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Amonoo v. Sparling

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 21, 2017

KWESI B. AMONOO, Plaintiff,
v.
KAREN SPARLING, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          STEPHEN L. CROCKER Magistrate Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Kwesi B. Amonoo is proceeding in this § 1983 civil suit on claims that three correctional officers at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution (NLCI) violated his rights under RLUIPA and the First Amendment by confiscating and destroying his prayer oil on two separate occasions. On March 1, 2017, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 36. After plaintiff responded to the motion, defendants filed a motion for sanctions in which they argue that this entire case should be dismissed with prejudice because plaintiff fabricated evidence in opposing summary judgment. Dkt. 54. After reviewing the documents in question, I agree with defendants that two of plaintiff's documents appear to be obvious fabrications. I also agree that dismissal with prejudice is an appropriate sanction for plaintiff's actions. Before dismissing the case, however, I will give plaintiff one more opportunity to prove that the documents are not falsified by submitting the original documents in question so that I may review them. If my review confirms that they are fabrications -- or if plaintiff fails to submit the originals by the deadline below -- I will dismiss this case with prejudice and assess a “strike” against plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) for filing a frivolous lawsuit. On the other hand, if a review of the document raises questions as to their authenticity, I will issue a separate opinion addressing the merits of defendants' summary judgment arguments.

         OPINION

         I. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Plaintiff's First Amendment and RLUIPA claims arise out of two separate incidents in which correctional officers confiscated and destroyed prayer oil found in his cell - in February 2014 and October 2014. Defendants concede in their summary judgment materials that they discarded oil that was confiscated from plaintiff's cell on the two dates in question.

         In the February 2014 incident, the undisputed facts show that Officer Cara Holsclaw confiscated a bottle of oil, along with other items, during a random search of the cell plaintiff shared with another inmate.[1] Holsclaw apparently assumed the oil belonged to plaintiff's cell mate and, after pouring out the oil, she returned the bottle to the cell mate. To support their theory that the oil did not belong to plaintiff, defendants submitted evidence showing that plaintiff had not received any new prayer oil since 2011. Additionally, plaintiff testified at his deposition that a bottle of prayer oil typically lasts four or five months. Thus, defendants argue, plaintiff likely did not have any oil in his possession in February 2014.

         The second incident, in October 2014, also occurred after a random cell search. This time, Officer Kelly Kutina confiscated a spray bottle containing a substance she could not identify. She took it to the officer's station, intending to ask plaintiff about it later. At some point, Officer Lori McDonald came upon it, saw that it was leaking, and threw it away. The undisputed facts show that plaintiff received a new bottle of prayer oil the following day from an order he had placed previously.

         Defendants present compelling arguments in their summary judgment materials as to why these facts cannot sustain First Amendment or RLUIPA claims. They argue that plaintiff cannot sustain a claim regarding the February 2014 incident because: (1) the bottle of oil that was discarded belonged to plaintiff's cell mate, not plaintiff, and (2) even if it was plaintiff's oil, his religious exercise was not substantially burdened by its disposal because he could have simply bought more oil. Instead, the evidence shows that plaintiff chose to spend his money on snacks and other items and did not purchase or receive any new oil for several months. With respect to the October 2014 incident, defendants argue that plaintiff's religious exercise was not substantially burdened because he received a new bottle of oil the day after his first bottle was destroyed.

         Finally, defendants argue that there is no basis for injunctive relief under RLUIPA because, contrary to the allegations in plaintiff's complaint, inmates are permitted to possess prayer oil so long as it is contained in its original bottle. In other words, none of plaintiff's oil would have been destroyed if it had simply been stored properly.

         II. Alleged Falsified Documents

         In an attempt to raise a factual dispute, plaintiff appears to have submitted two pieces of fabricated evidence. First, plaintiff submitted a property receipt/disposition form, allegedly from 2013, purportedly showing that he receive a bottle of oil at NLCI one year before the February 2014 incident in which Officer Holsclaw disposed of oil from his cell. Dkt. 46-1. Plaintiff points to the receipt as evidence to refute defendants' position that the oil Holsclaw destroyed belonged to plaintiff's cell mate and not to him, and also to demonstrate that having prayer oil on hand was essential to his religious practice. Without the 2013 receipt, DOC's property records show that the last time plaintiff possessed prayer oil was in 2011.

         In support of their motion for sanctions, defendants point to evidence showing that plaintiff's 2013 property receipt is fabricated. In particular, Lynn Washetas, the Corrections Program Supervisor at NLCI, submitted a declaration stating that the 2013 property receipt is not found in the property file kept at the prison. Dkt. 36, ¶ 6. It looks different than other NLCI property receipts because it does not list the institution at the top, and is not Dated: the top. Dkt. 36-1 at 3-6. The reason it looks different, defendants argue, is that the receipt is actually a receipt that was issued to plaintiff while he was at Redgranite Correctional Institution in 2009.

         After comparing the two receipts, I agree that the 2013 receipt appears to be an alteration of the 2009 receipt. It appears that plaintiff took the 2009 receipt and added “1 oil” to the list of other property items he received. It also looks like he whited out “2009, ” changed the date at the bottom from “2-23-09" to “2-23-13, ” changed the unit from “F” to “B, ” and smudged the signature of the officer. Other than these changes, the receipts are identical, including the specific property received and destroyed by plaintiff.

         The second document plaintiff appears to have fabricated is a property inventory document showing that he arrived at NLCI with two 8 ounce bottles of hair oil, which he apparently could use as prayer oil. Dkt. 46-1. He relies on the inventory to support his claim that the oil destroyed in February 2014 was his, and also to show that, because his prayers were so important to him, he always had oil on hand to use in performing his prayers. Again, however, defendants submit evidence showing that the property inventory was falsified. They submit an authenticated property inventory showing what property ...


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