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Gregory v. Pfister

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

July 22, 2019

CORY GREGORY, Plaintiff,


          John Z. Lee United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Cory Gregory has filed this lawsuit against Defendants Randy Pfister, Hany Shalabi, George Adamson, and Walter Nicholson, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq.; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 775 Ill. Comp. Stat. 35/15. Adamson, Nicholson, and Shalabi (“Defendants”) have moved to dismiss certain of Plaintiff's claims. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss [24] is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background [1]

         Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) and a practitioner of Odinism, a nature-based religion recognized by IDOC. Am. Compl. ¶ 19, ECF No. 14. Odinists worship individually and in groups, and their worship practices must take place both indoors and outdoors. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. What is more, Odinist worship requires an enclosure away from the practice of any other religion, and outdoor services require a fire pit and small evergreen shrubberies placed in the four cardinal directions. Id. Odinists also need a wood or stone altar, an altar cloth, a large mead horn and bowl, mead (a mixture of honey, water, and fruit juice), altar candles, a 24-inch wooden staff, a large Thor's hammer, a metal or wood ring, statues or images of the Gods and Goddesses of Odinism, an evergreen twig, a religious medallion, a rune set in a cloth bag, a horn cup, a bandana-like cloth, a wooden staff the size of a ruler, and a religious book. Id. ¶ 15. In addition, Odinists require pork to be served on six high holidays. Id. ¶ 16.

         Plaintiff has practiced Odinism since 2007, and has submitted at least three requests to Adamson, the prison chaplain at Stateville Correctional Center (“Stateville”), for accommodations that would allow him to practice his religion. Id. ¶ 24. Those requests were ignored. Id. ¶¶ 23-24, 26.

         Plaintiff also attempted to express his religious convictions by writing letters to fellow Odinists. Id. ¶ 26. Shalabi, an Internal Affairs Officer at Stateville, intercepted one such letter before it could be sent to an Odinist inmate at another prison. Id. ¶ 27. According to Shalabi, he confiscated the letter because it contained white supremacist drawings, and he wrote Plaintiff a disciplinary ticket. Id. ¶ 28. Plaintiff states that the illustrations were actually religious Odinist drawings, not related to white supremacy. Id. ¶ 30.

         Because of the letter, Plaintiff faced disciplinary proceedings and was found to have violated prison policies. Id. As a result, he received 45 days in segregation, 3 months' demotion to C-grade status, 3 months of commissary restrictions, and 6 months of contact-visit restrictions. Id. ¶ 31. Plaintiff filed a grievance seeking reduction of these restrictions and expungement of his record, but the grievance was denied. Id. ¶ 32. Pfister, the warden of Stateville at the time, approved the denial of the grievance. Id. Nicholson is the current warden. Id. ¶ 7.

         Plaintiff states that Defendants continue to deny or limit his access to the items and symbols necessary for Odinist worship. Id. ¶¶ 21, 39-40. Accordingly, he filed this action, claiming that Defendants' actions violated RLUIPA (Count I), his rights to free exercise of religion and free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment (Counts II and III, respectively), and RFRA (Count IV). Defendants seek to dismiss the first three counts.

         Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility 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). Additionally, when considering motions to dismiss, the Court accepts “all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Lavalais v. Vill. of Melrose Park, 734 F.3d 629, 632 (7th Cir. 2013) (citing Luevano v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013)). At the same time, “allegations in the form of legal conclusions are insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.” McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 694 F.3d 873, 885 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). As such, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of the cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         Defendants first argue that, to the extent Plaintiff brings claims for damages against them in their official capacities, such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Second, Defendants contend, Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim (Count I) should be dismissed as to Adamson and Shalabi, because they are not proper parties to a claim for injunctive relief. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims (Counts II and III) should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege their personal involvement in the claimed constitutional deprivations.

         I. Claims for Monetary Damages

         Defendants seek to dismiss all claims brought against them in their official capacities that request monetary damages, arguing that “asking for . . . money damages out of state funds . . . is unconstitutional.” Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss at 4, ECF No. 25. In response, Plaintiff explains that he is “suing Defendants in both their official and individual capacit[ies].” Pl.'s Resp. Opp. Mot. Dismiss at 7, ECF No. 33. But a plaintiff cannot ...

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