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Gakuba v. Doe

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 17, 2018

PETER GAKUBA, #M52946, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Peter Gakuba, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) currently incarcerated in East Moline Correctional Center, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights that allegedly occurred at Robinson Correctional Center (“Robinson”). In his Complaint, Plaintiff claims the defendants deprived him of kosher meals in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). (Doc. 1).

         This case is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides:

(a) Screening - The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for Dismissal - On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint-
(1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         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 any reasonable person would find meritless. 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. At this juncture, the factual allegations of the pro se complaint are to be liberally construed. See Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009).

         Upon careful review of the Complaint and any supporting exhibits, the Court finds it appropriate to allow this case to proceed past the threshold stage.

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint (Doc. 1), Plaintiff makes the following allegations: Plaintiff, “a mulatto Jew, ” completed the forms to receive kosher meals while in prison in 2015. (Doc. 1, p. 4). Plaintiff's kosher meal request was denied in September 2015 by John Doe 1, the IDOC's Chief Chaplain. Id. Plaintiff questions the rationale for the denial. Id. He did not cite to religious verse or scripture in his application, pursuant to an IDOC policy. Id. Plaintiff discussed the denial with Robinson's Chaplain, who told Plaintiff the Chief Chaplain was the final decision maker. Id. Plaintiff “was the only known Jew at Robinson.” Id.

         In March 2016, Tomas Gonzales met Plaintiff over the Passover holiday and gave him a Torah and other religious material. Id. Plaintiff used this material when he reapplied for kosher meals by citing verses and scripture in support of his request. Id. His request was then approved by the Chief Chaplain, John Doe 1. Id. Per the approval, John Doe 2 (the warden), Robinson's Chaplain, and Dietary Supervisor Knight signed off on kosher meals, which would start May 7, 2016. Id. On May 7, Plaintiff began receiving kosher meals, which were “pre-packaged, vacuum sealed, TV dinner like trays akin to canned soup.” Id. These kosher, or Hebrew, trays were served 1-2 times per day in May 2016 and several times per week in June 2016 before stopping altogether. Id. Plaintiff complained and wrote grievances to no avail. Id. The response to his complaints was that the “Hebrew trays cost $7-14 each and state budgetary problems precluded this expenditure.” Id. In September 2016, the Hebrew trays resumed intermittently. Id. From about February to June 2017, they stopped altogether, and later they resumed, but intermittently and sparingly once again. Id.

         When Robinson was not serving Hebrew trays, it served non-kosher food, including scrambled eggs, canned food (including diced fruits, vegetables, and tuna), Kool-Aid, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese sandwiches, French toast, and cereal. Id. These “were continual violations of their [duty] to meet [Plaintiff's] religious meal requirements.” Id. They also “failed to meet their stated ‘Nutritious 2000 calorie per day' mandate.” Id. Plaintiff's cholesterol increased from 120 to 175 in response to this diet, and he developed irritable bowel syndrome. Id. Plaintiff also could not afford the food in the commissary. Id.

         Another prisoner was approved for kosher meals in summer 2016 by requesting them and falsely claiming he was Jewish when in fact he is Christian. Id. This inmate is white. Id.

         On October 18, 2017, Plaintiff was transferred to East Moline Correctional Center, where he encountered problems similar to those at Robinson. Id. In response to his verbal and written grievances, East Moline prison administrators and staff “conspired to retaliate and discriminate” ...

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