Monday, November 23, 2009

Recent Prisoner Free Excercise Cases

In Perez v. Westchester County Department of Corrections, (2d Cir., Nov. 19, 2009), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs who obtained a settlement requiring prison authorities to serve Muslim prisoners halal meat were "prevailing parties" for purposes of the award of attorneys' fees and that the fee caps in the Prison Litigation Reform Act apply even though some of the plaintiffs were released before the successful resolution of the litigation.

In Pressley v. Madison, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107231 (ND GA, Nov. 17, 2009), a Georgia federal district judge permitted a Muslim plaintiff to move ahead with her complaint that she was not permitted to wear her hijab covering her head while temporarily transferred for two days from prison to a county jail. The suit asks for an injunction to prohibit Barrow County Jail from depriving Muslim women of their hijabs and also seeks several million dollars in damages.

In Williams v. Cate, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107920 (ED CA, Nov. 10, 2009), a California federal magistrate judge allowed a prisoner who was a member of the House of Yahweh faith to proceed against some of the defendants named in his lawsuit for alleged violations of the free exercise and equal protection clauses, as well as RLUIPA. The lawsuit alleged refusals to accommodate plaintiff's religious dietary requirements, failure to hold House of Yahweh religious services and discrimination in funding from the religious services budget.

In Morris v. Woodford, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107612 (ND CA, Nov. 18, 2009), a California federal district court held that a prisoner had stated a cognizable claim under the 1st Amendment and RLUIPA. His complaint alleged denial and confiscation of his Qu'ran and other Islamic study and prayer materials.

In Lynch v. Huffman, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107476 (SD IN, Nov. 17, 2009), an Indiana federal district court dismissed an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were violated when his request to see a chaplain was ignored while he was in administrative segregation for two months. He did not allege this imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise. Moreover the claim was now moot.