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Parker v. Baldwin

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 15, 2018

KYLE A. PARKER, # R-42752, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) currently incarcerated at Graham Correctional Center (“Graham”), has brought this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arose while he was confined at Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center (“Southwestern”). Plaintiff claims that Defendants infringed on his right to practice his religion and punished him for engaging in the practice of his faith. 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.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff sues Baldwin, who is Acting Director of the IDOC; Bazile-Sawyer, the Southwestern Warden; and Thompson, an Internal Affairs officer at Southwestern.

         On October 16, 2017, Thompson called Plaintiff in to interview him about his religious practices. Plaintiff is an adherent of the Asatru faith. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Thompson implied that Plaintiff was a member of a white supremacist organization because he practiced Asatru. Plaintiff vehemently disputed this suggestion, offering to show Thompson documentation that an Asatru practitioner could not hold racist views. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Thompson declined to review Plaintiff's information. Plaintiff acknowledged that he was a “spiritual leader” with other Asatru practitioners, but did not hold any authority over them. (Doc. 1, p. 6). Plaintiff also discussed his history of teaching an Asatru service while in the Indiana Department of Corrections, as well as his work with Southwestern chaplains in an attempt to get Asatru services started there with an outside volunteer to teach services. (Doc. 1, pp. 6-7). Plaintiff told Thompson that he was not holding religious services for “all of the Asatru” in the prison dayroom, because some members lived in different housing units and could not join him in his unit's dayroom.

         Thompson asked Plaintiff to step out of her office while she consulted with Bazile-Sawyer “to determine if [Plaintiff] would be put into segregation for practicing and holding religious services on [his] unit.” (Doc. 1, p. 7). About 20 minutes later, Plaintiff was placed in segregation with no explanation. Id. The documents he provides show that he was placed there under investigative status. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 1-2).

         Nine days later, Thompson filed charges against Plaintiff for dangerous disturbance, security threat group or unauthorized organization activity, and dangerous communications, because Plaintiff had provided instruction in the Asatru faith, held services, and taught the runes. (Doc. 1, pp. 7-8; Doc. 1-1, pp. 4-6; 8-11). According to Plaintiff's attached grievances and the responses, he was found guilty of these offenses and punished with 30 days in segregation, 60 days in “C” grade status, six months of contact visit restrictions, and a disciplinary transfer. (Doc. 1-1, p. 11). Plaintiff contested this action in his grievance, noting that the Asatru and Wicca faiths are approved religious groups in the IDOC. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 10-11). He acknowledges that he held an Asatru study group in his dayroom, but states that the information on the number of inmates attending and the identities of those inmates was incorrect. (Doc. 1-1, pp. 10-11).

         Plaintiff asserts that Thompson's disciplinary charges and his punishment violated his First and Eighth Amendment rights, as well as his rights under the Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), because he was disciplined for practicing his religion. (Doc. 1, p. 8). In addition to the segregation time and other punishment he received, Plaintiff asserts that the “dangerous disturbance” conviction will make him ineligible to receive a six month sentence credit that he would otherwise be eligible for. (Doc. 1, pp. 8-10).[1]

         During Plaintiff's time in segregation at Southwestern, he spoke directly to Bazile-Sawyer on more than one occasion while she made rounds. (Doc. 1, p. 9). Plaintiff told Bazile-Sawyer about the violations of his rights as a result of Thompson's actions, but Bazile-Sawyer refused to investigate the matter, stating she supported Thompson's actions. Bazile-Sawyer upheld the disciplinary action after Plaintiff appealed it.

         Baldwin, as the “direct supervisor” of Bazile-Sawyer and Thompson, also approved the disciplinary action when Plaintiff's appeal reached him. (Doc. 1, pp 9-10).

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the violations of his rights and seeks to have his disciplinary convictions reversed and expunged from his record. (Doc. 1, p. 11).

         Merits Review Pursuant to 28 ...

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