Sunday, October 17, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Hall v. Ekpe, (2d Cir., Oct. 13, 2010), the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a claim that a prison policy allowing attendance at formal Ramadan services only to inmates identified by the prison's chaplain as observant Muslims violated plaintiff's 1st Amendment rights. The court reserved judgment on plaintiff's damage claim under RLUIPA pending decision by the United States Supreme Court in a pending case on whether damages can be awarded in official capacity suits under RLUIPA. (See prior posting.)

In Avery v. Thompson2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106937 (ND CA, Oct. 4, 2010), a prisoner complained that his free exercise rights were infringed when 265 pamphlets published by a White supremacist publisher were confiscated from him. Since no evidence was introduced about the actual contents of any of the pamphlets, the court denied prison authorities' motion for summary judgment without prejudice, indicating that a reneewed motion could be made with a proper evidentiary showing.

In Krieger v. Brown2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108822 (ED NC, Oct. 13, 2010), a North Carolina federal district court rejected a prisoner's claim that his rights under RLUIPA and the 1st Amendment were violated by prison authorities refusal of his requests to use certain ritual items and an outdoor worship circle in the practice of his Asatru religion.

In Butler v. Hogue2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109072 (ND NY, Oct. 13, 2010), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109075, Feb. 4, 2010) and dismissed an inmate's claims that his 1st, 8th and 14th Amendment rights were violated when prison authorities served him a contaminated kosher meal on one occasion and soup in a defective container on another.

In Brancho v. Alexander2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109581 (ND OH, Oct. 14, 2010), an Ohio federal district court dismissed an inmate's free exercise claims that he was denied a religious diet and religious services because the complaint failed to allege adequate facts to show a violation and failed to connect particular defendants with the claims.

In Sayed v. Profitt2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109221 (D CO, Sept. 27, 2010), a Colorado federal district court rejected a claim by a Muslim inmate that his free exercise rights were violated because he was unable to perform full ablution before Friday Jum'ah prayers.  The claims for injunctive relief were moot because the inmate had been moved to a different facility. Some of the damage claims were barred by the 11th Amendment. As to others, the court found no violation of plaintiff's free exercise rights because substitute ablution is an adequate alternative.