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El-Shabazz v. Wehrmeyer

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

April 17, 2019



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         On August 8, 2018, Plaintiff Akhenaton El-Shabazz filed this matter pro se in Sullivan County Circuit Court, alleging that he was denied a job in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility because of his religion. [SeeFiling No. 1-1.] Defendant Ryan Wehrmeyer, at the time the sole defendant, removed this matter on September 13, 2018. [Filing No. 1.] Mr. El-Shabazz sought and received leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, adding Assistant Warden Kevin Gilmore as a defendant. [See Filing No. 12.] Since that time, a slew of motions has ensued. Mr. Wehrmeyer has filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. [Filing No. 18.] Mr. El-Shabazz has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as to his claim against Mr. Gilmore. [Filing No. 34.] The remaining motions pertain to the briefing of the Motion to Dismiss and the Motion for Summary Judgment, which has spiraled far beyond the briefing permitted by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of this Court. [Filing No. 31; Filing No. 32; Filing No. 43; Filing No. 45.] For the reasons described below, the Court DENIES each of the currently-pending motions.

         I. Background

          The lone motion for which review on the merits is appropriate is Mr. Wehrmeyer's Motion to Dismiss, so the Court sets forth the facts as described in Mr. El-Shabazz's currently-operative Second Amended Complaint and exhibits. [Filing No. 13.]

         Mr. El-Shabazz is a Sufi adherent of Islam who is currently incarcerated at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. [Filing No. 13 at 3-9; Filing No. 13 at 14.] Mr. El-Shabazz has previously worked in the wire harness shop at the prison. [Filing No. 13 at 17.] Mr. El-Shabazz interviewed with Mr. Wehrmeyer to be rehired at the wire harness shop on April 19, 2018. [Filing No. 13 at 17.] During the interview, Mr. El-Shabazz wore a kufi, which is a skullcap worn by Muslims. [Filing No. 13 at 16.] Also interviewed was Walter Richeson, a non-Muslim and former worker in the wire harness shop. [Filing No. 13 at 16-17.]

         On May 2, 2018, Mr. Wehrmeyer rehired Mr. Richeson but did not rehire Mr. El-Shabazz. [Filing No. 13 at 18.] On May 3, 2018, Mr. El-Shabazz submitted an informal grievance, asserting that, despite being fully qualified for the wire harness position, Mr. Wehrmeyer did not rehire him because of his Islamic faith. [Filing No. 13 at 6.] Mr. Wehrmeyer responded on May 4, 2018 that he “interviewed a bunch of people, and you were not selected.” [Filing No. 13 at 6.] No other explanation was given for Mr. Wehrmeyer's decision not to rehire Mr. El-Shabazz. [Filing No. 13 at 9.]

         As both parties agree in their briefing on the Motion to Dismiss, the wire harness shop is operated by Kauffman Engineering, an independent contractor, [see Filing No. 19-1], and Mr. Wehrmeyer works for Kauffman as the wire harness shop supervisor, [seeFiling No. 21 at 2; Filing No. 19 at 3]. Cf. Bible v. Utd. Student Aid Funds, Inc., 799 F.3d 633, 640 n.1 (7th Cir. 2015) (“A party opposing [a Rule 12(b)(6)] motion is free to elaborate upon the facts in a brief.”).

         As noted, on August 8, 2018, Mr. El-Shabazz filed his Complaint in state court. [Filing No. 1-1 at 1-10.] After Mr. El-Shabazz filed an Amended Complaint on September 6, 2018, [Filing No. 1-1 at 29-39], Mr. Wehrmeyer removed the matter to this Court, [Filing No. 1]. On October 23, 2018, the Court granted Mr. El-Shabazz's motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint, [Filing No. 12], which was duly filed the same day, [Filing No. 13]. In his Second Amended Complaint, Mr. El-Shabazz alleges that Mr. Wehrmeyer violated his rights to freedom of religion and equal protection of the laws by refusing to rehire him because of his religious beliefs. [Filing No. 13 at 13.] Mr. El-Shabazz additionally alleges First and Fourteenth Amendment claims against defendant Kevin Gilmore, assistant warden of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, based upon Mr. Gilmore's allegedly discriminatory handling of the grievance Mr. El-Shabazz filed after being denied employment in the wire harness shop. [Filing No. 13 at 13-20.]

         After the Court screened Mr. El-Shabazz's claim against Mr. Gilmore[1] and found it sufficient to state a claim, various motions ensued. Those motions are now ripe for review.


         Motion to Dismiss

          A. Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a claim that does not state a right to relief. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide the defendant with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must accept all well-pled facts as true and draw all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Active Disposal Inc. v. City of Darien, 635 F.3d 883, 886 (7th Cir. 2011). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss asks whether the complaint “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court may not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations as sufficient to state a claim for relief. See McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 617 (7th Cir. 2011). Factual allegations must plausibly state an entitlement to relief “to a degree that rises above the speculative level.” Munson v. Gaetz, 673 F.3d 630, 633 (7th Cir. 2012). This plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.Finally, the Court must “construe pro se filings liberally, ” Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd., 845 F.3d 807, 811 (7th Cir. 2017), and, in evaluating a complaint under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, must be especially sensitive to the limited “opportunities [incarcerated litigants have] for conducting a precomplaint inquiry”, Rodriguez v. Plymouth Ambulance Serv., 577 F.3d 816, 821 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Billman v. Ind. Dep't of Corr., 56 F.3d 785, 789 (7th Cir. 1995)); cf. Id. at 830 (noting that inmate plaintiff could not, on motion to dismiss, “be charged fairly with knowing” details about private entity's relationship to prison system).

         B. ...

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