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Gill v. Michel

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 16, 2019

CHARLES B. GILL, SR., Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Charles B. Gill, Sr., is a Wisconsin state prisoner representing himself. The court screened his complaint and permitted him to proceed on a claim that the defendants violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion based on allegations that they prevented him from praying correctly for ten days while he was confined at the Brown County Jail. Dkt. No. 14 at 7. The court also allowed the plaintiff to proceed on a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim based on allegations that the defendants discriminated against him because of his faith. Id. at 7-8. The plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment, dkt. no. 58, and the defendants have filed a joint motion for summary judgment, dkt. no. 62. The court addresses these motions below.

         I. Facts

         Since 1994, the plaintiff has been an American Sunni Muslim who adheres to the tenets of Islamic Faith. Dkt. No. 70 at ¶3. The plaintiff was confined at the Brown County Jail (“BCJ”) from August 19, 2016 to June 9, 2017, when he was transferred temporarily to the Outagamie County Jail due to overcrowding. Id. at ¶¶7-8. Defendant Heidi Michel is a captain with the Brown County Sheriff's Office and works at the BCJ. Dkt. No. 72 at ¶12. During the plaintiff's confinement there, Michel was a lieutenant. Id. at ¶13. Defendants Correctional Officers J. Mekash, Brent Meyer and Ian Higgins work at the BCJ. Id. at ¶¶16-18. Chaplain Karen Konrad, who is not a defendant, consults as the BCJ's chaplain. Id. at ¶19.

         The plaintiff received a copy of the inmate handbook and jail rules when he entered the BCJ. Dkt. No. 72 at ¶2. One of the “Recreation area (gym)” rules states: “Private inmate use of the gym is not allowed. All meetings/sessions must be approved by Jail Administration.” Id. at ¶3. One of the “Dayroom” rules states, “You are not allowed to loiter around the phone, sink, water fountain, or gym entrance area. Standing in the dayroom for an unreasonable amount of time can be considered loitering.” Id. The defendants construe these rules to prohibit inmate-led worship in the gym and dayroom. Dkt. No. 72 at ¶4. According to the defendants, the policies and rules against inmate-led worship in the inmate handbook and jail rules serve legitimate penological interests and are in place to prevent inmates from plotting staff assaults, escapes, or violations of prison rules. Dkt. No. 72 at ¶¶4, 5. The defendants state that these rules are in place primarily for security reasons, such as maintaining social order, and preventing organized crime and gang activity within the jail. Id. at ¶5.

         In 2017, Ramadan took place from May 26, 2017 to June 24, 2017.[1] Dkt. No. 72 at ¶9. In her declaration, defendant Michel states that BCJ staff received the plaintiff's “first” religious request on May 21, 2017, when he asked for a prayer blanket for Ramadan. Dkt. No. 64 at ¶10. She stated that the next day, May 22, the plaintiff made a request for a Halal diet. Id. at ¶22. Michel averred that these requests were denied “due to no mention of [the plaintiff's] Islamic faith at the time of booking.” Id. Despite that fact, Michel says that she “reached out” to Chaplain Karen Konrad, who met with the plaintiff and approved his dietary request. Id. at ¶13. Konrad confirmed in her declaration that she received the requests for the prayer towel and the Halal diet on May 22, 2017. Dkt. No. 66 at ¶10. Konrad stated that she interviewed the plaintiff the same day, concluded that he had a basic understanding of some of the core beliefs of the Islamic faith, granted his request for a Halal diet and provided him with a prayer towel. Id. at ¶¶11-13.

         The plaintiff states that from May 26, 2017 (the first day of Ramadan) to the afternoon of May 31, 2017, defendant Officer Higgins allowed him to pray in the gym.[2] Dkt. No. 70 at ¶4. On May 31, 2017, defendant Officer Meyer told the plaintiff to pray in his cell and did not let the plaintiff pray the last three prayers of that day in the gym. Id. at ¶5. On June 4, 2017, Higgins told the plaintiff to pray in his cell. Id. at ¶7.

         That day-June 4, 2017-the plaintiff filed grievance #2017-001125. Dkt. No. 70 at ¶6. In the grievance, the plaintiff alleged that the BCJ offered services to Christians, who could pray in the gym, but not to Muslims. Dkt. No. 72 at ¶27. He also alleged that, as a Muslim, he could not pray in his cell because he would have to pray next to a toilet. Id.

         In her declaration, Konrad stated, “Over the years, I contacted Imams- religious leaders in the Muslim community-at mosques in Green Bay, Appleton, and Milwaukee to enquire if they would come to the BCJ to lead prayer services. Each Imam declined.” Dkt. No. 66 at ¶14. Konrad attested that she'd also asked the Imams about whether Islamic prayer rules “prohibited an inmate from praying on their own, in their cell, due to the presence of a toilet.” Id. at ¶15. She stated,

16. Based on my conversations with the Green Bay Mosque Imam, Appleton Mosque Imam, and the Milwaukee Mosque Imam; my understanding was that Islamic rules did not prohibit [the plaintiff] from praying in his cell because the Islamic god, Allah, would be understanding about [the defendant's] circumstances while praying.
17. The Imams stated that he could pray in his cell if he kept it clean and prayed as far away from the toilet as possible, and they also said that laying something over the top was an option as well.

Id. at ¶¶16-17.

         In her declaration, Michel stated, “On June 4, 2017, [the plaintiff] filed a grievance against BCJ for not offering Islamic prayer services, and Correctional Officer Mekash met with [the plaintiff] after I spoke to the Chaplain.” Dkt. No. 64 at ¶14. This statement doesn't provide a clear chronology, but it appears that after Michel saw the plaintiff's complaint, she contacted Konrad. Michael indicates that Konrad told her about reaching out to Imams in Green Bay and Milwaukee, and about the information the chaplain had learned from them. Id. at ¶¶15-16. The chaplain also told Michel that she'd tried to get Islamic leaders to come lead services at BCJ but had been unsuccessful. Id. at ¶16. Michel attested that she'd “reported back to correctional officer (“CO”) Mekash before his meeting with [the plaintiff].” Id. at ¶17. Konrad confirmed in her declaration that she'd “discussed the June 4, 2017, grievance and what [she] learned from the Imams with then-Lieutenant Michel.” Dkt. No. 66 at ¶18.

         Defendant Officer Mekash attested that he reviewed the plaintiff's grievance. Dkt. No. 65 at ¶6. Mekash averred that he explained to the plaintiff that the BCJ didn't have a volunteer to lead Islamic services in the gym or dayroom, but asked the plaintiff to let the chaplain know if the plaintiff knew of anyone who qualified. Id. at ¶¶7-8. He also explained to the plaintiff the policy that prohibited inmates from using the gym or the dayroom for individually-led services. Id. at ¶9. Finally, he stated that he relayed to the plaintiff the chaplain's information about the Imams' views of performing prayers ina call with a toilet. Id. at ¶10. He suggested that the plaintiff put something in front of the toilet to block it, and concluded that the plaintiff's grievance was unfounded. Id. at ¶¶11-12. The plaintiff's proposed findings of fact indicate that during this meeting with Mekash, the plaintiff “explained to Mekash about Catholics praying and taking communion in the gym.” Dkt. No. 60 at ¶9.

         On June 5, 2017, the plaintiff appealed the ruling. Id. at ¶11. Michel says that she reviewed the appeal and concluded that it was unfounded. Dkt. No. 64 at ¶20. Michel attached the grievance and the summary showing her response to her declaration. Dkt. No. 64-2. The summary shows that Michel responded to the appeal as follows:

Mr. Gill, I am in receipt of your appealed grievance. I understand your frustration however we are not denying your right to practice your religion. We do not allow inmate led religion practices that is why you cannot utilize the gym for praying. The other religions you reference are actually ran by the jail ministry. We have attempted many times to obtain someone from the Muslim faith to volunteer in our facility but we have not had any success. As far as your concern with praying by the toilet, we have investigated this matter and many of the leaders in the Muslim religion have indicated that is preferred not to pray by a toilet but exceptions can be made-the important thing is to pray no matter where you are. Grievance is closed and unfounded.

Id. at 3.

         The plaintiff states in his proposed findings of fact that he told both Michel and Mekash that it was forbidden for him to pray next to a toilet. Dkt. No. 60 at ¶17. Catholics could pray and take communion in the gym because they were led by an outside religious leader. Id. at ¶18. The plaintiff states that he felt “emotional as well as felt some type of prejudice” because of his religion, because the Catholics could pray in the gym and he could not. Id. at ¶20.

         The plaintiff states in his declaration that from May 31, 2017 until his June 9, 2017 transfer to the Outagamie County Jail, he was not allowed to pray correctly at the BCJ, and that he was forced to miss forty-eight prayers during the month of Ramadan. Dkt. No. 61 at ¶19. He says that while at the Outagamie County Jail, he prayed in the dayroom without a problem. Id. ¶20.

         II. Analysis

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         “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 also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Ames v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 629 F.3d 665, 668 (7th Cir. 2011). “Material facts” are those under the applicable substantive law that “might affect the outcome of the suit.” See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute over “material fact” is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). “An affidavit or declaration used to support or oppose a motion must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant or declarant is competent to ...

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