United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
HERNDON, District Judge
is a long-term prisoner, currently incarcerated at Shawnee
Correctional Center (“Shawnee”), and has brought
this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that Defendants
conspired to retaliate against him for filing complaints
against Mahan, by excluding him from religious services, in
violation of the Constitution and the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). In
addition to the Complaint, Plaintiff has filed a motion for a
Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction. (Doc.
3). This case is now before the Court for a preliminary
review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
§ 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).
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.
these standards, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims
survive threshold review under § 1915A.
Defendants in this action are Shawnee Warden Dennison,
Assistant Warden Walker, Lt. Pickford, Shawnee Chaplain
Sterrett, and Mahan, who is a volunteer pastor at Shawnee. On
April 10, 2018, after Plaintiff filed a sexual harassment
complaint against Mahan under the Prison Rape Elimination Act
(“PREA”), Defendants retaliated by removing
Plaintiff from 3 Protestant religious services which he had
been attending for over 35 years in prison. As a result,
Plaintiff was only permitted to attend Catholic mass once per
week. (Doc. 1, p. 11).
includes much background information regarding his religious
affiliations and activities during his years of
incarceration. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-11). His original designated
religion was Baptist, however, he has routinely attended
religious services of other faiths as well, including
Catholic services. (Doc. 1, p. 6). In 2009, Plaintiff changed
his religious affiliation from Baptist to Catholic. In 2012,
after a prison transfer, the chaplain approved
Plaintiff's attendance at Baptist and other Protestant
services, even though he remained designated as a Catholic
and continued to attend Catholic mass. He continued attending
Baptist, Protestant, and Catholic services from 2012-2016.
(Doc. 1, p. 7).
10, 2016, Plaintiff was transferred to Shawnee. The chaplain
at that time approved him to attend Catholic mass, Baptist,
and Protestant services. Plaintiff asserts that the policy,
custom, and practice at all prisons has been to allow an
inmate to attend any requested chapel services, up to a total
of 4 services, regardless of the prisoner's designated
religious affiliation. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
November or December 2017, Sterrett became the Shawnee
Chaplain. Plaintiff had several conversations with Sterrett
to obtain his approval to attend Sunday Protestant chapel
services consistent with the scheduled times for the housing
wing where Plaintiff was assigned. (Doc. 1, p. 8). One such
encounter occurred on January 15, 2018, after Plaintiff was
moved to a different housing area. (Doc. 1, pp. 9-10).
Sterrett always approved Plaintiff's requests. At no time
did Sterrett ever inform Plaintiff that he could not attend
Protestant services due to his Catholic designation, of which
Sterrett was aware. In March 2018, Plaintiff approached
Sterrett during Tuesday morning Catholic mass, and asked
permission to attend Friday night Protestant services;
Sterrett approved. (Doc. 1, p. 10). After this, Plaintiff
regularly attended 4 chapel services: Sunday morning
Protestant chapel, Tuesday morning Catholic mass, Tuesday
night Protestant services, and Friday night Protestant
services. (Doc. 1, p. 19; Doc. 1-1, p. 6).
January 2017, Plaintiff had routinely attended the Sunday
Protestant chapel services at Shawnee, which were conducted
by volunteer pastor Mahan. (Doc. 1, pp. 11-12). Plaintiff is
gay, and during these services, he sat together with other
gay, bisexual, and transgender inmates so they could support
each other. During Sunday services, Mahan regularly
verbalized his homophobic views, and “preach[ed] hate
against the gay, bisexual, and transgender prisoners”
at Shawnee. (Doc. 1, p. 12). Mahan's statements were
“degrading, humiliating, and offensive” to
Plaintiff and his fellow gay, bisexual, and transgender
(“LGBT”) inmates, but they continued to attend
around March 2018, Mahan's began to “sexually
harass” Plaintiff and his fellow LGBT prisoners, for
example, by sitting directly behind Plaintiff's group and
making offensive and derogatory comments, while shaking his
head. Id. Mahan escalated his harassment as he
preached, including comments and questions such as,
“how could a man masturbate another man, ” and
“do you fantasize about another man.” (Doc. 1, p.
13). Plaintiff feared that these derogatory remarks, made by
a “person of authority, ” could worsen the
threats LGBT inmates already faced to their safety and
security at Shawnee. Id.
approximately March 8, 2018, a transgender inmate (Spoden)
who regularly attended Mahan's services and sang in the
choir lodged a verbal complaint with Sterrett about
Mahan's conduct. Sterrett told Spoden that he would
direct Mahan to cease his homophobic speeches and advocacy of
violence against LGBT prisoners. (Doc. 1, pp. 13-14).
However, Mahan did not stop his comments, but instead
intensified his targeting of LGBT inmates. Mahan told another
inmate that he (Mahan) would not be disciplined because
Sterrett and Assistant Warden Walker were “rocking with
him.” (Doc. 1, p. 14).
Spoden's complaint, Mahan announced during chapel that
another inmate (Madison) had a “testimony, ”
after which Madison took the podium. Madison proceeded to
spout hateful and derogatory language against the LGBT
prisoners in attendance. Madison called out those
prisoners' names and advocated violence against them.
(Doc. 1, p. 14). These comments drew cheers from the
approximately 50 non-LGBT inmates attending the chapel
service. Mahan allowed Madison to continue with this rant for
about 10 minutes. While Madison spoke, inmate Spoden
approached Mahan to express her frustration with
Madison's preaching of hate and violence, but Mahan
responded by saying, “he is only preaching God's
word.” (Doc. 1, p. 15; Doc. 1-1, pp. 8-11).
April 8, 2018, Plaintiff was sitting with his LGBT group as
the chapel service started. He and most of the inmates in
attendance were standing, singing along with the choir, and
clapping. (Doc. 1, p. 15). Mahan suddenly pointed at
Plaintiff and ordered him to leave the chapel. When Plaintiff
asked why, Mahan responded that it was because Plaintiff was
talking. Plaintiff denies this, stating that he was singing
with the congregation and choir, and notes that because of
the singing and general noise level, it would have been
impossible for Mahan to hear any person talking. Plaintiff
asserts that the only reason he was removed was because of
Mahan's homophobic views, and because he is a
“senior member” and leader within the LGBT
community. (Doc. 1, p. 16).
Mahan kicked Plaintiff out of the chapel service, Plaintiff
wrote a PREA complaint (directed to Walker, who is the PREA
compliance officer) against Mahan for sexual harassment,
based on the many inappropriate sexual comments Mahan had
made over the past year. Plaintiff also filed an emergency
grievance against Mahan, seeking to have Mahan barred from
entering Shawnee because he had advocated violence against
LGBT inmates attending Sunday services. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 1-2).
Dennison denied the emergency grievance, and Plaintiff filed
a regular grievance against Mahan for allowing inmate Madison
to advocate violence against LGBT inmates. (Doc. 1, p. 16;
Doc. 1-1, pp. 3-4). That grievance was sent to Sterrett for
review. (Doc. 1, p. 17; Doc. 1-1, p. 5). Immediately after
Sterrett issued his response (which referred the PREA matter
to Internal Affairs), Sterrett retaliated against Plaintiff
by removing him from the list to attend the Tuesday night and
Friday night Protestant services, which Sterrett had
previously approved. (Doc. 1, p. 17; Doc. 1-1, p. 7).
April 10, 2018, Lt. Pickford interviewed Plaintiff regarding
the PREA complaint against Mahan. Id. Plaintiff
described Mahan's conduct in detail, and provided
Pickford with names of other LGBT inmates who had been
affected. (Doc. 1, p. 18). Pickford “leaked” this
information to Walker, Mahan, and Sterrett. After this,
inmate Spoden was also removed from all her religious
services for cooperating with the investigation. (Doc. 1, pp.
18, 22; Doc. 1-1, pp. 8-11).
filed a grievance against Sterrett over the termination of
his attendance at the 2 services, and wrote to Walker and
Pickford. (Doc. 1, p. 20; Doc. 1-1, pp. 12-13). Walker and
Pickford did not respond. Sterrett responded to this
grievance by stating that Plaintiff was removed from the
Protestant religious services because he is identified as
Catholic and may only attend Catholic services. (Doc. 1, pp.
22-23, Doc. 1-1, p. 12). Plaintiff concludes that
Sterrett's statement was an attempt to “shield his
retaliation, ” by citing an Administrative Code section
which contradicts the stated reason for his action. (Doc. 1,
p. 23). Plaintiff asserts that from his personal knowledge,
over half of the ...