Sunday, August 16, 2009

Numerous New Prisoner Free Exercise Cases Have Become Available This Week

In Berryman v. Granholm, (6th Cir., Aug. 12, 2009), the U.S. 6th Circuit court of Appeals upheld a Michigan prison's suspension of plaintiff from its kosher meal program (with the ability to reapply after 60 days) after he ordered and signed for non-kosher food. He claimed he had done so for a non-Jewish fellow inmate. Friday's New York Times reported on the decision.

Shariff v. Coombe, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69119 (SD NY, Aug. 7, 2009), is a case challenging various prison conditions impairing accessibility of disabled inmates in wheelchairs. Among the claims was one that plaintiffs' free exercise rights were infringed because of difficulties they encountered in using restrooms while attending religious services. The New York federal district court said it doubted that the claim would survive summary judgment, but ordered plaintiffs to brief the issue first.

In Littlejohn v. New York City Department of Corrections, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69347 (SD NY, Aug. 7, 2009), a New York federal district court rejected plaintiff's free exercise challenge to restrictions on his attending religious services while in closed custody/ protective custody. It concluded that the detention center's policy allowing inmates in this situation to be visited twice per week by clergy was sufficient.

In Benson v. Corrections Corporation of America, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69336 (ND OH, July 14, 2009), an Ohio federal magistrate judge recommended dismissal of claims by a Muslim inmate in federal custody that his free exercise and equal protection rights were infringed. Plaintiff complained that the meals offered Muslim prisoners do not contain Halal meat, but instead are either merely pork-free, or are vegetarian and fish.

In Copeland v. Livingston, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69564 (ED TX, June 30, 2009), a Texas federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing as frivolous a lawsuit raising a variety of free exercise and RLUIPA claims by a Muslim prisoner. Among other things, plaintiff complained about disruption of a Muslim service by correctional officers, disciplinary action against him that denied him the right to attend Muslim services, requiring Muslim services to be held in a Christian chapel, the prison's refusal to allow minimum custody and medium custody prisoners to have joint religious services, failure to provide cleaning services for inmates' prayer rugs, and monitoring of Muslim services by recording them.

In Shields v. Skipper, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69885 (D OR, Aug. 7, 2009), an Oregon federal district court rejected a claim by a former inmate that his free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA were infringed when he was denied access to a Native American religious clergyman.

In Harris v. Schriro, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70180 (D AZ, Aug. 11, 2009), an Arizona federal district court dismissed a former inmate's challenge to the Arizona Department of Corrections kosher food policy. The court held that Plaintiff cannot bring individual or official-capacity damage claims under RLUIPA and the claims for injunctive relief are moot. It also rejected plaintiff's free exercise claims under which he sought modification of the kosher diet policy to require serving kosher food in its original package and serving uncut vegetables that have not been touched by prison staff. (See prior related posting.)

In Jacobs v. Strickland, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70563 (SD OH, Aug. 11, 2009), an Ohio federal district court accepted a magistrate's recommendations and dismissed an inmate's claim that his rights as a Sunni Muslim had been violated at the former institution in which he had been housed. It held that damages are not available in official capacity RLUIPA suits. It also agreed with the magistrate that defendants had qualified immunity and that there was no allegation of involvement of the defendants in the alleged unlawful conduct. Finally it concluded that plaintiff's claim for an injunction and declaratory relief are moot.

In Vigil v. Jones, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70749 (D CO, Aug. 4, 2009), a Colorado federal magistrate judge ordered a pro se plaintiff inmate who had broadly alleged interference with free exercise of his Judaeo-Christianity to file an amended complaint suing the proper parties and alleging specific facts.

In Jordan v. Keim, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70881 (SD IL, Aug. 7, 2009), an Illinois federal district court rejected a free exercise and religious discrimination claim by a Hebrew Israelite prisoner. Prison authorities in 2002 denied his request to participate in the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The prison chaplain erroneously ruled that plaintiff's request to participate was late because the chaplain had the wrong date for the beginning of the festival. The court held that the advance notice rule to apply for special holiday observances was permissible and that that there was no discriminatory intent involved in rejecting plaintiff's application as late.

In Willard v. Hobbs, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71244 (ED AR, July 23, 2009), an Arkansas federal magistrate judge recommended rejecting a challenge under the equal protection clause, the free exercise clause and RLUIPA by a Wiccan inmate in maximum security who complained that he was denied sea salt, an altar cloth, a ritual feather, essential oils, a ritual bell, and a special notebook or binder for creating a "Book of Shadows."

In Young v. McNeil, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70885 (ND FL, June 11, 2009), a Florida federal magistrate judge recommended rejecting an inmate's free exercise, 8th amendment and equal protection challenges to Florida Department of Corrections' total elimination of its Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program, requiring inmates who observe kosher restrictions to instead choose vegetarian or vegan meals. The opinion concluded that the state had shown legitimate budgetary, logistical and security concerns, as well as concerns over appearing to favor certain classes of inmates. Jewish inmates had alternative meal plans available that lessened the impact on their religious observance. (See prior related posting.)

In Majid v. Fischer, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71616 (SD NY, July 31, 2009), a New York federal district court rejected inmates' free exercise, RLUIPA and equal protection claims objecting to the type of meals served to Muslim prisoners and failure to provide separate utensils. The court similarly rejected complaints regarding the closure of a portion of a mosque at New York's Green Haven Correctional Facility.

AP last week reported on a settlement in a case brought by a former Muslim prisoner against federal prison officials in Illinois charging that guards had placed his Quran on a spit-stained floor and had mistreated him when he complained to authorities. Former inmate Hakeem Shaheed, who spent nine years in federal prison, received $48,000 in the settlement.