MADDOX v. LOVE (August 24, 2011)

The Illinois Lawrence Correctional Center is a medium-security adult prison facility in Sumner, Illinois with approximately 2,000 inmates. Those inmates proclaim numerous different religious affiliations (46 as of May 2009). When Mannie Maddox arrived as an inmate in early 2004, he was a member of the African Hebrew Israelite (AHI) faith. AHI was one of the 17 religious affiliations for which Lawrence offered regularly scheduled services. Maddox attended services for about six months, until they were terminated. Maddox filed a grievance, asserting a denial of his right to exercise his religion. The prison denied the grievance on the grounds that Lawrence canceled the services for budgetary reasons. Maddox appealed the decision through two more stages of review without success. The prison chaplain also denied Maddox’ request to allow the AHI inmates to meet without a formal service. The prison requires that such meetings be supervised and the chaplain's schedule could not accommodate another religious gathering. Maddox filed a § 1983 complaint against the chaplain and the prison wardens alleging violations of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Judge Gilbert (S.D. Ill.) restructured the pro se complaint into four counts. He dismissed for failure to state a claim the counts relating to discrimination in the allocation of the prison budget. He granted summary judgment on the two counts alleging failure to provide reasonable access to religious materials and failure to provide worship services, concluding that Maddox failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. Maddox appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Sykes, Tinder, and Hamilton affirmed in part and reversed and vacated in part. The Court first addressed its jurisdiction, since the district court dismissed the two counts on exhaustion grounds without prejudice. Normally a dismissal without prejudice would preclude appellate jurisdiction. Here, however, Maddox cannot cure the complaint’s defects. That makes the decision a final judgment for appellate jurisdiction purposes. On the merits, the Court first addressed the free exercise and religious discrimination counts. The Court understood the district court's dismissal of these counts, as they were restructured, given the principle that prisons need not provide identical resources to every faith within the prison population. An allegation of a disproportionate allocation of resources does not state a claim. The Court did find fault, however, with the district court's restructuring of Maddox' allegations and explored the substance of those allegations. Maddox alleged a disproportionate allocation of resources to other religions, a singling out of AHI for budget cuts, and refusal to pursue alternatives for AHI members. The Court found that those allegations did, in fact, state a claim for relief. Prisons cannot discriminate against particular religions. Although it is premature to conclude that they did here, Maddox is allowed to make his case. The Court turned to the access to religious materials claim. Since Maddox concedes that he did not grieve that complaint, the Court concluded that the district court properly dismissed that count. Finally, on the group worship claim, the district court dismissed because Maddox failed to exhaust administrative remedies. He did not name the individuals he complained of, as required by the then-current Illinois Administrative Code. The Court disagreed. First, prison officials never raised this procedural infirmity during any of the three grievance stages. Instead, they rejected the grievance on the merits at each stage. When the prison addresses a grievance on the merits without addressing any procedural defect, the grievance has obviously served its purpose in notifying prison officials of the prisoner's complaint. They cannot later rely on that procedural defect to make out an exhaustion defense. Second, the procedural infirmity here was caused by prison's own error. Maddox was given a form that complied with a prior version of the administrative code. It did not require the same degree of factual particularly as did the code in effect at the time of the grievance. Maddox provided all the information that was requested on the grievance form.