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Nadolny v. Stock

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 26, 2018

MICHAEL NADOLNY, # K-95062, Plaintiff,
DAVID STOCK, Defendant.


          Michael J. Reagan, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Plaintiff, 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.

         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 Plaintiff's claim survives threshold review under § 1915A.

         The Complaint

         In 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.

         Prison 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

         On 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.[1] (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).

         At some 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).

         Plaintiff 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).

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

         Based 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 ...

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