United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Michael J. Reagan, Chief Judge United States District Court
currently incarcerated at Centralia Correctional Center
(“Centralia”), has brought this pro se
civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff claims that Defendant denied him the right to
practice the religion of his choice. 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. 2009).
these standards, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claim
survives threshold review under § 1915A.
January 2017, Plaintiff decided to inquire about Islam, and
studied with Muslim prisoners in his housing unit for about a
month. (Doc. 1, p. 4). He then decided to declare his
Shahadah, which consists of proclaiming 2 testimonies in
order to enter into the religion of Islam. Id.
policy dictates that an inmate must submit a written request
to the Chaplain in order to change his designated religion.
Plaintiff sent a request slip to Stock (the Assistant Warden
for Programs, including chaplain services) asking to change
his religion from Baptist to Islam. (Doc. 1, pp. 1, 4).
met with Stock regarding his request. Stock proceeded to
question Plaintiff about why he wanted to convert to Islam.
Plaintiff responded that he “believed with conviction
that God (Allah) is the Creator and Sustainer of the
universe.” (Doc. 1, pp. 4-5). Stock continued
questioning Plaintiff about Islam, seeking information that
“only a devout Muslim would know.” (Doc. 1, p.
5). Plaintiff was unable to provide the information sought by
Stock, as he had not yet attended any Jumah services. Stock
expressed his doubt regarding why a Caucasian such as
Plaintiff would want to convert to a predominantly
African-American religion. Plaintiff told Stock that his
mother had just died on October 31, 2017, and he was
distressed and depressed because he had not been able to seek
comfort through Jumah services. Plaintiff had sought support
from mental health staff to help him deal with his inability
to attend Jumah, as well as his mother's death. Even
knowing this information, Stock would not permit Plaintiff to
convert to Islam, telling Plaintiff that his mother's
death might be clouding his judgment. (Doc. 1, p. 5). Stock
told Plaintiff to “explore other religions, ” and
took it upon himself to change Plaintiff's designated
faith to Jewish. (Doc. 1, p. 6).
November 21, 2017, Plaintiff sent an Offender Request Slip to
Stock, asking him to change Plaintiff's religion to
Islam, but Stock denied the request. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 14).
Another request sent by Plaintiff on December 7, 2017, was
also denied by Stock. Id. Plaintiff filed a
grievance to resolve the matter. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 10-11). The
response to that grievance wrongfully stated that Plaintiff
had withdrawn his request to change his religion during his
conversation with Stock; Plaintiff says that he ended the
conversation because of his frustration with Stock's
attempt to pressure him into choosing a religion other than
Islam. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 10, 12).
point thereafter, Plaintiff's request to change his
designated faith to Islam was granted, and his grievance
appeal was declared moot. (Doc. 1, pp. 6, 13). However,
Plaintiff had been denied the ability to freely practice his
chosen faith for several months. (Doc. 1, p. 7).
raises a First Amendment claim against Stock for interfering
with his right to freely exercise his religious beliefs, by
denying Plaintiff's request to change his designation to
Islam. (Doc. 1, p. 7). Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief,
and punitive and compensatory damages. (Doc. 1, p. 8).
Review Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A
on the allegations of the Complaint, the Court finds it
convenient to characterize the pro se action in a
single count. The parties and the Court will use this
designation in all future pleadings and orders, unless
otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this Court. The
designation of this count does not constitute an opinion as
to its merit. Any other claim that is ...