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Miller v. Brake

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 13, 2019



          Joan H. Lefkow, U.S. District Judge. [1]

         Plaintiff Santrell R. Miller, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) who is currently incarcerated at Big Muddy River Correctional Center (“Big Muddy”), brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights. Miller alleges Defendants cut his dreadlocks despite Miller's being a practicing Rastafarian in violation of the First Amendment. He seeks monetary damages.

         This case is now before the court for preliminary review of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Under Section 1915A, the court is required to screen prisoner Complaints to filter out non-meritorious claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Any portion of a 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 must be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         The Complaint

         In his Complaint, Miller makes the following allegations: Miller is a practicing Rastafarian and wears his hair in dreadlocks. (Doc. 1, pp. 4, 7). Upon arriving at Big Muddy, he was told by Lt. Annderson that he should not have been let on the bus with his hair in locks and the barber would cut his hair in the morning. (Id. at pp. 4, 7). Miller believed that his hair was neat and easily searchable and part of his core religious beliefs. (Id. at p. 7). He spoke with Brake and Lt. Clark the following morning and was told he was not allowed to keep his hair in dreadlocks. (Id. at p. 7.) If he refused a haircut, he would be issued a ticket and sent to segregation. (Id. at pp. 5, 7). He was then forced to sign a paper agreeing to the haircut. (Id.). He also spoke with the warden, Daniel Q. Sullivan, about his hair but the warden called him a liar and refused to help him. (Id. at pp. 4, 8). Miller was forced to cut his hair after being forced to sign the written agreement.

         Based on the allegations in the Complaint, the court finds it convenient to designate a single Count in this pro se action:

Count 1:Brake, Annderson, Clark, and Sullivan forced Miller to cut his hair in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs under the First Amendment.

         The parties and the court will use these designations in all future pleadings and orders, unless otherwise directed by a judicial officer of this court. Any other claim that is mentioned in the Complaint but not addressed in this Order should be considered dismissed without prejudice as inadequately pleaded under the Twombly pleading standard.[2]


         Here, Miller adequately alleges that Defendants substantially burdened his practice of Rastafarianism by requiring him to cut his dreadlocks.[3] See Hunafa v. Murphy, 907 F.2d 46, 47 (7th Cir.1990) (“[A] prisoner is entitled to practice his religion insofar as doing so does not unduly burden the administration of the prison.”); Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S.78, 99 (1987) (holding that an almost complete ban on the decision to marry was not reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives); but see Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450, 455 (7th Cir. 2012) (finding that policy allowing Rastafarians to maintain long hair but denying the privilege to sincere African Hebrew Israelite of Jerusalem was arbitrary discrimination). Thus, Count 1 shall proceed as to all of the defendants.

         Pending Motions

         In Miller's Motions for Counsel (Docs. 4 and 14) he indicates that he has sent letters to the John Howard Association and Loevy and Loevy but has not heard back from them. He also states that he cannot afford an attorney. Given the early stage of the litigation, however, it is difficult to accurately evaluate the need for the assistance of counsel. See Kadamovas v. Stevens, 706 F.3d 843, 845 (7th Cir. 2013) (“[U]ntil the defendants respond to the complaint, the plaintiff's need for assistance of counsel ... cannot be gauged.”).[4] Further, the court notes that the defendants have not yet been served nor has a discovery schedule been entered. Thus, counsel is not needed at this early stage. Therefore, Miller's Motions for Counsel (Docs. 4 and 14) are DENIED without prejudice. He may renew his request for the recruitment of counsel at a later date.


         IT IS SO ORDERED that Count 1 shall proceed against Brake, ...

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