Bankston v. IDOC et al
ORDER GRANTING in part and DENYING in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 178 ) along with ORDER GRANTING Bankstons Motion to Strike (Doc. 183 ). The Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to Counts I and III, but DENIED as moot regarding Bankston's claims for compensatory and punitive damages. This entire action is DISMISSED with prejudice. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to enter judgment accordingly. Signed by Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel on 9/14/2020. (drr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS
Case No. 3:15-CV-01275–NJR
MICHAEL WILLIAMS, JEFFREY
DENNISON, AND SAMUEL
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ROSENSTENGEL, Chief Judge:
Pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 56 filed by Defendants, Michael Williams, Jeffrey Dennison, and
Samuel Sterrett (Doc. 178). Plaintiff Johnnie Bankston has also filed a Motion to Strike
(Doc. 183). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is
granted in part and denied in part, and Bankston’s motion to strike is granted.
Bankston, an inmate of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) filed this
lawsuit on November 16, 2015 (Doc. 1) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that he was
being denied various aspects of his religion, Nation of Gods and Earths (“NGE”) while
incarcerated in Shawnee Correctional Center (“Shawnee”). Bankston named various
prison officials as defendants, including Samuel Sterrett, current Chaplain at Shawnee;
Jeffery Dennison, the Warden of Shawnee; and Michael Williams, former Chaplain at
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Shawnee. Bankston is proceeding on two counts: Count I alleges claims under the First
Amendment against Defendants related to the denial of religious services and Count III
alleges claims under the First Amendment against Defendants for the failure to provide
an adequate diet that conformed to Plaintiff’s religious beliefs (Doc. 129).
a. Bankston’s Requests for Religious Services
Inmates are responsible for soliciting leadership from outside the prison to hold
services not already offered at Shawnee (Doc. 178, p.3). The outside leadership must be
recognized as having senior status to be able to lead or instruct others (Id.). If an inmate
does not take the first step and provide evidence that he or she solicited outside
leadership to conduct the services, the process of beginning the new services would not
continue (Id.). Chaplain Williams told Bankston to find an outside volunteer to lead
services if he wanted to have NGE services at Shawnee (Id.).
Bankston and Defendants disagree on the facts surrounding Bankston’s
solicitation of outside volunteers and whether he submitted a proposal for the inmateled services to Chaplain Williams on March 30, 2015. It is undisputed, however, that NGE
members conduct “Civilization Classes,” “Parliaments,” and “Rallies” wherein members
gather to help one another learn their lessons (Doc. 182, pp. 9-10). The “Civilization
Classes,” “Parliaments,” and “Rallies” were the religious services Bankston was seeking
at Shawnee (Doc. 129, pp. 1-11).
b. Bankston’s Religious Diet
On July 31, 2016, Chaplain Williams approved Bankston’s request for a vegan diet
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at Shawnee (Doc. 178, pp. 5-6). 1 Less than three months later, on October 21, 2016,
Bankston spoke with Chaplain Williams requesting a kosher diet (Id. at 6). After this
meeting, Chaplain Williams gave Bankston an Offender Request for Religious Diet form
Around November of 2016, Bankston submitted a request slip to inform Chaplain
Williams that he needed to be put back on the list for his diet tray and to see if he had
been reassigned to a different diet, such as a kosher diet (Id.). On November 15, 2016,
Chaplain Williams renewed Bankston’s original vegan diet (Id.). On November 29, 2016,
Chaplain Williams sent Bankston a memorandum indicating that his request for a kosher
diet was under review and requested Bankston to answer a few questions (Id. at p. 7). On
December 3, 2016, Bankston wrote to Chaplain Williams answering the questions and
explaining that he would like a kosher diet based on the requirements of his religion (Id.).
Bankston also explained to Chaplain Williams that he could have a vegan, kosher, or halal
diet. (Id.). By early 2017, Bankston was removed from the list of those receiving a vegan
diet due to lack of participation and was eating regular trays (Id.). After being removed
from the vegan diet, Bankston was eating approximately 60% of the food items on the
breakfast trays and approximately 40% of the food items on the other trays (Id. at p. 8).
On December 1, 2017, Bankston was approved for a kosher diet (Id. at p. 9). On
January 17, 2018, Bankston filed a grievance that the kosher trays are not kosher because
they contain processed meat and the Rabbi does not bless the kosher trays (Id. at pp. 9At all relevant times for this dispute, Bankston was incarcerated at the Shawnee Correctional Center
(Doc 140, p.3; Doc. 173, p. 3). Bankston, however, was housed at times at the Pontiac Correctional Center
on his “court writs” (Doc. 178-2, p.2; Doc. 178, pp. 6, 9-10).
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10). Then in March of 2018, Bankston requested to be removed from his kosher diet
because “it isn’t kosher and doesn’t fit [his] religious diet.” (Id.; Doc. 178-2, p. 9). On April
9, 2018, Defendants Sterrett and Dennison approved Bankston’s request to discontinue
his religious diet (Doc. 178, p. 11). By April 21, 2018, Bankston was transferred to
Lawrence (Doc. 140, p. 4; Doc. 173, p. 4).
Summary judgment is appropriate only when “the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56. At the summary judgment phase of the litigation, the facts and
all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. Kasten v. SaintGobain Performance Plastics Corp., 703 F.3d 966, 972 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court shall “neither
come to a conclusion on factual disputes nor weigh conflicting evidence.” E.E.O.C. v.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., 233 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2000). To survive summary judgment a
non-moving party must “show through specific evidence that a triable issue of fact
remains on issues for which the nonmovant bears the burden of proof at trial.” Knight v.
Wiseman, 590 F.3d 458, 463-64 (7th Cir. 2009). Summary judgment shall be denied “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
Motion to Strike
Bankston seeks to strike the following exhibits from Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment: (1) Exhibit 4 – titled Warden’s “Special” Staff Meeting March 1, 2016;
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and (2) Exhibit 8 – Plaintiff’s Living Unit History.
Bankston contends these exhibits were not produced by Defendants prior to the
filing of the motion for summary judgment, as such, Defendants should not be allowed
to rely on them at the summary judgment stage. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
26(a)(1)(A) requires parties to provide each other a copy of all documents, electronically
stored information, or other tangible things that may be used in support of defenses. A
discovery request is not required, and such documentation to be used as evidence for a
defense should be provided to the other parties. Id. If a party learns that its discovery
disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect and if the additional information was
not otherwise made known to the other parties, that party has a duty to timely
supplement or correct its disclosure or response. FED. R. CIV. P. 26(e). Here, Defendants
have not provided the Court any reason to question Bankston’s assertion regarding the
production (or lack thereof) of these documents. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS
Bankston’s motion to strike Defendants’ Exhibits 4 and 8, and said exhibits are hereby
Summary Judgment – Count I Denial of Religious Services
Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity as to Count I
because Bankston has no clearly established right for inmate-led group worship
(Doc. 178, pp. 15-18). This Court agrees. To defeat Defendants’ qualified immunity
defense, the burden is on Bankston to demonstrate that the alleged violation of the Free
Exercise Clause right was “clearly established.” Kemp v. Liebel, 877 F.3d 346, 351 (7th Cir.
2017). A right is clearly established when existing precedent places the statutory or
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constitutional question beyond debate. Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015). The
Seventh Circuit “look[s] first to controlling Supreme Court precedent and [its] own circuit
decisions on the issue.” Jacobs v. City of Chicago, 215 F.3d 758, 767 (7th Cir. 2000). Next,
when no controlling precedent exists, the Seventh Circuit “broaden[s] [its] survey to
include all relevant caselaw in order to determine ‘whether there was such a clear trend
in the caselaw that we can say with fair assurance that the recognition of the right by a
controlling precedent was merely a question of time.’” Id. (quoting Cleveland-Perdue v.
Brutsche, 881 F.2d 427, 431 (7th Cir. 1989)).
Rather than arguing that inmate-led group worship is a clearly established right,
Bankston argues that Defendants are leap-frogging to the conclusion that inmate-led
group worship is not a clearly established right (Doc. 181, pp. 5-8). Bankston misses the
point. Bankston sought NGE religious services at Shawnee, but he was unable to find a
volunteer to lead group worship as required by Illinois Administrative Code. See Ill.
Admin. Code tit. 20, § 425.60. Bankston also did not satisfy the conditions to have group
worship without a volunteer. See Ill. Admin. Code tit. 20, § 425.60 (f)(1)-(6). Bankston
argues that Defendants have not provided a justification for the denial of Bankston’s
requested services and did not participate in the procedure when a volunteer is
unavailable. But the Constitution requires no procedure at all, and the failure of state
prison officials to follow their own grievance procedures does not, of itself, violate the
Constitution. Maust v. Headley, 959 F.2d 644, 648 (7th Cir. 1992); Shango v. Jurich, 681 F.2d
1091, 1100-01 (7th Cir. 1982).
Although Bankston tries to frame his complaint as one for the simple denial of
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religious services, he is really contending that the prison should have offered NGE
services in the absence of an outside volunteer—meaning that an inmate would have to
lead. Bankston, however, does not have a clearly established constitutional right to
inmate-led group worship. See West v. Grams, 607 F. App’x 561, 565 (7th Cir. 2015)
(acknowledging that “[i]t has never been clearly established that inmates have a right to
inmate-led group worship under the First Amendment”). Accordingly, Defendants are
entitled to qualified immunity, and their motion for summary judgment with respect to
Count I is granted.
Summary Judgment – Count III Nonconforming Kosher Diet
Bankston did not oppose Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to
Warden Dennison and Chaplain Sterrett’s personal involvement regarding Count III
(Doc. 178, pp. 14-19). 2 Pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(c), a party’s “[f]ailure to timely file a
response to a motion may, in the Court’s discretion, be considered an admission of the
merits of the motion.” Thus, the Court deems Bankston’s failure to respond and oppose
these arguments regarding Warden Dennison and Chaplain Sterrett as an admission of
the merits of the motion filed by Defendants. See Smith v. Lamz, 321 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir.
As for the remaining Defendant, Chaplain Williams, he too is entitled to summary
judgment as to Count III. To survive summary judgment on a First Amendment claim, a
Defendants also seek summary judgment on Count I as to Warden Dennison because he was not
personally involved in any of the alleged conduct. The Court deems Bankston’s failure to respond and
oppose the argument regarding Warden Dennison as an admission of the merits of the motion filed by
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prisoner must raise a material question of fact regarding whether prison officials
substantially burdened his religious practices. See Thompson v. Holm, 809 F.3d 376, 379
(7th Cir. 2016). Indeed, the Seventh Circuit has found:
At a minimum, a substantial burden exists when the government compels
a religious person to perform acts undeniably at odds with fundamental
tenets of his religious beliefs. But a burden on religious exercise also arises
when the government puts substantial pressure on an adherent to modify
his behavior and to violate his beliefs. Construing the parallel provision in
RLUIPA, we have held that a law, regulation, or other governmental
command substantially burdens religious exercise if it bears direct,
primary, and fundamental responsibility for rendering a religious exercise
[T]he substantial-burden test under RFRA focuses primarily on the
intensity of the coercion applied by the government to act contrary to
religious beliefs. Put another way, the substantial-burden inquiry evaluates
the coercive effect of the governmental pressure on the adherent’s religious
practice and steers well clear of deciding religious questions.
Korte v. Sebelius, 735 F.3d 654, 682–83 (7th Cir. 2013) (quotations and citations omitted). 3
In the context of a religion’s dietary requirements, a “prisoner’s religious dietary practice
is substantially burdened when the prison forces him to choose between his religious
practice and adequate nutrition.” Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 879 (7th Cir. 2009); see also
Jones v. Carter, 915 F.3d 1147, 1150 (7th Cir. 2019) (“[w]hen the state forces a prisoner to
choose between adequate nutrition and religious practice, it is imposing a substantial
burden on his religious practice. . . .”).
Here, Bankston alleges the kosher diet meal trays previously received by Bankston
While the Court in Korte discusses the term “substantial burden” in the context of the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act, the term originated from judicial decisions interpreting the Free Exercise Clause. Id. at 671.
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conformed to his religious dietary restrictions, but Shawnee changed the composition of
its kosher meal trays and these new kosher trays no longer conform to Bankston’s
religious dietary restrictions (Doc. 129, p. 6). Construing the evidence in the light most
favorable to Bankston, Bankston was subjected to a non-conforming kosher diet for a
handful of months in 2018. 4
Being subjected to a non-conforming kosher diet for a handful of months is not a
substantial burden. Federal courts have routinely held that “where a delay in providing
an inmate with a religious diet is brief and caused by ordinary administrative delay, the
inmate’s religious rights are not violated.” Tapp v. Stanley, 2008 WL 4934592, at *7
(W.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 2008) (finding that defendant was entitled to summary judgment on
plaintiff’s First Amendment claim even when the plaintiff was denied kosher meals from
April 4, 2004 to July 23, 2004); see, e.g., Lambright v. Indiana, 2020 WL 4451075, at *3 (N.D.
Ind. Aug. 3, 2020) (holding that defendant was entitled to summary judgment on
plaintiff’s First Amendment claim even when the plaintiff experienced a sixty-two day
delay in receiving a kosher diet); Green v. Paramo, 2018 WL 6062359, at *4 (S.D. Cal. Nov.
20, 2018) (dismissing plaintiff’s First Amendment claim although the plaintiff
experienced a five month delay in receiving approval for a kosher diet); McCormack v.
Myers, 2007 WL 1704905, at *4-5 (D.S.C. June 12, 2007) (acknowledging that plaintiff was
not given kosher meals for two and a half months, but plaintiff failed to demonstrate that
4 A review of the record shows that on January 11, 2018, Bankston arrived back at Shawnee and continued
receiving his kosher diet (Doc. 178, p. 9). But around March of 2018, Bankston requested to be removed
from his kosher diet because “it isn’t kosher and doesn’t fit [his] religious diet.” (Id. at p. 11). On April 9,
2018, Defendants Sterrett and Dennison approved Bankston’s request to discontinue his religious diet (Id.).
By April 21, 2018, Bankston was transferred to Lawrence (Doc. 140, p. 4; Doc. 173, p. 4).
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the actions of the defendants violated any of his constitutional rights).
Even if the alleged non-conforming kosher meals were sufficient to substantially
burden Bankston’s religious practices, nothing indicates that the non-conforming kosher
meals or the delay in accommodating Bankston were caused by Chaplain Williams. In
April of 2017, Chaplain Williams retired from the IDOC (Doc. 178, p. 7). More than a half
a year later, on December 1, 2017, Bankston was approved for a kosher diet (Id. at pp. 79). Chaplain Williams was not even working in the IDOC when Bankston received a
kosher diet. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment with respect to
Count III is granted.
Because this Court grants Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts
I and III, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to Bankston’s prayer for
compensatory and punitive damages is rendered moot.
For the reasons set forth above, Bankston’s Motion to Strike (Doc. 183) is
GRANTED. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 178) is GRANTED as to
Counts I and III. The motion is DENIED as moot regarding Bankston’s claim for
compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff Johnnie Bankston shall recover nothing.
The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to enter judgment and close this case.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: September 14, 2020
NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL
Chief U.S. District Judge
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