, which Plaintiff believes is part of his “Holy Piby” (Doc. 5, p. 2). Plaintiff also argues that while his access to Sabbath services has been denied, other well-known religions are allowed to have such services.

         In response to Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants filed the pending motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies (Docs. 27 and 28). Plaintiff submitted a grievance dated June 19, 2016 regarding his religion (Doc. 28-4, p. 9-10). That grievance indicated that he wanted to learn more about being a Rastafarian and that his Sabbath is on Fridays and Saturdays (Id. at p. 9). The grievance notes that he wrote the chaplain about the Holy Piby written by Robert Rogers but he had not heard back from the chaplain (Id.). Plaintiff requested that he have the Holy Piby on Friday and Saturday (Id.). The grievance was responded to by the counselor on July 7, 2016, indicating that the chaplain had received materials regarding Rastafarianism in the past weeks and the request is under review (Id.). The grievance is stamped as being received by the ARB on August 11, 2016 (Id.). The grievance was returned to Plaintiff for failing to attach the grievance officer and chief administrative officer response (Id. at p. 8).

         Plaintiff submitted a second grievance dated August 24, 2016 regarding his religion (Doc. 28-4, p. 6-7). Although the grievance is dated August 24, 2016, Plaintiff signed that he submitted the grievance on August 31, 2016 (Id. at p. 6). That grievance alleges that Plaintiff was not provided with his religious meals but also indicates that he put in Sabbath requests for Friday and Saturday and his religious holidays (Id. at p. 7). Plaintiff requested to have his Sabbath on holidays and his proper religious meal (Id. at p. 6). The counselor responded to the grievance on September 7, 2016 noting that the grievance process was not the avenue to make religious requests (Id.). The grievance was received by the ARB on September 19, 2016 and returned for failing to attach a grievance officer or chief administrative officer response (Id. at p. 5). Plaintiff also submitted a grievance dated November 13, 2016 regarding his Sabbath request which he signed on November 16, 2016 (Doc. 28-4, p. 3-4). That grievance was received by his counselor on November 18, 2016 and returned to Plaintiff on December 6, 2016 (Id. at p. 3). Plaintiff's grievance officer received the grievance on December 5, 2016 and denied the grievance on December 7, 2016 (Id. at p. 2). The chief administrative officer signed off on the grievance on December 9, 2016 (Id.). The ARB received Plaintiff's grievance on December 27, 2016 (Id. at p. 1, 3). The grievance was returned to Plaintiff for failing to identify the dates that he was denied Sabbath days (Id. at p. 1).

         Plaintiff indicated in his response that he submitted the grievances but never got a response back from the grievance officer or chief administrative officer (Doc. 30, p. 1). Plaintiff indicated that Shawnee does not follow their institutional procedures so he submitted the grievances straight to Springfield (Id.). In light of this dispute of fact as to whether Plaintiff submitted his grievance to the grievance officer and never received a response, the Court set the matter for an evidentiary hearing pursuant to Pavey v. Conley, 544 F.3d 739, 740-41(7th Cir. 2008).

         B. Pavey Hearing

         The Court held an evidentiary hearing on December 15, 2017. Prior to the hearing, Defendants supplemented their motion with a declaration from Harry Allard, clinical services supervisor who maintains the grievance logs at Shawnee Correctional Center (Doc. 36). Along with the affidavit, Defendants submitted the grievance logs from March to October 2016 (Doc. 36-1). There are no grievances on the log from Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff, however, testified that he did submit his June 19, 2016 grievance to the grievance office. Plaintiff testified that he always had difficulties getting responses to his grievances while at Shawnee Correctional Center, both from his counselor and the grievance office. Plaintiff testified that he always sent kites to the grievance officer asking for the status of his grievance when he did not receive a response. Plaintiff acknowledged that he received a response to his June 19, 2016 grievance but does not recall if he received the response back on July 7, 2016 or the day after. Once he received the grievance from his counselor, he filled out a request slip and mailed a copy of the grievance to the grievance officer asking for his copy. He did not get a response from the grievance officer. He sent repeated requests to the grievance officer and once the grievance officer did not respond to the first request, Plaintiff believed that the grievance officer would not respond at all. He then typed a two page letter indicating his attempts to obtain a response from the grievance officer and attached ...


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