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Ali v. West

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

January 17, 2017

OUATI K. ALI, Plaintiff,


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge.

         On December 19, 2016, the Court screened Plaintiff's original complaint. (Docket #8). The Court found that Plaintiff failed to state any viable claims for relief, but it permitted him to amend his complaint. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff submitted an amended complaint on December 29, 2016. (Docket #9).

         As noted in the first screening order, the Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint, or portion thereof, if the prisoner has raised claims that are “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b). All of the standards cited in the first screening order remain applicable here. (Docket #8 at 1-3).

         To show why Plaintiff's amended allegations largely fail to correct his prior errors, the Court will relate them in detail. Initially, Plaintiff describes the jobs and authority of each of the named defendants. Defendant Kelli West (“West”) is the Religious Coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and, in that capacity, she is allegedly “responsible for the overall operations of the department and each institution under its jurisdiction, including Green Bay Correctional Institution, ” the prison where Plaintiff is incarcerated. (Docket #9 at 2). Defendant Michelle Haese (“Haese”) is the Institution Social Service Director. Id. She is “responsible for the over all operations of the institution” and she “executes its policy.” Id. Defendant Kelly Salinas (“Salinas”) is a Corrections Complaint Examiner and is “responsible for overseeing the overall operations of the department's complaint division and each institution under its jurisdiction.” Id. Defendant Alan DeGroot (“DeGroot”) is the Institution Complaint Examiner at Plaintiff's prison. Id. He is “responsible for its day-to-day operations and executes its policies as it pertains to inmate grievances.” Id. Defendant Cindy O'Donnell (“O'Donnell”) is the Secretary of the Office of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and she is “responsible for its day-to-day operations and executes its policies as it pertains to inmate grievances for the state of Wisconsin.” Id. Defendant Scott Eckstein (“Eckstein”) is the warden of the prison where Plaintiff is housed and is “responsible for the day-to-day operations and executes its policies.” Id. Finally, Defendant Michael Donovan is the chaplain at Plaintiff's prison and is “responsible for the day-to-day operations and executes its policies.” Id. at 3.

         In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on or around March 29, 2016, a fellow inmate instructed him to submit a request to the prison's Chapel Services department for provision of the “Eid Meal, ” which the Court interprets as the special meal eaten during the Eid-al-Fitr feast at the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (Docket #9 at 4).[1] That same date, he “forwarded to be placed on the list for the Ramadan Participation that was to began [sic] June 6, 2016.” Id.

         On April 4, 2016, Donovan sent Plaintiff a “New Religious Practice or Property” form. Id. Plaintiff alleges that this “was the incorrect form.” Id. He further alleges that Donovan never acknowledged whether Plaintiff had been placed on the list for Ramadan participation as he had requested. Id. On April 5, 2016, Plaintiff sent an interview/information request to Donovan, asking if he had been added to the list for Ramadan participation. Id. at 4-5. Donovan replied on April 13, 2016, stating in part that “[t]he deadline to sign up for Ramadan was April 7, 2016. . .and management would not allow him to put a memo on channel 8, posting a deadline date.” Id. at 5.

         On or around April 15, 2016, Plaintiff, along with a fellow Muslim inmate, were en route to the dining facility when they crossed paths with Donovan. Id. Plaintiff asked Donovan again whether he had been placed on the “Ramadan list.” Id. Donovan responded that he would not place Plaintiff's name on the list and that Plaintiff should write to Haese. Id.

         Plaintiff did so on April 15, 2016, sending Haese “an Interview/Information Request attached with Donovan's response.” Id. Plaintiff does not further describe what he wrote in this request to Haese. See Id. She responded on some later date, saying “[b]e patient, I am trying to resolve the problem.” Id. On April 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed an inmate grievance which “presented facts relating to [the amended] complaint.” See Id. at 3. He provides no further details as to the contents of that grievance. See id.

         On or around April 22, 2016, Plaintiff, along with two other inmates, met with Eckstein and prison security director Kind (whose first name is not given). Id. at 5. Plaintiff claims that he and his associates questioned Eckstein and Kind regarding being denied participation in the 2016 Ramadan fast. Id. The inmates voiced concern that they “were not notified of the 2016 Ramadan by channel 8 bulletin and how the institution never notified inmates of this change in policy.” Id. According to Plaintiff, Eckstein “agreed that the new system was not working, for there had been other inmates complaining of not being notified.” Id. Eckstein “assured [the inmates] that he [would] look into the issue” and follow up with them. Id.

         On May 11, 2016, the complaint examiner dismissed Plaintiff's April 18 complaint, which Plaintiff appealed on May 20. Id. at 3. On June 14, 2016, the dismissal was affirmed by the corrections complaint examiner. Id. Plaintiff received notice of this decision on July 13, 2016. Id. at 4.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff alleges two claims for deprivation of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 6. First, Defendants violated his right to the free exercise of his religion under the First Amendment when they denied him participation in the Ramadan fast. Id. Second, Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when they “deprived him of his liberty to practice his religion without government interference.” Id.

         Plaintiff's amended complaint generally fails to state claims upon which relief may be granted. The Court will discuss each of Plaintiff's specific claims in turn, but first, it should be noted that the amended complaint omits several details which were included in the original complaint. Plaintiff was expressly instructed in the Court's original screening order that his amended complaint “supersedes the prior complaint and must be complete in itself without reference to the original complaint.” (Docket #8 at 7) (citing Duda v. Bd. of Educ. of Franklin Park Pub. Sch. Dist. No. 84, 133 F.3d 1054, 1056-57 (7th Cir. 1998)). Plaintiff's failure to both replicate his prior allegations and improve upon them is the source of many of the deficiencies described below.


         To prevail on a claim that Defendants, by denying him participation in the Ramadan fast, deprived Plaintiff the right to the free exercise of his religion, Plaintiff must allege facts showing that the prison officials in question “personally and unjustifiably placed a substantial burden on his religious practices.” Thompson v. Holm, 809 F.3d 376, 379 (7th Cir. 2016); Conyers v. Abitz, 416 F.3d 580, 585 (7th Cir. 2005). A burden is “substantial” when it “put[s] substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, ” Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 707, 717-18 (1981), or where it forces a person to “choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting [governmental] benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion. . .on the other hand, ” Sherbertv. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 404 (1963). A burden is “unjustified” if it is not reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987). A rule that is ‚Äúneutral and of general ...

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