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Williams v. Pollard

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 29, 2016



          Lynn Adelman District Judge

         The plaintiff, Howard F. Williams, is a prisoner proceeding pro se on claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 stemming from prison officials' confiscation of materials related to and general treatment of Fruit of Islam, a subgroup within the religious group Nation of Islam. He also proceeds on claims that prison officials retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment because of his religion and his role in establishing Nation of Islam in Wisconsin's prisons. Before me now is defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts are primarily taken from defendants' “Response to Plaintiff's Additional Proposed Findings of Fact” (ECF No. 91) and “Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Proposed Findings of Fact” (ECF No. 92), supplemented, as necessary, by other materials in the record.

         Plaintiff is a prisoner currently housed at New Lisbon Correctional Institution. At all times relevant to this case, plaintiff was housed at Waupun Correctional Institution (Waupun). Defendants are Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) employees, most of whom worked at Waupun during the relevant times.

         Plaintiff is a member of the religious group Nation of Islam (NOI). He was involved in establishing NOI at Waupun and throughout DOC in the 1990s. Fruit of Islam (FOI) is the male-only paramilitary wing of NOI. FOI is organized in a military structure with military-style ranks, it provides security to NOI members, and its members adhere to a set of laws and rules not sanctioned by DOC. Plaintiff generally disputes this characterization of FOI, though documents from NOI, including those confiscated from plaintiff, support it.

         Prison officials at Waupun and throughout DOC consider FOI to be a security threat group (STG). Broadly, STGs are groups that threaten, intimidate, coerce, or harass others or engage in activities that violate or encourage the violation of statutes, administrative rules, departmental policies, or institutional procedures. STGs like FOI undermine the authority of corrections officers and encourage violence. Many STGs are at least nominally associated with a religion or religious group.

         Waupun previously had a zero-tolerance policy toward materials that mention STGs, but since 2006, materials that only incidentally mention an STG are allowed, while those that advocate for or promote an STG are prohibited. Prison officials review materials on a case-by-case basis to ascertain whether they are prohibited and, therefore, contraband.

         On March 4, 2013, as part of a scheduled lockdown, during which corrections officials search prisoner cells and common areas for contraband, defendant Daniel Spittel, a Corrections Officer, searched plaintiff's cell. He found hundreds of pages of materials about NOI and several documents about FOI. He was not sure which materials were allowed, so he seized all of the documents that he thought might be contraband and provided them to defendant Kelly Beasley, another Corrections Officer, for further review. Beasley reviewed the materials, consulted with other Waupun staff, and conducted research to determine whether any of the materials were prohibited. Defendant Cynthia Radtke, a Captain and STG Coordinator, also reviewed the materials. All of plaintiff's materials were returned to him except five pages that were deemed prohibited STG materials because they advocated for or promoted FOI. Two pages contain rules and laws that FOI members are required to follow, two pages contain questions and answers about NOI and FOI, and one page contains an NOI pledge card with instructions to report to FOI training. Plaintiff asked defendant Francis Paliekara, a Chaplain, for his help in getting his FOI materials back. Paliekara told plaintiff that NOI is allowed but FOI is not and that whether specific material is considered contraband depends on its content.

         Beasley met with plaintiff about the five pages of confiscated FOI materials and told him that unless he sent the materials out of the prison or destroyed them he would receive a conduct report for possessing contraband. Plaintiff disagreed that the materials were contraband so refused. Beasley issued him a conduct report for violating DOC provisions of the Wisconsin Administrative Code covering “group resistance and petitions” and “possession of contraband.” Defendant John O'Donovan, a Captain, was the hearing officer for plaintiff's disciplinary hearing. After taking evidence and considering testimony, O'Donovan found plaintiff guilty. Plaintiff appealed the decision to defendant William Pollard, the Warden, who affirmed the decision.

         Later that month, plaintiff sent defendant Nevin Webster, a librarian, a request to make a photocopy of a memo from the DOC's Division of Adult Institutions Security Chief from 2006 concerning STG materials. Webster noticed that the memo was stamped “GP Library” in green, which indicated to him that the document was from the general population library at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility (Boscobel). Webster believed that the document was an original that did not belong to plaintiff and that he had removed it from the library at Boscobel, so he issued plaintiff a conduct report for violating DOC provisions of the Wisconsin Administrative Code covering “theft” and “possession of contraband.” O'Donovan was the hearing officer for plaintiff's disciplinary hearing. O'Donovan found plaintiff guilty of possessing contraband but not of theft because the evidence showed another inmate may have given the memo to plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed the decision to Pollard, who affirmed the decision.

         During this time, plaintiff held a prison job in food service. Prison job placements at Waupun generally only last two years, and plaintiff's two years were up as of April 2013. Some inmates are granted extensions, but plaintiff was not. Soon thereafter, plaintiff requested a new placement in food service, which was denied. Defendants say this is because prisoners are not allowed to start a new equivalent job placement until two years after their previous placement ends. Additionally, prison officials take a prisoner's behavioral history and institutional adjustment into account when considering a prisoner's request for a job placement, and plaintiff had been issued multiple conduct reports. Plaintiff claims he was denied the job in retaliation for his religion. Plaintiff wrote a letter to Pollard to which defendant Anthony Meli, the Security Director, responded. Meli's response stated that plaintiff was denied the job due to his conduct report history.

         Plaintiff timely filed and properly appealed three inmate complaints relevant to his claims in this case. Plaintiff complained that Radtke had taken and refuses to return his religious materials, that his religious materials are being wrongly denied, and that he was denied the food service job because of his religion. He brought this suit alleging numerous violations of his rights under the Constitution and RLUIPA. Broadly, he claims that NOI and FOI are indistinguishable groups so restrictions on FOI burden his ability to practice NOI and that prison officials at Waupun targeted him and singled out NOI for negative treatment.

         II. ...

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