MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.
Pro se Plaintiff Montorio Hines is currently an inmate at Hill Correctional Center ("Hill"). Hines, a Muslim, claims that his rights have been violated because Defendants refused to provide him a Halal diet that includes Halal meat. When he requested a dietary accommodation, rather than receiving a diet with Halal meat, Hines was provided with a diet known as the lacto-ovo diet, which, among other things, substitutes soy-based proteins for meat. Hines brought suit for alleged violations of his free exercise and establishment rights under the First Amendment, his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, his right to equal protection under the law pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, and his rights as set forth under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 42) to which Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. 55). Defendants' summary judgment motion is currently before the Court, and for the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion (Doc. 42) is
Hines is currently incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center. (Doc. 43-1, p. 6). From January 2009 to June 2014, he was incarcerated at Pinckneyville Correctional Center ("Pinckneyville"). (Id. at 14-15). Hines is a Muslim and, pursuant to his religious beliefs, is required to eat a Halal diet that is consistent with the Qur'an. (Id. at 17-18). According to him, that means he cannot eat pork, and, if he eats other meat, it must have a certain prayer or invocation pronounced over it. (Id. at 18-19). Defendants claim that Hines is not required to eat meat, but Hines, citing to religious verses attached to his response, disputes that claim and maintains that he is required by his faith to eat meat. (Doc. 55, p. 6). At his deposition, however, Hines testified that he was unsure whether he was required to eat meat at all. (Doc. 43-1, p. 21). He initially testified that he "would not necessarily say one [who practices Islam] is required to eat meat," but later he said that he did not know whether the Qur'an required him to eat meat. (Id. at 20-21).
The parties agree that an incarcerated person is permitted to abstain from any foods, the consumption of which would violate their required religious tenants. (Doc. 43, p. 3; Doc. 55, p. 4). Defendants claim, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that while he was incarcerated at Pinckneyville, Hines requested to be placed on the lacto-ovo diet for religious reasons. (Doc. 43, p. 3; Doc. 55, p. 4; Doc. 43-1, p. 27-29). The lacto-ovo diet is a meatless diet, characterized as vegetarian by Hines. (Doc. 43-1, p. 23). He believes it differs in some respects from the diet option offered by IDOC that is specifically designated "vegetarian." (Id. at 46). According to Defendant Terri Bryant, Food Services Manager at Pinckneyville, the lacto-ovo diet consists of all of the items on the general population food menu, except that all meat and meat by-products are replaced with soy products. (Doc. 43-3, p. 1). Ms. Bryant also asserts that the lacto-ovo diet is approved for Muslim inmates. (Id.). Hines, however, argues that while the lacto-ovo diet is "approved for Muslims by the Courts and enforced by the Department of Corrections in Illinois . . . it is not derived from nor has its origins in the rulings of Islam." (Doc. 55, p. 4-5).
Though Bryant did not indicate what the specific food items on the lacto-ovo diet consist of, Plaintiff testified as to the menu:
(Doc. 43-1, p. 23). Plaintiff testified that he was placed on the lacto-ovo diet after completing a religious dietary request. (Id. at 27-28). An IDOC memo shows that Hines applied for a lacto-ovo diet on the basis of his religious beliefs as a Muslim inmate on February 23, 2011. (Doc. 43-2). As part of the application process, he was interviewed by the Defendant Bryant and Defendant Sutton, the chaplain. (43-1, p. 27-28). He was approved for the diet on February 26, 2011, and was scheduled to start the diet on March 1, 2011. (Doc. 43-2).
While at Pinckneyville, Hines could purchase certain Halal meat at the commissary, though there were relatively few Halal items compared to non-Halal items. (Doc. 55, p. 5; Doc. 43-1, p. 30). He testified that he could not always afford to supplement his lacto-ovo diet with Halal items from the commissary. (Doc. 43-1, p. 51). In June 2014, Plaintiff was transferred from Pinckneyville to Hill Correctional Center. (Doc. 43-1, p. 6). Regarding the Hill commissary, Hines testified that he did not know if there were any Halal food items available for purchase at Hill; however, he stated in his response to Defendants' summary judgment motion that there are no Halal items at the Hill commissary. (Doc. 55, p. 7; Doc. 43-1, p. 30).
Since being transferred to Hill, Hines is no longer on the lacto-ovo diet. (Doc. 43-1, p. 22). He claims that he stopped eating the diet due to his health deteriorating because of the amount of soy in the diet. (Id. at 50). According to Hines, the lacto-ovo diet caused him to go to the healthcare unit two or three times with stomach pain. (Id. at 24, 52). He also claims he lost fifteen to twenty pounds during the same time period. (Id. at 24). Attached to his response, Hines included several pages of medical records which he claims demonstrate that the lacto-ovo diet caused him "serious abdominal complications," and weight loss. (Doc. 55-1, p. 1-12; Doc. 55, p. 6). According to the IDOC Food Service Administrator, Suzann Bailey, however, the regular diet food tray is designed to provide roughly 2300-2500 calories and at least eight ounces of protein to inmates daily, and the lacto-ovo diet is designed to provide "similar caloric intake as the regular diet tray." (Doc. 43-4). Hines, however, does not challenge the general nutritional adequacy of the lacto-ovo diet; rather, he argues that the diet is inadequate specifically for him, as evidenced by his weight loss and "abdominal complications." (Doc. 55, p. 6).
Hines first grieved the lack of a Halal diet consistent with his religious beliefs on October 30, 2011. (Doc. 1, p. 20-23). He grieved the lack of Halal meat and claimed that the diet was not nutritionally adequate. (Id.). His grievance was denied on November 10, 2011. (Id. at 20). There is no indication from the grievance that any of the Defendants were personally aware of it. Hines filed another grievance on February 6, 2013, raising numerous issues relating to his diet. (Id. at 40). In the grievance, Hines claimed that his diet was inadequate because he had lost 12 to 15 pounds and had gotten sick from the soy in the diet. (Id. at 40-41). He claimed he had resorted to eating non-Halal food as a result of these issues. (Id. at 41). As part of his relief, Plaintiff sought to be placed on a soy-free diet that was Halal. (Id. at 40). On February 17, 2013, Plaintiff grieved the inadequacy of his brunch meal at Pinckneyville. (Id. at 42-43). He claimed various food items that he could have eaten were "embargoed" and kept from Muslim inmates and that, as a result, his diet was inadequate, causing him either to lose weight or to have to violate his faith by eating non-Halal food to sustain his health. (Id. at 42-43).
On August 13, 2013, a grievance officer responded to both the February 2 and February 17 grievances and noted that, in addition to financial compensation, Hines sought a soy-free Halal diet. (Id. at 44). The report included a summary of a response from Defendant Bryant. (Id.). She indicated that there was no "embargo" of food and that she spoke to the inmate diet cooks to remind them to place all menu items on the food trays. Bryant said that if Hines had future issues with not receiving his food, he should notify the on-duty CFSS immediately. She also indicated that brunch menus for religious diet participants mirror the general menu with substitutions made only for meat products. Bryant did not squarely address Plaintiff's complaints of nutritional inadequacy. (Id.). She also did not address Plaintiff's request for a Halal diet. (Id.). It is also indicated as part of the response that Defendant Bryant spoke with Defendant Reiman as a result of the issues raised in Plaintiff's grievances. (Id.). Ultimately, Plaintiff's grievances were denied. (Id.).
Plaintiff filed the present suit on May 9, 2014, naming as defendants the Illinois Department of Corrections, its director, S.A. Godinez, and officials and staff members from Pinckneyville: Rick Sutton (chaplain), Terri Bryant (Dietary Supervisor), CFSS Harris (Dietary Staff), CFSS Snyder (Dietary Staff), and CFSS Reiman (Dietary Staff). On July 8, 2014, the Court issued a merits review order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (Doc. 9). In its order, the Court found that only certain claims of Count One survived: specifically, Hines's RLUIPA claim against Defendants in their official capacities only, Hines's First and Fourteenth Amendment claims, and his Eighth Amendment claims regarding weight loss and health problems only. (Id. at 9).
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs summary judgment motions. Summary judgment is "appropriate if the admissible evidence considered as a whole shows that `there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'"
After a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the adverse party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."
RELIGIOUS LAND USE AND INSTITUTIONALIZED PERSONS ACT
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) prohibits prison officials from imposing a "substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person" unless the prison can demonstrate that the burden is "(1) in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
If an inmate shows that prison officials substantially burdened his free exercise of religion, his remedies are not without limits. Plaintiff's complaint was construed as suing the defendants in their official capacities only (See Doc. 9), and sovereign immunity shields a state official from being sued for money damages in his or her official capacity.
Hines's claims against Defendants IDOC and Godinez are not so easily disposed. As a preliminary matter, Defendants seemingly concede that Hines's religious beliefs regarding Halal dietary rules are sincerely held. They also make no argument about whether any substantial burden Hines might demonstrate serves a compelling state interest and is implemented by the least restrictive means. The issue they put before the Court at this stage solely is whether Hines's exercise of his religious beliefs has been substantially burdened.
Defendants argue that Hines has not demonstrated that his religious exercise has been substantially burdened, noting, for example, that Hines is currently on the regular diet at Hill and that there is no evidence that he has requested a religious dietary accommodation at Hill. Hines alleges that he is not on the special diet because of the side effects and medical issues he endured from the large amounts of soy in the lacto-ovo diet, including two overnight stays in the Pinckneyville health care unit and weight loss while on the diet. (Doc. 55 at 6). Defendants' argument is not persuasive on this point. That he is not on the lacto-ovo diet at Hill because of the health issues he had with the diet is at the crux of Hines's complaint and goes directly towards the relief he now seeks: a Halal diet that includes Halal meat, or at the very least access to Halal meat, rather than a diet with soy-based protein substitutes for meat.
Defendants claim that they provided Plaintiff with a diet consistent with his religious beliefs by placing him on the lacto-ovo diet because Plaintiff's religious beliefs do not require him to eat meat and also because Halal items are available to Plaintiff through the commissary. Hines, though he testified in his deposition that he was not sure if his religion required him to eat meat, argues in his response, citing religious verses and teachings that he believes apply, that he does believe that he is required to eat Halal meat as a Muslim. He does not believe that a meat-free diet satisfies his religious dietary requirements. Even if Defendants disagree that Hines must eat Halal meat as part of his diet, it is his sincerely held beliefs on the issue that control.
Hines claims that Halal meat is not sold in the Hill commissary, so he is unable to satisfy the requirement of eating Halal meat by purchasing it for himself at the commissary. If he is without plausible options for a Halal diet that includes Halal meat at Hill, which he sincerely believes is central to the exercise of his religion, then a reasonable juror could find that his inability to obtain Halal meat substantially burdens his sincerely held religious beliefs. Summary judgment on the issue of a substantial burden is not appropriate. The facts viewed in a light most favorable to Hines indicate that he has a sincerely held religious belief that he must eat Halal meat and that he does not have access to Halal to consume as part of his diet.
In addition to the issue of Hines's access to Halal meat, summary judgment is inappropriate at this stage because a reasonable juror could find that Hines's religious exercise is substantially burdened because he is forced to choose between his ability to exercise his religious beliefs and adequate nutrition.
Genuine issues of material fact exist as to whether Plaintiff's exercise of religion has been substantially burdened under RLUIPA, and Defendants did not raise any arguments regarding the second portion of the RLUIPA burden-shifting analysis. As a result, the Court is left to find that a reasonable juror could find that Hines's exercise of religion has been significantly burdened and that Defendants have not met their burden to demonstrate that their actions regarding Plaintiff's diet are the least restrictive means in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. Summary judgment is not appropriate on Hines's RLUPIA claim. As discussed above, however, because only injunctive relief is available to Hines under RLUIPA, summary judgment is
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution states in relevant part that "[n]o state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
Defendants argue that Hines cannot recover on his Equal Protection claim as matter of law because there is no evidence of intentional discrimination against him. In response, Hines argues that Jewish inmates are provided with Kosher meals but Muslim inmates are not provided with Halal ones. Nonetheless, the Court finds there is no evidence of intentional or purposeful discrimination against Hines, and his Equal Protection claim fails as a matter of law.
In the case at bar, regardless of the merits of Plaintiff's assertions relating to Kosher meals being provided to Jewish inmates, there is no evidence in the record that the failure to provide a Halal meal or Halal meat is due to discrimination based on Plaintiff's faith. The Pinckneyville Food Services Manager testified that the lacto-ovo diet is a special diet approved for Muslim inmates. Plaintiff disputes this fact by asserting that while the lacto-ovo diet is "approved for Muslims by the Courts and enforced by the Department of Corrections in Illinois . . . it is not derived from nor has its origins in the rulings of Islam." (Doc. 55, p. 4-5). It is clear, however, that what Hines disputes is not whether IDOC/Pinckneyville have approved the lacto-ovo diet for Muslims, but, rather, whether the lacto-ovo diet itself conforms with his personal beliefs. The distinction is important. Contrary to demonstrating intentional or purposeful discrimination, that IDOC and/or Pinckneyville have approved the lacto-ovo diet for Muslim inmates demonstrates an attempt to accommodate Muslim inmates' religious beliefs rather than the intent to discriminate based on those beliefs.
Dietary accommodations were made for Plaintiff specifically, as is demonstrated in the IDOC memo showing that Plaintiff applied, and was approved, for an lacto-ovo diet on the basis of his Muslim faith. That Hines now asserts that the lacto-ovo diet does not comport with his religious views does not negate that the diet was provided to Plaintiff, after his own application, as an accommodation for his religious beliefs. In other words, that Hines now claims the diet is not in line with his Muslim faith does not itself demonstrate intentional or purposeful discrimination against him on the part of any defendants. Rather, the undisputed facts demonstrate an attempt to accommodate Plaintiff's religious beliefs. Regardless of the merits of Plaintiff's claim that Jewish inmates are provided Kosher food while Muslim inmates are not provided Halal meat, the lack of any evidence in this case demonstrating intentional or purposeful discrimination against Plaintiff causes his Equal Protection claim to fail as a matter of law.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishments."
To prove a claim brought under the Eighth Amendment requires a two-part showing. First, the inmate must demonstrate he was subject to a deprivation that was objectively, sufficiently serious so that an official's act or omission resulted in the denial of the minimal civilized nature of life's necessities.
Plaintiff argues his Eighth Amendment rights were violated because he suffered weight loss due to a soy allergy triggered by the soy products in the lacto-ovo diet, which, in turn, caused harm to his abdomen. As suggested under the Court's RLUIPA analysis, a reasonable juror could find that Plaintiff's health ailments and weight loss were a result of consuming the lacto-ovo diet. Viewing the record in Plaintiff's favor, the health issues alleged by Plaintiff would constitute a serious harm. The question then is which Defendants, if any, were deliberately indifferent to such harm. Defendants argue there is no evidence that any of the Defendants knew of any of Plaintiff's health issues, and that there is no evidence that any of the Defendants knew of any potential risk of harm to Plaintiff's health caused by the lacto-ovo diet.
It is certainly true that none of the Defendants knew of the risk of harm to Plaintiff when he requested the religious diet in February 2011. The grievances filed by Hines, however, indicate that Defendant Bryant and, possibly, Reiman were aware of Plaintiff's alleged health issues at least sometime after July 19, 2013. Defendant Bryant was asked to respond to the February 2013 grievances, where Hines raised his health issues, creating a factual issue as to whether Bryant knew about them. Additionally, the fact that Defendant Bryant, in her response to the grievance, indicates she discussed some of Plaintiff's concerns with Defendant Reiman, also raises a factual issue as to whether Defendant Reiman knew of Plaintiff's health problems.
If these Defendants did know of Plaintiff's alleged health issues, which he claimed were a result of his lacto-ovo diet, then a reasonable juror could find that they had knowledge of a substantial risk of harm to Hines. Since Defendant Bryant did nothing in regards to his diet, in light of her knowledge, a reasonable juror could also find she was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of harm to Hines. Summary judgment is not appropriate as to her. As a food services supervisor under Bryant, however, Defendant Reiman had no authority to change Plaintiff's diet, regardless of any knowledge of his health issues. Accordingly, Defendant Reiman is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim.
There is no evidence in the record to demonstrate that any of the remaining Defendants had actual knowledge (or any knowledge) of such a risk.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
1. Free Exercise
In order to prevail on a claim under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, a plaintiff must demonstrate that his right to practice his chosen religion was "burdened in a significant way."
The Court divides its Free Exercise analysis into two parts: (1) whether Plaintiff's right to practice his religion was burdened by alleged health issues stemming from the lacto-ovo diet; and (2) aside from the health issues, whether the mere fact that Plaintiff is not provided a special Halal diet in itself significantly burdens his religion. First, for the reasons indicated in its RLUIPA analysis, the Court finds that a reasonable juror could find that Plaintiff's religious practice was significantly burdened due to a forced choice of having to choose between practicing his religion and having adequate nutrition.
The Court turns next to the issue of whether the mere fact that Hines is not provided a special Halal diet, health issues aside, significantly burdens his religion. While Plaintiff can only obtain injunctive relief under RLUIPA, he may obtain money damages for violations of his First Amendment rights through § 1983. However, since Defendants are subject to money damages for a First Amendment violation, they are also shielded by the doctrine of qualified immunity. Without addressing this constitutional issue on its merits, the Court finds that the remainder of Plaintiff's Free Exercise claims are disposed of on qualified immunity grounds regardless of whether Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated. Therefore, a decision on the merits of the constitutional issue is unnecessary.
Qualified immunity shields prison officials from civil liability if their conduct "does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."
In the case at bar, it is important to note that Defendants were not put on notice of Plaintiff's belief that he was required to eat meat as part of his faith until he responded to their motion for summary judgment. As a result, the question for the Court to consider is whether the state of the law between Fall 2011 and February 2013 provided Defendants with fair warning that failing to provide Plaintiff with a specifically Halal-designated meal, instead providing him a vegetarian diet with soy products substituted for meat, violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. The fact that Plaintiff now asserts that he believes he is required to eat meat does not factor into the Court's qualified immunity calculus. The issue is whether the law clearly established that Hines, as a Muslim inmate, is entitled to a Halal-designated meal rather than a vegetarian diet that officials deemed consistent with the dietary requirements of Hines's faith. Assuming arguendo that their actions violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights, the Defendants would be protected by qualified immunity because the law does not clearly establish such a right.
Neither the Supreme Court nor the Seventh Circuit appears to have directly addressed the issue in this case. The closest the Seventh Circuit appears to have come is in
Even if the Defendants substantially burdened Plaintiff's First Amendment rights, the state of the law between Fall 2011 and February 2013 did not provide Defendants with fair warning that providing Hines with the lacto-ovo diet that substituted soy-based proteins for meat but failing to provide Plaintiff with a specifically Halal-designated meal violated his rights. Therefore, the remaining Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as to Plaintiff's Free Exercise claims, regardless of the merits of those claims. As such, the motion for summary judgment is
2. Establishment Clause
In regards to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a prison's policy or practice violates that clause if (1) it has no secular purpose, (2) its primary effect advances or inhibits religion, or (3) it fosters an excessive entanglement with religion.
The Seventh Circuit addressed a similar Establishment Clause issue in Nelson v. Miller, where the chaplain required Nelson to provide written verification that his requested diet was required by his Catholic faith, while not requiring such verification for Muslims and African Hebrew Israelites.
For the reasons stated above, the Court
Only the following claims shall go forward against the following defendants: