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Altman v. Palmer

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

March 25, 2015

JERRY ALTMAN, Plaintiff,
CHARLES PALMER, et al., Defendants.


DONALD E. O'BRIEN, Senior District Judge.


This matter is currently before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, 13-CV-4066-DEO, Docket No. 25. The Plaintiff is an involuntarily committed patient (currently transitioning) at the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders (CCUSO) in Cherokee, Iowa.[1] The parties appeared for a hearing on October 29, 2014. After listening to the parties' arguments, the Court took the matter under consideration and now enters the following.


This case has a complicated procedural history. On October 31, 2012, Mr. Altman filed a Complaint in 12-CV-4098-DEO. In his Complaint, Mr. Altman alleged that the Defendants violated his rights related to free exercise of religion, racial discrimination, and retaliation. On December 28, 2012, this Court entered an Initial Review Order allowing Mr. Altman's Complaint to proceed.[2] 12-CV-4098-DEO, Docket No. 4. However, the Court withheld ruling on Mr. Altman's Motion to Appoint Counsel until after reviewing the Defendants' responsive pleading. Id . On February 19, 2013, the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss along with documentation requested by the Court. 12-CV-4098-DEO, Docket Nos. 13 and 14.

While that matter was still pending, former Plaintiff Donald Phillips filed a Complaint in the above captioned case, 13-CV-4066-DEO. In his Complaint, Mr. Phillips alleged that the Defendants have violated his rights by denying him access to religious materials. On October 23, 2013, this Court entered an Initial Review Order allowing Mr. Phillips' Complaint to proceed and appointing Attorney Hannah Vellinga to represent him. Docket No. 3. The next day, the Court entered an Order consolidating Mr. Altman's case with Mr. Phillips' case, since they dealt with similar issues. Docket No. 5.

The Court directed that the consolidated case would proceed under caption number 13-CV-4066-DEO, and that appointed counsel would represent both Plaintiffs. The Court directed Ms. Vellinga to file an Amended Complaint covering both Plaintiffs' claims. Appointed counsel filed a first Amended Complaint, Docket No. 11, on December 6, 2013, and a second Amended Complaint on January 9, 2014. Docket No. 16. Meanwhile, the Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on December 24, 2013, Docket No. 12, which they supplemented on January 13, 2014, Docket No. 17, and again on February 11, 2014, Docket No. 19. Following a hearing, this Court entered an Order granting in part and denying in part the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Docket No. 22. Pursuant to that Order, Plaintiff Phillips was dismissed from this case, as were any claims against the Defendants in their official capacity. Id . Following that Order, the Defendants filed their Answer, Docket No. 23, and then the present Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket No. 25.


There are very few disputed facts in this case. As the Court stated above, Mr. Altman is a patient who has been civilly committed at CCUSO. The Iowa Supreme Court set out Mr. Altman's history:

[t]he record made at trial reveals that Altman was convicted in 1977 for lascivious acts with a seven-year-old girl. He was found with his penis exposed in front of the child, whose pants had been pulled down. His semen was found on the victim. In 2004 he was convicted of assault with intent to commit sexual abuse after he attacked a woman. Altman's semen was found on the victim's panties. Altman also had an extensive history of other criminal acts commencing with a shoplifting charge when he was eleven. As an adult, he has had over forty arrests and multiple convictions, reflecting a life of substance abuse, assaultive behavior, and continual criminality.

In re Det. of Altman, 723 N.W.2d 181, 183 (Iowa 2006). Based on that history, a "jury found the [Mr. Altman] was a sexually violent predator" and the state court committed Mr. Altman to CCUSO. Id., at 184.

After several years at CCUSO, Mr. Altman advanced to phase five, transitional release, of the CCUSO treatment plan. Mr. Altman was in phase five from approximately 2010 through 2014. The state court granted Mr. Altman release with supervision status on June 5, 2014.[3] Under the terms, Mr. Altman was required to find work in the Fort Dodge, Iowa, area before leaving CCUSO, and, at the time of the hearing, that process was on going. Once released, Mr. Altman can live and work in the Fort Dodge, Iowa, area and will be supervised by a state court probation worker.

Mr. Altman was in transitional release or release with supervision during all the times relevant to this case. Patients in transitional release may attend church in the community, if permitted by the treatment team and the church. Patients must contact the Pastor in advance, disclose their sex offending history, create a safety plan, and receive permission to attend. Patients in transitional release must request outings in advance, detailing the stops they intend to make and the reasons for them.

Mr. Altman's essential claim is that he wanted to attend church in Fort Dodge but CCUSO denied his ability to do so. Mr. Altman is Baptist, as is Pastor Stout, CCUSO's chaplain. However, the religious service at the CCUSO facility is nondenominational and Mr. Altman preferred a Baptist service.

Mr. Altman did attend a Baptist church in Fort Dodge once in 2010. He attended two different Fort Dodge churches in 2011. He also requested a number of Sunday outings to Fort Dodge that did not include a request to attend church, but instead involved family visits. In June of 2011, the treatment team cancelled Mr. Altman's trips to Fort Dodge because Mr. Altman's son, who lived in Fort Dodge, had been arrested for attempted murder.[4] Mr. Altman admits a number of his family members have trouble with the law.

In 2013, Mr. Altman began attending the Faith Bible Church in Storm Lake. Although there is a Baptist church in Storm Lake, Mr. Altman has never asked to attend that church. Other patients asked to attend, and the church declined to let CCUSO patients attend. Because other patients were declined by the church, Mr. Altman has not asked to attend the Baptist Church in Storm Lake.[5]

Mr. Altman's retaliation claim also arises out of being denied the trips to Fort Dodge.

Mr. Altman's discrimination claim has several prongs.[6] The first prong relates to a treatment team meeting that Mr. Altman's family participated in. During that meeting, Mr. Altman's brother made a comment that CCUSO was "running this place like a plantation." Mr. Altman alleges that his therapist took offense to that comment, and that he was required to ride in the back of the van in retaliation. The Defendant in question, Bryon Kelley, admits that Mr. Altman rode in the back of the van (once), but testified that another patient was also along and that patient took the front seat. Specifically, Mr. Kelley recalls no directives that Mr. Altman was required to ride in the back of the van. Mr. Altman alleges no other retaliation.

Second, in January, 2011, CCUSO caught Mr. Altman with contraband movies.[7] He also had electronic equipment to copy movies. CCUSO told him to move the equipment to storage and Mr. Altman received a behavior report and a treatment assignment as a consequence. Mr. Altman complains that this consequence was harsher than the consequence to another patient, John Crane. Mr. Altman testified that Mr. Crane received similar, but lighter, punishment.

Another alleged discriminatory event occurred in April of 2011, during Mr. Altman's first release with supervision. Per the state court order, he was to obtain suitable housing in the community. In June, 2011, his AA sponsor met with CCUSO staff and was willing to have Mr. Altman move in with him. Then, the sponsor checked the sex offender registry and learned that Mr. Altman had lied about his offense history - Altman denied having child victims where the registry indicated he had a victim under the age of 9. The sponsor also spoke with his neighbors, who did not want him renting to Mr. Altman. CCUSO had a release of information, signed by Mr. Altman, to speak with the sponsor and allegedly did so. Following that incident, Mr. Altman was unable to find a landlord to rent to him. Mr. Altman complains that he was discriminated against because he could not find housing, and Ryan Hoffert, a Caucasian former CCUSO patient, did find housing. Mr. Altman testified that he had no ...

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