United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge United States District
Clayton VanGenderen, who is currently confined in Redgranite
Correctional Institution and representing himself, filed a
complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his
civil rights were violated. This matter comes before the
court on VanGenderen's motion for leave to proceed
without prepaying the full filing fee and to screen the
to Proceed without Prepayment of the Filing Fee
has requested leave to proceed without prepayment of the full
filing fee (in forma pauperis). A prisoner plaintiff
proceeding in forma pauperis is required to pay the
full amount of the $350.00 filing fee over time. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). VanGenderen has filed a
certified copy of his prison trust account statement for the
six-month period immediately preceding the filing of his
complaint, as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), and
has been assessed an initial partial filing fee of $1.26. The
court directed VanGenderen to pay the initial partial filing
fee or advise the court why he was unable to do so by April
12, 2019. VanGenderen has since filed a letter stating that
he lacks the funds to pay even the initial partial filing fee
and that he does not have family to send him money. Attached
to the letter is a trust account statement showing a $0.00
balance as of February 22, 2019, and a $0.08 balance as of
March 8, 2019. While the attached trust account statement
does not conclusively demonstrate an inability to pay the fee
as of late-March or early-April, it appears from
VanGenderen's letter that he lacks the funds to pay the
partial filing fee. Therefore, the court grants
VanGenderen's motion to proceed in forma
pauperis and waives the initial partial filing fee. 28
U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4).
of the Complaint
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 legally “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. 28 U.S.C. §
1915A(b). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992); Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Hutchinson ex
rel. Baker v. Spink, 126 F.3d 895, 900 (7th Cir. 1997).
state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading
system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short
and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is
entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The
complaint must contain sufficient factual matter “that
is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court accepts
the factual allegations as true and liberally construes them
in the plaintiff's favor. Turley v. Rednour, 729
F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, the
complaint's allegations “must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted).
of the Complaint
alleges that, “just prior to release and during the
time [he] was on parole/extended supervision, ”
Defendants Blake Artis, Eric Podoski, and Kati Dumfield, who
are Department of Corrections employees working in the
Division of Community Corrections in Marathon County,
Wisconsin, refused to allow him to attend the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dkt. No. 1 at 2. VanGenderen
claims his request was denied “by way of rules given
stating I was to have no contact with that church.”
Id. VanGenderen alleges that he “was not given
any reason for the rule and was not given enough time to
reach another chapel of the Mormon Church outside the
county.” Id. at 2-3. VanGenderen also alleges
that Artis and Podoski made slurs and rude comments about
inmates attending church outside of prison and that Artis
“attempted to supercede the orders of the family court
refusing to allow [VanGenderen] to comply with those orders
and attempted to make [him] cause an impass [sic] at the
court-ordered mediation.” Id. at 3.
initial matter, the complaint is not clear as to whether the
defendants' basis for denying VanGenderen's
attendance at the Church was a condition of his extended
supervision and whether VanGenderen seeks to challenge the
condition itself, the defendants' actions, or both. To
the extent that VanGenderen seeks to challenge a condition of
supervision, such as a restriction on his ability to attend
religious services without prior consent from his supervising
agent, see, e.g., Belton v. Betzhold, No.
12-CV-0053, 2012 WL 6094461, at *1 (E.D. Wis. Dec. 7, 2012),
he must bring such a claim in a habeas corpus petition rather
than in a § 1983 action. See Williams v.
Wisconsin, 336 F.3d 576, 579-80 (7th Cir. 2003);
Drollinger v. Milligan, 552 F.2d 1220, 1225 (7th
Cir. 1977); Yoder v. Wis. Dep't of Corr., No.
03-C-193-C, 2004 WL 602647, at *7 (W.D. Wis. Mar. 11, 2004).
extent that VanGenderen challenges the defendants'
actions, he states a claim under the Free Exercise Clause of
the First Amendment. A plaintiff states a free-exercise claim
if he alleges a sincere religious belief and that his
religious exercise has been substantially burdened. See
Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789, 797-98 (7th Cir. 2008);
Vision Church v. Vill. of Long Grove, 468 F.3d 975,
996-97 (7th Cir. 2006). A substantial burden on a
prisoner's religious exercise violates the First
Amendment “only if the burden is not reasonably related
to a legitimate penological interest.” Powell v.
Raemisch, No. 10-cv-202-bbc, 2010 WL 2429709, at *5
(W.D. Wis. June 11, 2010) (citing O'Lone v. Estate of
Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 350-51 (1987)). Construing
VanGenderen's complaint liberally, as this court is
required to do, Cesal v. Moats, 851 F.3d 714, 720
(7th Cir. 2017), VanGenderen states a free-exercise claim
against the defendants because a sincere religious belief can
be inferred from his allegations and the defendants'
alleged refusal to allow VanGenderen to attend a Mormon
church substantially burdens his religious exercise.
VanGenderen may proceed against the defendants in their
official capacities for prospective injunctive relief and in
their individual capacities for monetary damages.
complaint appears to challenge the denial of his rights both
while he was confined and after he was released on extended
supervision. His allegations regarding the denial of his
right to religious exercise that took place while he was in
prison state a claim under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). See 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). RLUIPA prohibits the government
from imposing “a substantial burden on the religious
exercise of a person residing in or confined to an
institution.” Id. Parolees do not meet the
definition of “residing in” or being
“confined to” any “institution.”
See Belton, 2012 WL 6094461, at *1. The Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals previously held that RLUIPA's
“substantial burden” language required a
government action that rendered religious exercise
“effectively impracticable.” Nelson v.
Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 878 (7th Cir. 2009). The Seventh
Circuit recently recognized, however, that the standard is
“much easier to satisfy, ” though the court did
not provide a working standard. See Jones v. Carter,
915 F.3d 1147, 1149-50 (7th Cir. 2019). VanGenderen's
allegations are sufficient to state a RLUIPA claim because it
can be inferred at this stage that denying him the ability to
attend a Mormon church is not the least restrictive means of
furthering a compelling government interest. See
§ 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2). VanGenderen may only pursue
injunctive relief under RLUIPA. See Nelson, 570 F.3d
at 889, abrogated on other grounds by Jones v.
Carter, 915 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2019); Powell,
2010 WL 2429709, at *5.
other allegations against Podoski and Artis do not state a
claim. Podoski and Artis' “rude” comments
about inmates attending church are insufficient to state a
claim under § 1983. See Perales v. Bowlin, 644
F.Supp.2d 1090, 1099 (N.D. Ind. 2009) (citing Ivey v.
Wilson, 832 F.2d 950, 955 (6th Cir. 1987) and
Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (9th Cir.
1987)). Likewise, VanGenderen's allegations that Podoski
“attempted to supercede the orders of the family
court” and “attempted to make [VanGenderen] cause
an impass [sic] at the court-ordered mediation” appear
to allege a denial of access to courts, but they are