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Ali v. Eckstein

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 13, 2018

OUATI K. ALI, Plaintiff,


          J.P. Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge

         1. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Ouati Ali (“Ali”), a prisoner at Green Bay Correctional Institution (“GBCI”), brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Scott Eckstein (“Eckstein”), Michelle Haese (“Haese”), and Michael Donovan (“Donovan”), employees of GBCI, for a violation of his First Amendment rights. Specifically, Ali alleges that the defendants prevented him from fasting properly during Ramadan in 2016.

         The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, and the motion has been fully briefed. (Docket #24-32, #35-48). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to Ali's claims against Donovan and Eckstein but will deny their motion as to Ali's claim against Haese.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that the court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit” under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). The court must not weigh the evidence presented or determine credibility of witnesses; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010). The party opposing summary judgment “need not match the movant witness for witness, nor persuade the court that [his] case is convincing, [he] need only come forward with appropriate evidence demonstrating that there is a pending dispute of material fact.” Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 921 (7th Cir. 1994).

         3. RELEVANT FACTS

         Ali is an inmate in the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (“DOC”). He is an adherent of Islam. At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Ali was incarcerated at GBCI. Donovan was the chaplain at GBCI, Haese was the social services director, and Eckstein was the warden.

         3.1 GBCI Policy Regarding Religious Dietary Observances

         At DOC institutions, including GBCI, religious diets are available to inmates whose religious beliefs require them to adhere to religious dietary laws. (Docket #37 at 2). For example, inmates who observe Ramadan, a Muslim holy month that includes daytime fasting, can sign up to receive meal bags to consume prior to dawn and after sunset. Id. at 2-4. Inmates can also sign up to participate in the Eid ul-Fitr meal, a feast celebrated at the end of Ramadan. Id. at 4-5.

         Each year, the religious practices coordinator for DOC sends a memo to the institutions with dates for annual religious celebratory meals and multi-day religious observations. Id. at 5. This includes dates for Ramadan, which occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Id. Institutions are required to post the information from the memo in the chapel, and they may also post it in other places, such as the restrictive housing units or on facility televisions, at the discretion of the warden. Id. GBCI posts the memo in the chapel, library, and in the restrictive housing units. Prior to 2016, GBCI broadcasted the information on institution televisions as well, but it discontinued that practice before the events of this case took place. Id. at 5-6. Inmates can also request information about religious observance dates by writing to the chaplain. Id. at 7.

         Pursuant to DOC policy, inmates must sign up to participate in Ramadan at least sixty days in advance to receive the multi-day religious meal accommodations. Id. at 4. Inmates at GBCI sign up for Ramadan by submitting a written request to Chaplain Donovan. Id. Donovan's practice is to retain inmates' requests for participation in Ramadan in order to double check the participant list prior to sending it to the food service department. Id. at 9. In 2016, Ramadan began on June 6, meaning that inmates were required to notify Donovan of their intent to participate by April 7. Id. at 8.

         3.2 Ali's Request to Participate in Ramadan

         Ali claims that he sent a request form to Donovan on April 1, 2016 asking that he be placed on the participation list for the Ramadan fast and that he be sent the additional form necessary to participate in the Eid ul-Fitr meal. Id. at 8. According to Ali, Donovan returned Ali's request form to him on April 4 along with the Eid ul-Fitr sign-up form. Id. Donovan does not recall ever receiving Ali's request or responding to it, but says that if he did receive it, he must have mistakenly overlooked the portion requesting to be placed on the Ramadan list. Id. at 8-10. Ali produced a copy of the alleged April 1 request form in opposition to summary judgment; it includes handwriting in the section for an official's response that reads “here is the form.” (Docket #43 at 1-2). Donovan cannot confirm that the handwriting is his because he has no recollection of writing it. (Docket #28 at 5). The defendants concede that, for the purposes of summary judgment, the Court must accept Ali's assertion that he sent a timely sign-up request. (Docket #44 at 2).

         Sometime soon after (Ali says April 5), Ali sent a request to Donovan asking why information about Ramadan had not been displayed on the institution televisions that year. (Docket #47 at 4). Then, sometime between April 10 and 13, after Ali learned that other inmates had received confirmation of their placement on the Ramadan participation list, Ali sent a second request form (without mentioning the first) to Donovan asking to be placed on the participation list. Id. at 4-5. On April 13 or 14, Ali received responses from Donovan to both of these inquiries stating that the April 7 deadline had passed and that “management” no longer allowed the information about Ramadan deadlines to be posted on the televisions. Id. at 5; see also (Docket #37 at 13).

         On April 14, Ali encountered Donovan on his way to the dining facility. (Docket #47 at 6). Ali says he asked Donovan if he had been placed on the Ramadan participation list per his April 1 request. Id. Donovan told Ali he did not recall receiving the request and because Donovan had already turned over the final list to the kitchen staff, Ali would have to talk to Haese, Donovan's supervisor, to resolve the issue. Id.

         On April 15, Ali wrote to Haese to inform her that many inmates were not able to sign up for the fast because there had been no television announcement about the deadline that year. Id. at 6-7. He attached his second (untimely) request to Donovan to be put on the list as well as his correspondence with Donovan about the deadline not being broadcasted on the institution televisions. Id. According to Ali, he also informed Haese, in a separate correspondence sent the same day, that he had timely submitted a sign-up request to Donovan and included his alleged April 1 request form. Id.[1] On April 16, Ali received a response from Haese in which she explained why GBCI did not broadcast information about Ramadan on the televisions that year. Id.

         On April 18, Ali wrote to Haese again, this time asking that the document attached to his first correspondence to her be returned to him. Id. at 9. Haese wrote back on April 23, stating “Yes-Also I am working on your ...

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