Sunday, March 16, 2008

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Alvarez v. Hill, (9th Cir., March 13, 2008), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's grant of summary judgment to prison officials in a pro se religious freedom case brought by a Native American prisoner. The court rejected appellants' contention that RLUIPA had to be specifically cited in order to bring a RLUIPA complaint, particularly in view of the lenience traditionally granted to pro se pleadings. (See prior related posting.)

In Pressley v. Johnson, (3rd Cir., March 10, 2008), the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a prisoner's claim that his religious materials had been destroyed. The court said that plaintiff failed to elaborate on what religious materials were confiscated or how the destruction infringed his free exercise rights.

In Shabazz v. Barrow, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18130 (MD GA, March 10, 2008), a Georgia federal district court agreed with a federal magistrate's determination that a prison had legitimate penological interests in refusing separate worship services for Nation of Islam inmates.

In Ibrahim v. District of Columbia, (D DC, March 12, 2008), the federal district court for the District of Columbia held that it lacked personal jurisdiction over an individual prison employee who was sued for damages for denying plaintiff his leather kufi that he wears for religious reasons.

In Scott v. California Supreme Court, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19040 (ED CA, March 12, 2008), a California federal district court remanded to a federal magistrate judge a prisoner's complaint that he was not permitted to change his name for religious reasons. The remand was occasioned by the 9th Circuit's intervening rejection of the "centrality of belief" test in Shakur v. Schriro.

In Hill v. Pylant, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19142 (WD LA, Jan. 18, 2008), a Louisiana federal magistrate judge recommended that a Muslim prisoner's free exercise and RLUIPA claims be dismissed as frivolous. Plaintiff sought to have the prison arrange for Islamic clergy with call outs for Islamic prayer, but the court found that there was a lack of available clergy or volunteers. As to an allegation about religious diet, the court said that plaintiff did not allege that he was prevented from observing Islamic dietary practices.

In Harnett v. Barr, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19236 (ND NY, March 10, 2008), a New York federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed with free exercise and RLUIPA claims. Plaintiff alleged that officials threw away away his Ramadan food during a cell search, that he was denied a "sweet breakfast" at the end of Ramadan, and that he was denied permission to hem his pants above his ankles and to save food in his cell on Mondays and Thursdays.

In Viggers v. Crawford, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19395 (WD MO, March 10, 2008), a Missouri federal district court rejected a magistrate's recommendation to dismiss free exercise and RLUIPA claims brought by a Native American prisoner. The court said that it must determine whether a personalized-length smoking pipe is a central tenant of plaintiff's Native American religion and whether the denial of such a pipe substantially burdens the practice of plaintiff's Native American religion. UPDATE: The magistrate's recommendation is at 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22051 (WD MO, Jan. 31, 2008).

The Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader reports on a South Dakota federal magistrate judge's report filed March 5 recommending dismissal of free exercise claims brought by a convicted killer who is an Asatru adherent. After prior litigation, prisoner Darrell Hoadley had been permitted to have a ritual drinking horn, wooden wand and wooden hammer. Now he is seeking additional items, including horse meat and a plastic sword. The court concluded that Hoadley's religious freedom has not been meaningfully curtailed, and that because his security status bars him from group religious activity, he cannot bring a class action on behalf of others. UPDATE: The Argus Leader reports that on March 31 the court dismissed Hoadley's claims, adopting the magistrate's report and recommendations.