United States District Court, N.D. Indiana
THOMAS A. WENZEL, Plaintiff,
SHERIFF DAVID REYNOLDS, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT
A. Wenzel, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a complaint
naming three defendants: Sheriff David Reynolds, Officer
Castle, and Chaplain Burke. “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).
Nevertheless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this Court
must review the complaint and dismiss it if the action is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks
monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such
alleges that on February 9, 2018, while he was a pre-trial
detainee being held at the Porter County Jail, an incident
occurred that resulted in an inmate being removed from the
housing unit. In response to the incident, the officers took
away telephone, television, and microwave privileges for 23
hours. Wenzel planned to phone his son that afternoon. He
asked that the phones be turned back on so that he could make
his call, but his request was denied. In his frustration with
the other inmates, he threatened them with violence and was
taken to segregation. Because Wenzel was unable to place that
phone call, his son now refuses to speak to him. Wenzel's
complaint does not indicate who denied his request that he be
permitted to call his son.
1983 creates a cause of action for damages based on personal
liability. A plaintiff must show the defendant's personal
involvement or participation, or direct responsibility for
the conditions of which he complains, by demonstrating a
causal link between the defendant's conduct and the
plaintiff's injury. See Starzenski v. City of
Elkhart, 87 F.3d 872, 879 (7th Cir. 1996); Benson v.
Cady, 761 F.2d 335, 339 (7th Cir. 1985). Wenzel has not
established a link between the refusal to allow him to call
his son and any of the defendants he has named in this
lawsuit. Furthermore, the refusal to allow Wenzel to place a
single phone call to his son does not violate any provision
of the Constitution. See Flores v. O'Donnell,
No. 99-C-787-C, 2000 WL 34237508, *2 (7th Cir. Nov. 27, 2000)
(noting that prohibiting the plaintiff from visiting with his
children on one occasion did not support a constitutional
claim). “Not every wrong committed under color of law,
however, is offered redress by the Constitution[.]”
Leslie v. Doyle, 125 F.3d 1132, 1138 (7th Cir.
1998). Therefore, he cannot proceed on this claim.
segregation, Wenzel asked for his religious book. Wenzel is
an Odinist. Even though inmates are allowed to have a
religious book in disciplinary segregation, Officer Castle
told Wenzel that he could not have the book because it was
not a Bible or Quran. 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, correctional officials may
restrict the exercise of religion if the restrictions are
reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives,
which include safety, security, and economic concerns.
Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89-91 (1987).
Furthermore, the Equal Protection Clause and the
Establishment Clause prohibit prison officials from treating
members of some religious faiths more favorably than others
without a secular reason. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S.
319, 322-23 (1972); Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868,
880-82 (7th Cir. 2009); Kaufman v. McCaughtry, 419
F.3d 678, 683-84 (7th Cir. 2005). “The rights of
inmates belonging to minority or non-traditional religions
must be respected to the same degree as the rights of those
belonging to larger and more traditional
denominations.” Al-Alamin v. Gramley, 926 F.2d
680, 686 (7th Cir. 1991). Giving Wenzel the benefit of the
inferences to which he is entitled at the pleading stage of
this proceeding, the allegation that he was denied his
religious book without a legitimate reason between February
9, 2018, and February 12, 2018, while Christians and Muslims
in segregation were not denied their holy books states a
claim against Officer Castle in his individual capacity for
also alleges that Chaplin Burke told him that his religious
study materials must come from Barnes and Noble or
booksamillion.com, but Chaplin Burke allowed Christian study
materials to come from church and prison ministries.
“[A]ny government policy that favors mainstream
religions over non-mainstream, less familiar religions poses
substantial problems under the First Amendment.”
Hummel v. Donahue, No. 1:07-CV-1452-DFHTAB, 2008 WL
2518268, at *7 (S.D. Ind. June 19, 2008) (granting a
permanent injunction against an IDOC policy prohibiting
Odinists from all group worship). Giving Wenzel the
inferences to which he is entitled at this stage of the
litigation, this states a claim. Wenzel may proceed against
Chaplin Burke in his individual capacity for monetary damages
for being denied similar access to religious study materials
Wenzel alleges that cardboard runes he made were confiscated
as contraband while he was in segregation and were never
returned to him. But Wenzel does not say who confiscated
the runes. As already explained, Wenzel must identify a
defendant personally involved in denying him his runes.
See Starzenski, 87 F.3d at 879; Benson, 761
F.2d at 330. Therefore, Wenzel will not be permitted to
proceed on this claim.
Wenzel complains that Chaplin Burke denied his son a
Christmas present through the prison gift program because he
is not a Christian. Once again, “[n]ot every wrong
committed under color of law, however, is offered redress by
the Constitution[.]” Leslie, 125 F.3d 1138.
This alleged wrong is not of constitutional magnitude.
Wenzel has sued Sheriff Reynolds because he is
“responsible for the actions of his employees.”
[ECF No. 1.] Wenzel does not allege that Sheriff Reynolds was
involved in the decision to deny him the ability to call his
son, to deny him his religious book or runes, to insist that
religious materials be purchased from specific places, to
deny his son a Christmas present, or to refuse to return his
runes after his release from segregation. Section 1983
defendants, however, “are responsible for their own
misdeeds but not for anyone else's.” Burks v.
Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 596 (7th Cir. 2009). The
doctrine of respondeat superior, which allows an employer to
be held liable for subordinates' actions in some types of
cases, has no application to § 1983 actions. Moore
v. State of Ind., 999 F.2d 1125, 1129 (7th Cir. 1993).
Furthermore, he cannot sue Sheriff Reynolds in his official
capacity for injunctive relief because he is no longer housed
at the Porter County Jail and injunctive relief is therefore
no longer possible.
these reasons, the Court:
(1) GRANTS Thomas A. Wenzel leave to proceed against Officer
Castle in his individual capacity for monetary damages on his
claim that he was denied his religious book between February
9, 2018, and February 12, 2018;
(2) GRANTS Thomas A. Wenzel leave to proceed against Chaplin
Burke in his individual capacity for monetary damages on his
claim that he was denied similar access to religious study
materials as Christians while housed at the Porter County
(3) DISMISSES all other claims;
(4) DISMISSES Sheriff David ...