Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Recent Prisoner and Institutionalized Persons Free Exercise Cases

In Lewis v. Ryan, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64335 (SD CA, May 1, 2008), a California federal district judge accepted the recommendations of a federal magistrate judge set out in a lengthy opinion at Lewis v. Mitchell, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64333 (SD CA, March 6, 2008). The court permitted a Muslim inmate to move ahead with various claims for injunctive relief alleging violations of the 1st and 8th Amendments and RLUIPA. Plaintiff alleged that he was served food containing pork without the pork content being noted on the prison menu, and that he was subsequently denied medical treatment. Plaintiff also claimed the right to a Halal diet. (See prior related posting.)

DeSimone v. Bartow, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64419 (ED WI, Aug. 12, 2008) is a lawsuit by plaintiff who has been civilly committed to a mental health facility operated in part by the Department of Corrections. A Wisconsin federal district court permitted him to proceed with a claim that his 1st amendment and RLUIPA free exercise rights were violated when he was prohibited from writing in his Atlantean language, a practice plaintiff said was central to his religious belief. Officials said it took too long to translate the writings, and untranslated writings posed security risks, even though they did not impose the same restrictions on others who wrote in different foreign languages.

In Wofford v. Williams, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63946 (D OR, Aug. 20, 2008), and Oregon federal district court granted a preliminary injunction ordering prison officials to provide a Seventh Day Adventist inmate with a kosher diet. The court found that plaintiff would probably succeed on the merits of his 1st Amendment, RLUIPA and equal protection claims. Prison officials had asserted that kosher meals were available only to Jewish inmates and that plaintiff's faith does not require him to limit himself to a kosher diet.

In Linehan v. Crosby, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63738 (D FL, Aug. 20, 2008), a Florida federal district judge accepted the recommendations of a federal magistrate and denied the claims of a Seventh Day Adventist prisoner to a kosher diet. The court held: "Since the Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program was discontinued several years ago, the only person Plaintiff can show is being treated differently is one Jewish inmate who receives kosher food pursuant to a settlement agreement.... Both the excessive cost, as well as administrative and logistic difficulties, of implementing a kosher meal plan in the Florida prison system are compelling state interests, and the current vegan and vegetarian diets are the least restrictive means of addressing this compelling interest ."

In Woods v. Chiarelli, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64455 (MD PA, Aug. 21, 2008), a Pennsylvania federal district court held that a prison policy preventing a Muslim inmate from attending communal religious services did not violate his 1st Amendment rights. Plaintiff, held as a federal prisoner in a state prison, was subject to a separation order from the United States Marshal's Service requiring him to be separated from three other federal inmates being held at the same facility.