Sunday, December 26, 2010

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In McKinnon v. Watson, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133550 (WD VA, Dec. 17, 2010), a Virginia federal district court granted summary judgment to prison officials who had been sued by a Nation of Islam prisoner for delay in approving his religious diet request. The court held that defendants had qualified immunity.

In Norman v. Small, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133507 (SD CA, Dec. 14, 2010), an inmate alleged among other claims that his free exercise rights were violated because prison policy allowed him to be searched in front of female officers in violation of his Islamic religious beliefs. A federal magistrate judge recommended (2010  U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133557, July 29, 2010) that this claim be dismissed both for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and for failure to state a claim. The district court adopted the recommendation to dismiss on exhaustion grounds, but said it would therefore not address whether the claims should also be dismissed on the merits.

In Wilder v. Sutton, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134677 (SD IL, Dec. 21, 2010), an Illinois federal district court permitted a Wiccan prisoner to go to trial on claims that his rights  under the 1st and 14th Amendments were violated when his requests for materials that would permit him to practice his religion were ignored and he was told he could not practice his religion in prison.  However the court held that damages are not available in either individual or official capacity claims under RLUIPA (which he also invoked) and that his claim for an injunction is moot because he had been transfered to a different facility.

In Cullen v. Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134882 (WD PA, Dec. 21, 2010), a Pennsylvania federal district court rejected that an inmate's complaint that his free exercise rights were infringed when his refusal to take part in a Therapeutic Community program was used against him in considering his parole. Plaintiff failed to allege his religious beliefs or how they were impinged. He alleged primarily that program required that inmates inform on one another's behaviors and prohibited the use of the words "God" or "Higher Power" in program sessions.

In Young v. Ericksen, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134606 (ED WI, Dec. 20, 2010), a Wisconsin federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate who was held in protective custody and denied the right to attend group Jum'ah services, as well as being denied a visit by a volunteer imam, to proceed with his free exercise and RLUIPA claims.