Sunday, April 11, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Abdulhaseeb v. Calbone (10th Cir., April 2, 2010), the 10th Circuit held that a Muslim prisoner adequately demonstrated the existence of a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the denial of halal food, and the denial of halal meat for an Islamic feast, substantially burdened his religious exercise. The 10th Circuit in the case for the first time for its circuit defined "substantial burden" under RLUIPA. Its definition includes requiring or imposing substantial pressure on an individual to engage in, or refrain from, conduct that violates a sincerely held religious belief.

In Nasious v. Grayson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30409 (D CO, March 29, 2010), a Colorado federal district court agreed with a federal magistrate (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30498, Feb. 17, 2010), that the policy of a detention facility to issue a single eating utensil, a spoon, to each inmate for the inmate to keep did not substantially burden plaintiff's religious exercise. Plaintiff claimed that his Jewish faith required that his kosher meals be eaten with disposable eating utensils.

In Goodson v. Maggi, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30058 (WD PA, March 1, 2010), in an opinion largely focusing on other issues, a federal magistrate judge held that plaintiff, an inmate, had failed to allege how his inability to access a spiritual advisor and attend church services created a substantial burden or substantially impacted his ability to exercise a central tenet of his religion. However he was given an opportunity to amend his complaint.

In Blumenthal v. Armstrong, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30050 (WD MI, March 29, 2010), a Michigan federal district court adopted recommendations of a magistrate (2010 U.S. Dist LEXIS 20174, Feb. 10, 2010), and upheld a prison's decision to remove an inmate from receiving a kosher diet based on his lack of adherence to Jewish religious practices and his purchasing of non-kosher items from the prison's store.

In Massenburg v. Adams, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31226 (ED VA, March 31, 2010), a Virginia federal magistrate judge denied both defendants' motion to dismiss and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in a damage action in which plaintiff, a member of the House of Israel, complained that he was given a job assignment that required him to work on his Sabbath.

In Pouncil v. Tilton, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31094 (ED CA, March 31, 2010), a California federal district court held that a Muslim prisoner serving a life sentence properly stated a claim under RLUIPA in his challenge to a rule that prohibited him, in violation of his Muslim faith, from having conjugal visits with his wife.

In Barendt v. Gibbons, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31004 (D NV, March 30, 2010), a Nevada federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31011, Feb. 11, 2010), holding that plaintiff failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on his free exercise of religion under RLUIPA. Plaintiff who is Jewish claimed that the nightly count of inmates took place at the time of pre-Shabbat candle lighting, barring the ability to hold a group ceremony until later.

In Leonard v. Louisiana, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31892 (WD LA, March 31, 2010), a Louisiana federal district court held that defendant's free exercise rights and his rights under RLUIPA were infringed by a prison's refusal to permit him to receive Nation of Islam's newspaper The Final Call solely because each issue contains "The Muslim Program" written by Elijah Muhammad.

In Strutton v. Meade, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31944 (ED MO, March 31, 2010), a Missouri federal district court rejected complaints by an inmate being held indefinitely under the state's violent sexual predator law that a second Wiccan religious service each week was not permitted because there was no volunteer leader. It also rejected on pleading grounds his complaint that at one time he was not permitted to make Wiccan objects in Arts and Crafts class. Finally it rejected his claim that pressure from fellow-inmates at one AA meeting to recite the serenity prayer amounted to an Establishment Clause violation.

Mintun v. Peterson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31598 (D ID, March 30, 2010), involves a claim by a gay inmate that he was prevented from participating in the inmate-run choir or Christian Fellowship services because of beliefs of fellow inmates that homosexuality is a sin. An Idaho federal district court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's free exercise and RLUIPA claims for lack of evidence. The court rejected plaintiff's retaliation and equal protection claims.

In Levy v. Holinka, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31743 (WD WI, Marach 30, 2010), a Wisconsin federal district court rejected RFRA, free exercise and establishment clause claims of a Hebrew Israelite prisoner who complained that he was not permitted to wear a turban.