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Troutman v. Miami Correctional Facility

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

August 25, 2017




         Michael Troutman, a pro se prisoner, filed a complaint that can only be described as a blunderbuss. It's brought against 19 defendants that he encountered while incarcerated at the Miami Correctional Facility. ECF 5. At times, Troutman's complaint is unclear. As best I can tell, the gist of his complaint centers around two things: his employment at a prison work program named the Prison Enterprise Network (PEN); and his inability to attend Friday evening Islamic services at the prison. As for the specific claims he is raising, although again unclear, I believe they are set out in his request for declaratory judgment. See ECF 5 at 44-45. Thus, for purposes of clearly identifying his claims, I will rely on that section of Troutman's complaint for guidance.

         "A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, I must review the merits of a prisoner complaint and dismiss it if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

         As a threshold matter, Troutman's complaint contains several claims against the PEN program and the Miami Correctional Facility ("Miami"). However, neither are suable entities because they are merely divisions of the Indiana Department of Correction. Neither PEN nor Miami are legal entities separate from the agency they serve, and therefore they are not subject to suit. See Whiting v. Marathon Cty. Sheriffs Deft, 382 F.3d 700, 704 (7th Cir. 2004).

         I. Free Exercise and RLUIPA Claims

         Troutman's first claim is that Superintendent Kathy Griffin, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Craig Grage, Assistant Superintendent of Programs Sharon Hawk, Chaplain William Croto, and Chaplain Alex Beane violated his right to free exercise of his religion. Troutman, a Muslim, was hired as an inmate worker in the PEN program in May 2015. ECF 5 at 14. His shift at PEN was from 6:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. According to Troutman, between May 2015 and January 2016, he was permitted to go directly to Friday prayer after the conclusion of his shift. Id. at 15. However, on February 5, 2016, Chaplains Croto and Beane told him that Assistant Superintendent Hawk said he could not go to Friday service anymore. He claims that he sent complaints to Grage, Hawk, and Griffin but they never responded. He also sent a complaint to Chaplain Beane, who responded that Troutman had not been permitted to go to the service because he had turned in his paperwork late.

         In March 2016, Troutman submitted a complaint with the Department of Justice and sent a copy of his complaint to Assistant Superintendent Hawk. He also wrote a complaint to Assistant Superintendent Grage, but Grage responded that he did not oversee prison programs and he forwarded the complaint to a different department within the prison. Troutman sent additional complaints to Hawk, Griffin, and Grage, and forwarded copies of his complaints to Defendants IDOC Commissioner Bruce Lemmon, IDOC Deputy Commissioner James Basinger, and Executive Director of IDOC Adult Facilities William Wilson.

         In April 2016, Assistant Superintendent Hawk responded to Troutman's complaint. Hawk told Troutman that to fix his schedule conflict he would have to quit his job at PEN and apply for a different job. Hawk stated in her response that she would "make this happen." Two hours after he received Hawk's response, PEN Shop Supervisor Short informed Troutman that he had been fired because he was unhappy and had filed numerous grievances about the schedule conflict. Troutman claims that Short already had prepared a negative job evaluation for him, in anticipation of his termination. Short told him that the decision to terminate his employment had come from Miami, not PEN. Troutman claims that PEN Plant Manager Roark and Short then prepared a "false classification hearing report, " ECF 5 at 26, and they again reiterated that the termination decision had come from Miami. He was given 90 days unpaid time to find another job.

         After his termination, Troutman wrote to Hawk. Hawk claimed that she was not involved in his termination. He claims that when he wrote to Roark, Roark told him that he was fired because he had missed too many days of work. He claims that Classification Supervisor Clark told him that he was fired because he received a negative job evaluation. He also claims that he wrote to Doug Evans, the CEO of PEN, but Evans did not respond.

         Troutman argues that Griffin, Grage, Hawk, Croto, and Beane violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of his religion by prohibiting him from attending Friday prayer after his shift ended at PEN. He also claims that these defendants violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Prisoners have a right to exercise their religion under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Vinning-El v. Evans, 657 F.3d 591, 592-93 (7th Cir. 2011). Nevertheless, restrictions that limit the exercise of religion are permissible if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives, which include safety, security, and economic concerns. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987).

         RLUIPA affords even broader protections than the First Amendment by providing that "No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . . unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person - (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-l(a); see generally Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015). A particular restriction imposes a substantial burden on an inmate's religious practice when it" 'seriously' violates or contradicts an inmate's religious beliefs." West v. Grams, 607 F.App'x 561, 567 (7th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). However, the statute does not authorize an award of money damages against state officials; an inmate may only obtain injunctive relief under RLUIPA. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 285 (2011).

         Troutman may proceed with his First Amendment claim against Griffin, Hawk, Croto, and Beane. At this stage of the litigation, it appears that Troutman, and other Muslim inmates in his job assignment, were prohibited from attending Friday night service because their job assignment conflicted with attendance at the service. However, it remains unclear whether there was a legitimate reason for imposing restrictions on this practice. But, given the inferences to which Troutman is entitled, he has stated a plausible claim against Defendants Griffin, Hawk, Croto, and Beane and may proceed against them in their individual capacities for monetary and injunctive relief. Troutman may also proceed against Defendant Griffin in her official capacity for injunctive relief for violating RLUIPA.

         Defendant Grage, however, will be dismissed. When Troutman contacted Grage, Grage informed him that, as Assistant Superintendent of Operations, he did not oversee religious programs. Grage then forwarded Troutman's complaint to the appropriate department. Grage was not responsible for the alleged violations of Troutman's rights, and took action to see that his complaints were addressed by the appropriate people. Troutman has failed to allege how Grage was personally involved in violating his federal rights. Therefore, he may not proceed with his First Amendment claim against Grage.

         Troutman also claims that Defendants Griffin, Grage, Hawk, Croto, and Beane violated his rights under RLUIPA by periodically cancelling the Friday prayer service. The Friday service was cancelled on April 3, 2015 and July 3, 2015 due to the State holiday of Good Friday and Independence Day. ECF 5 at 14. The facility cancelled these two services due to the unavailability of a chaplain or outside volunteer to lead the services, as well as staff shortages. The prayer service was again cancelled on January 1, 2016, presumably for the same administrative reasons. The cancellation of these three services over a nine-month period does not plausibly identify a substantial burden on Troutman's free exercise of his faith. Cf. Turner v. Hamblin, 590 F.App'x 616, 620 (7th Cir. 2014) (affirming denial of prisoner's claim that, in light of the frequently cancelled Islamic services, the prison's ban on inmate-led services substantially burdened his free religious exercise); Maddox v. Love,655 F.3d 709, 718-19 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Prisons need not ...

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