United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
R. LEICHTY JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Robert Stafford, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a
complaint against Sharon Hawk, Lieutenant Bockover, and
Chaplain Conklin after a feather and medicine bags were
confiscated from him. “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, the court 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.
2017, Mr. Stafford asked Chaplin Conklin whether his friend
could send him a feather. Chaplain Conklin told Mr. Stafford
that he could not have an eagle or hawk feather without a
federal permit, but that he could have any other feather. His
friend then sent him a feather. It is unclear what type of
feather it was, but Mr. Stafford asserts that it was not an
eagle or hawk feather. Nonetheless, the feather was
confiscated by Chaplain Conklin because Mr. Stafford did not
have a permit. Mr. Stafford alleges that Chaplin Conklin
violated the IDOC's policies and procedures by not
letting him possess the feather; but a violation of
IDOC's policies does not state a claim. Scott v.
Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003) (“42
U.S.C. § 1983 protects plaintiffs from constitutional
violations, not violations of state laws or, in this case,
departmental regulations and police practices”).
Stafford also alleges that confiscation of the feather
violated his constitutional rights to exercise his religion.
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). In determining
whether an asserted justification is rationally related to a
legitimate penological objective, courts consider whether
there are alternative means of exercising the right that
remain open to the inmate; the impact an accommodation of the
asserted right would have on guards and other inmates; and
whether there are “obvious alternatives” to the
restriction, thus demonstrating that the restriction is an
exaggerated response to penological concerns. Ortiz v.
Downey, 561 F.3d 664, 669 (7th Cir. 2009).
are entitled to broader religious protection under the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(“RLUIPA”), which provides:
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;
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that
compelling governmental interest.
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). “RLUIPA's substantial
burden inquiry robustly supports inmate religious
practice[.]” Jones v. Carter, 915 F.3d 1147,
1150 (7th Cir. 2019). While RLUIPA's protections are
broad, it does not authorize an award of money damages.
See Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 285 (2011).
stage of the case, the court must construe all reasonable
inferences in Mr. Stafford's favor, and it can be
reasonably inferred from Mr. Stafford's allegations that
the feather is integral to his religious practice and that
prison officials did not have an adequate justification for
denying him the feather. Although further factual development
may show that the prison had valid reasons for confiscating
Mr. Stafford's feather, accepting his allegations as
true, he has alleged a plausible First Amendment claim
against Chaplin Conklin in his individual capacity for
Stafford also seeks injunctive relief. While Mr. Stafford has
not named Warden William Hyatte as a defendant in this
action, Warden Hyatte is the proper defendant for purposes of
a claim for injunctive relief, since he could ensure that an
order pertaining to Mr. Stafford's religious practice is
carried out. See Feit v. Ward, 886 F.2d 848, 858
(7th Cir. 1989). The clerk will be directed to add Warden
William Hyatte as a defendant, and Mr. Stafford will be
permitted to proceed against Warden Hyatte in his official
capacity for injunctive relief to possess the feather sent to
him by a friend, unless the prohibition is justified, in
accordance with the First Amendment and RLUIPA.
the feather was confiscated, Mr. Stafford asked Sharon Hawk
if he could send the feather home. She said yes. While Mr.
Stafford has sued Sharon Hawk, it is unclear from the
complaint why he believes she is liable to him, as the only
allegation is that she said he could send the feather home,
as he requested. Mr. Stafford has not alleged facts
suggesting that Sharon Hawk violated his constitutional
rights, and she will consequently be dismissed.
2018, Mr. Stafford was placed on suicide watch for seven
days. When the suicide watch began, Mr. Stafford had four
medicine bags around his neck. Lieutenant Bockover asked Mr.
Stafford to remove his clothes and the medicine bags. Mr.
Stafford asked if he could place the medicine bags in his box
so that he could have them when he was off suicide watch.
Lieutenant Bockover said yes. But, when Mr. Stafford was
released from suicide watch, the medicine bags were gone.
Lieutenant Bockover indicated to Mr. Stafford that a
correctional officer opened the box and took them. It is
unclear who took the medicine bags, but Mr. Stafford does not
allege that Lieutenant Bockover took them. Under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, “[o]nly persons who cause or participate
in the violations are responsible.” George v.
Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007); see also
Burks v. Raemisch, 555 F.3d 592, 596 (7th Cir. 2009).
Therefore, he has not stated a claim against Lieutenant
extent that Mr. Stafford alleges that his medicine bags were
seized without a valid justification for refusing his
possession of them, he may proceed against Warden Hyatte in
his official capacity for the return of his medicine bags
because it is Warden Hyatte that has the power to ensure that
an order pertaining to the religious rights of Mr. Stafford
is carried out. But, to the extent that Mr. Stafford is
seeking compensation for destroyed property, he cannot
proceed because state remedies are available to him to
redress the destruction of property. See Wynn v.
Southward, 2 ...