Sunday, April 19, 2009

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Odneal v. Pierce, (5th Cir., April 3, 2009), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a Texas federal district court had improperly rejected a RLUIPA claim by a Native American inmate who wanted to maintain long hair (a kouplock) and wear a medicine pouch. However the court upheld the dismissal of plaintiff's challenge to the frequency of religious services in his prison unit. Earlier this month the Houston Chronicle reported on the decision.

Al-Amin v. Shear, (4th Cir., April 10, 2009), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a Virginia district court's decision, holding that the trial court had applied the wrong standard in rejecting plaintiff's claim under RLUIPA that he should be able to use his now-legal name (Al-Amin) in place of his name when he was committed (Jones) to access his inmate account. In connection with plaintiff's claims regarding his diet during Ramadan, the court held that the statute of limitations under RLUIPA is 4 years, and that factual questions remained about some of his claims. The court also held that the district court had improperly dismissed on statute of limitations grounds plaintiff's claims regarding refusal of donations of Islamic materials for the prison chaplain's library.

In Greenberg v. Hill, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28027 (SD OH, March 31, 2009), an Ohio federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation, holding that an inmate's free exercise and RLUIPA rights were not violated when Jewish inmates were denied a full kosher Seder meal on two nights in April 2007.

In Allen v. Tilton, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28499 (CD CA, April 2, 2009), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, but allowed the filing of an amended complaint, by a Muslim inmate who claims his fre exercise rights were violated when he was denied a Halal diet.

In Riley v. Terhune, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29082 (ED CA, April 2, 2009), a California federal magistrate judge rejected an inmate's claim his free exercise and RLUIPA rights were violated by the correction department's grooming regulations. Plaintiff had alleged only that he practices an ancient Egyptian religion that requires long hair.

In Lichtenthal v. Brustman, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29153 (D NJ, April 7, 2009), a New Jersey federal district judge rejected an inmate's claim that he should be permitted to reside at a halfway house closer to his home or permitted to drive 180 miles to his home to observe the Jewish Sabbath and be given a furlough to observe Passover.

In Menefield v. Tilton, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30504 (ED CA, March 27, 2009). a California federal district judge permitted a Muslim prisoner to proceed with free exercise, equal protection and RLUIPA challenges to the refusal to provide him with either Halal or kosher meals. The court also ordered appointment of counsel for plaintiff.

In Jones v. Burk, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30859 (ED CA, March 26, 2009), a California federal district judge allowed an inmate to move ahead with his claim for damages under RLUIPA growing out of the refusal by prison authorities to allow plaintiff to keep prayer beads, prayer oil, prayer clay and a skull cap.

In Jones v. Walker, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31387 (WD TX, March 17, 2009), a Texas federal district judge adopted a magistrate's recommendation and dismissed an inmate's claims that prison officials failed to follow state policies on confiscating and destroying a "contraband" prayer rug and providing rotation of pork-free substitutes and pork-free holiday meals.

KATV News reports that in a case on remand from the 8th Circuit (see prior posting), a Tennessee federal district judge has awarded an inmate damages of $625 for violation of his free exercise rights. Plaintiff was required to clean his cell on Saturday mornings in violation of his observance of the Sabbath.

In Bailey v. Rubenstein, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32192 (SD WV, April 15, 2009), a West Virginia federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendation and dismissed a claim by a Native American inmate that prison restrictions on smoking infringed his free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA.

In Blount v. Echols, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108397 (WD AK, Sept. 4, 2008), an Arkansas federal magistrate judge rejected defendant's motion for summary judgment and permitted a Mormon inmate to move ahead with his challenge to prison rules that allow detainees to have only one religious book while in lock-down.