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Ridley v. Arnold

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 23, 2019

ANTOINE RIDLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD ARNOLD, S. MERCIER, and TRAVIS BAYLOR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Antoine Ridley, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) who is currently incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center, brings this action for deprivations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges defendants denied him a kosher diet in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”). Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment, monetary damages, and injunctive relief.

         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

         Plaintiff makes the following allegations in his Complaint: Upon transferring to Pinckneyville, Plaintiff submitted a request to Arnold to be placed on a kosher diet (Doc. 1, p. 28). He noted in his request that he was on a kosher diet prior to his transfer. He did not receive a response and continued to submit requests weekly until Arnold granted Plaintiff an in-person interview on May 14, 2019. During the meeting, Plaintiff informed Arnold that he had been on a kosher diet since 2016, but Arnold denied his request for a kosher diet at Pinckneyville because Arnold noted that Plaintiff's commissary purchases included non-kosher items (Id. at pp. 28-29). Arnold informed Plaintiff that he would monitor his commissary purchases in the future to see if a kosher diet was warranted, but Plaintiff alleges that he buys non-kosher items at the commissary in order to trade for kosher items with other inmates. (Id. at pp. 28-30). Plaintiff wrote grievances about Arnold's denial, but those grievances were denied by Baylor and Mercier (Id. at pp. 30-32). On June 7, 2019, Plaintiff made another request for a kosher diet and was granted another interview with Arnold (Id. at p. 30). Plaintiff presented Arnold with documents supporting his claim that he was previously granted a kosher diet, but Arnold stated that he had to fill out more forms before his request would be accepted (Id. at p. 31). Plaintiff wrote additional grievances, but those grievances were denied (Id. at pp. 31-32).

         Discussion

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

         Count 1: Richard Arnold, S. Mercier, and Travis Baylor denied Plaintiff a kosher diet in violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA. 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 pled under the Twombly pleading standard.[1]

         The Court finds that the allegations in the Complaint state a viable claim against Arnold for violation of his First Amendment rights. Plaintiff also states a viable RLUIPA claim for Arnold's denial of a kosher diet. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. RLUIPA does not authorize a suit for money damages against defendants in their individual capacities. Grayson v. Schuler, 666 F.3d 450, 451 (7th Cir. 2012); Maddox v. Love, 655 F.3d 709, 717 (7th Cir. 2011). But a court may order injunctive relief to correct a violation of RLUIPA. Therefore, Plaintiff may not pursue a claim for money damages against any defendant under RLUIPA. Instead, the Court will add Scott Thompson, in his official capacity as Acting Warden of Pinckneyville, to the case for purposes of implementing any injunctive relief awarded on Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim. To the extent that Plaintiff has attempted to state an official capacity claim against anyone else, those claims are dismissed.

         But Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Mercier and Baylor. Plaintiff alleges that they denied his grievances regarding Arnold's denial of his kosher diet. While a grievance may put the defendants on notice of Plaintiff's issues, see Turley v. Rednour, 729 F.3d 645, 652-53 (7th Cir. 2013); Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 781-82 (7th Cir. 2015), the denial or mishandling of a grievance does not amount to a constitutional violation. Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 953 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[T]he alleged mishandling of [a prisoner's] grievance by persons who otherwise did not cause or participate in the underlying conduct states no claim.”); George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609-10 (7th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff alleges that Mercier and Taylor turned a blind eye to his need for a kosher diet, but the allegations in his Complaint suggest that Mercier and Taylor reviewed his grievances and denied them. Their actions do not suggest that they turned a blind eye to his needs. Perez, 792 F.3d at 781 (official may be liable where they know of unconstitutional conduct and approve, condone, or turn a blind eye to the conduct). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against Mercier and Taylor are DISMISSED without prejudice.

         Preliminary Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff's request for relief includes a request for a preliminary and permanent injunction to order the defendants to provide him with a kosher diet (Doc. 1, p. 34). Plaintiff has not filed a separate motion for preliminary injunction, nor has he demonstrated in his Complaint that he is entitled to such relief at this time. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 65; Planned Parenthood v. Commissioner of Indiana State Dep't Health, 699 F.3d 962, 972 (7th Cir. 2012). Accordingly, Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction is DENIED without prejudice. Should Plaintiff wish to seek a preliminary injunction in this case he would need to file a separate motion and demonstrate that he is entitled to such relief.

         Motion for Counsel

         As to Plaintiff's motion for counsel (Doc. 3), Plaintiff states that he has written six attorneys. 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.”).[2] Further, counsel is not needed at this time because the defendants have not yet been served and a discovery schedule has not been entered. Thus, ...


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