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Van Pelt v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

February 14, 2018

RONALD M. VAN PELT, # R-00514, Plaintiff,
v.
KIMBERLY BUTLER, CAMERON WATSON, K. BRIDGES, JOHN DOE Correctional Officer, and OFFICER MAYOR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STACI M. YANDLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ronald Van Pelt, currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center (“Pinckneyville”), brings this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff raises several claims which arose while he was housed at Menard Correctional Center (“Menard”), including interference with his religious practice, placement in an unsanitary cell, and deprivation of his legal property. The Complaint 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 some of Plaintiff's claims survive threshold review under § 1915A. Because the Court also finds that the surviving claims are not properly joined in the same action, one Count will be severed into a new case.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff's claims date back to November and December 2015. On November 28, 2015, Plaintiff was in his cell and in the middle of his Islamic Salah prayer, when Defendant Lt. Mayor interrupted his prayers. (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). Despite the fact that Plaintiff was obviously praying on his prayer rug, Mayor repeatedly called out to Plaintiff, ordering him to abandon his prayer and to answer him or “there would be consequences.” Id. Plaintiff continued praying and when he finished, asked Mayor to state his business. Mayor told Plaintiff to cuff up and took him to segregation.

         Also on November 28, 2015, Plaintiff was placed in a segregation cell that was contaminated with feces all over the cell walls, and urine on the floor. The water in the cell was not working. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Plaintiff was not given any bedding or a pillow for over 72 hours. He complained about the conditions to John Doe Correctional Officer (who shall be designated herein as John Doe #1), but the officer said he was not responsible for Eight Gallery, and Plaintiff would have to talk to the gallery C/O. Plaintiff did not receive his bedding, pillows, or clothing until December 26, 2015.

         On November 30, 2015, Defendant Cameron Watson denied Plaintiff permission to visit with his mother and 2 sisters, claiming that they were trespassing on state property. Plaintiff disputes that they could have been trespassing, and complains that he was denied due process when the visit was denied. (Doc. 1, p. 5; Doc. 1-1, pp. 6-9).

         That same day, Defendant K. Bridges gave Plaintiff an investigative status ticket for a major infraction. (Doc. 1, p. 5; Doc. 1-1, p. 10). Plaintiff asserts that according to prison regulations, a prisoner who receives an investigative report shall be interviewed within 14 days, and be allowed to present his views regarding the investigative placement. He alleges was never given an interview during the entire time he was in segregation (from November 28 - December 28, 2015). (Doc. 1, p. 5).

         Plaintiff's legal property was delivered to him in segregation on December 15, 2015, by John Doe (Badge # 10789), the personal property C/O. (Doc. 1, p. 6). By that time, Plaintiff had been in segregation for 18 days without his legal materials. He claims that his rights were violated because legal paperwork is required to be restored to a prisoner within 72 hours of his placement in segregation. John Doe (Badge # 10789) also gave Plaintiff his other personal property items. However, Plaintiff's prayer rug, Qur'an and Kufi were missing. (Doc. 1, p. 6). The John Doe officer told Plaintiff he would return in a few minutes with Plaintiff's religious items, but he never did so.

         On December 26, 2015, the “property C/O John Doe returned” to bring Plaintiff his laundry bag and clean clothing.[1] However, he still did not bring the prayer rug, Qur'an, or Kufi, which Plaintiff pointed out to him. The following day, the John Doe officer brought Plaintiff's prayer rug to him. Plaintiff was released from segregation on December 28, 2015. Altogether, Plaintiff was deprived of his prayer rug, Qur'an, and Kufi for about a month. (Doc. 1, p. 6).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged violations of his rights. (Doc. 1, p. 7).

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

         Based on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it convenient to divide the pro se action into the following Counts. The parties and the Court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The designation of these counts does not constitute an opinion as to their merit. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice.

Count 1: First Amendment claim against Mayor, for disturbing Plaintiff's practice of his religion on November 28, 2015;
Count 2: Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim against John Doe #1 for failing to remedy the unsanitary conditions in Plaintiff's segregation cell on November 28, 2015;
Count 3: Eighth Amendment claim against Watson, for denying Plaintiff a visit with his family members on November 30, 2015;
Count 4: Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against Bridges, for failing to provide Plaintiff with a hearing after he was placed in investigative status in segregation on November 30, 2015;
Count 5: First Amendment claim against John Doe (Badge # 10789) for depriving Plaintiff of his legal property for 18 days while Plaintiff was in segregation;
Count 6: First Amendment claim against John Doe (Badge # 10789) for depriving Plaintiff of his religious items (prayer rug, Qur'an, and Kufi) between November 28 and December 28, 2015, while Plaintiff was in segregation.

         As discussed below, Counts 2 and 6 survive review under § 1915A. However, Counts 1, 3, 4, and 5 fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and will be dismissed. Further, because Counts 2 and 6 arose from separate incidents and involve different Defendants, Count 6 will be severed into a separate action. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605 (7th Cir. 2007) (unrelated claims against different defendants belong in separate lawsuits).

         Dismissal of Count 1 - Interference with Religious Practice - Defendant Mayor

         It is well-established that “a prisoner is entitled to practice his religion insofar as doing so does not unduly burden the administration of the prison.” Hunafa v. Murphy, 907 F.2d 46, 47 (7th Cir. 1990); see Al-Alamin v. Gramley, 926 F.2d 680, 686 and nn. 3-5 (7th Cir. 1991) (collecting cases). A prison regulation that impinges on an inmate's First Amendment rights is nevertheless valid “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 349 (1987) (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). Such ...


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