Sunday, December 23, 2012

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Moussazadeh v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice, (5th Cir., Dec. 21, 2012), the 5th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, held that a Texas prison inmate seeking access to kosher food had adequately exhausted his administrative remedies and, as a matter of law, had demonstrated the sincerity of his religious beliefs. It also concluded that charging plaintiff for his kosher food, while it was available at a different facility without cost to prisoners, imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise. It remanded plaintiff's RLUIPA claim for determination as to compelling interest and least restrictive means.

In Stewart v. Beach, (10th Cir., Dec. 18, 2012) a Rastafarian inmate objected to a prison rule that required him to cut his hair. The 10th Circuit held that correctional officers had qualified immunity as to the inmate's free exercise claim, and that individual capacity claims are not allowed under RLUIPA.

In Reed v. Hardy, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179325 (ND IL, Dec. 19, 2012), and Illinois federal district court allowed an inmate to move ahead with free exercise and RLUIPA objections to being forced to choose between yard time and going to communal religious services.

In Scott v. Erdogan, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178908 (MD PA, Dec. 18, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted in part a magistrate's recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179482, Nov. 19, 2012) and permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with his free exercise and RLUIPA claims for injunctive relief against the prison's Muslim chaplain who he alleged infringed his right to practice his orthodox Sunni religion in various ways by funneling him to the Wahabi sect.

In Bedier v. United States, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 178897 (CD CA, Dec. 17, 2012), a California federal district court dismissed as moot a suit by plaintiff, who has now been deported to Lebanon, complaining that while he was held pending removal he was denied a halal or vegetarian diet and was denied the ability to pray. Injunctive relief was denied because plaintiff is no longer being detained and is unlikely to be held again in the future.

In Laurensau v. Romarowics, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179788 (WD PA, Dec. 20, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal magistrate judge rejected an inmate's complaints about being taken off the kosher diet plan, finding that he lacked a sincerely held religious belief requiring kosher food.

In Jalloh v. Mullendore, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179677 (D MD, Dec. 19, 2012), a Maryland federal district court permitted plaintiff to proceed with his claims that while he was a pre-trial detainee he was
denied access to Muslim services, programming and religious articles, while other religions were treated differently.

In Trapp v. Clarke, 2012 Mass. Super. LEXIS 311 (MA Super. Ct., Sept. 26, 2012), a Massachusetts state trial court held that prison authorities violated a previous settlement agreement, the Massachusetts constitution and RLUIPA when they stopped providing kinnick-kinnick with tobacco and substituted tobacco free kinnick-kinnick, and when they closed a sweat lodge at one facility because of health concerns of exposing staff and inmates to smoke. The court upheld closure of a second sweat lodge and a ban on colored beads.

In Clark v. Cambria County Prison, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179789 (WD PA, Dec. 20, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181044, Nov. 15, 2012) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that his prison did not have separate Jehovah's Witness services.

In Dowdy-El v. Caruso, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180025 (ED MI, Dec. 20, 2012), a Michigan federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181136, Aug. 15, 2012), and granted class certification to all Muslim inmates in Michigan who are denied the ability to participate in Jum'ah services because of a conflicting work, school or similar detail; and all Muslim inmates in Michigan who have been denied a halal diet.