Sunday, February 05, 2017

California Inmates May Have Another Route To Relief For Free Exercise Infringements

In Hauseur v. Clark, (ED CA, Jan. 31, 2017), a California federal district court may have opened a new route for state prisoners in California to obtain damages or equitable relief for free exercise infringements.  California's Bane Act (Civil Code Sec. 52.1) allows anyone whose rights under the Constitution or laws of the United States or of California have been interfered with through threat, intimidation, or coercion to bring an action for damages and/or injunctive relief. The statute goes on to provide:
(j) Speech alone is not sufficient to support an action ... except upon a showing that the speech itself threatens violence against a specific person or group of persons; and the person or group of persons against whom the threat is directed reasonably fears that, because of the speech, violence will be committed against them or their property and that the person threatening violence had the apparent ability to carry out the threat.
In this case, brought by a California inmate who complained about the standards for kosher meals he received and about the failure to provide Jewish religious services on many occasions, a federal magistrate judge had held that plaintiff had not stated a claim because he did not allege violence or the threat of violence. Rejecting that portion of the magistrate's recommendation, the district court judge in this case held:
An allegation of either violence or the threat of violence is only necessary if the alleged violations of the Bane Act are based entirely on speech.... [Here] plaintiff stated a cognizable retaliation claim because he alleged the defendants threatened to use their authority to purposefully continue to violate his free exercise rights if he did not withdraw his administrative appeals.... Following this threat and plaintiff’s decision not to withdraw his appeal, defendants allegedly did inhibit plaintiff’s ability to engage in the free exercise of religion.... As alleged, these actions constitute threats and coercion and are sufficient to state a cognizable Bane Act claim.