Sunday, August 28, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Coley v. Smith, (11th Cir., Aug. 23, 2011), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to defendants in a case in which prison authorities failed to procure all the food items that Nation of Islam inmates requested for the Eid-ul-Fitr feast in time for it celebration.

In Maddox v. Love, (7th Cir., Aug. 24, 2011), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a substantial part of a district court’s decision and refused to dismiss at the pleading stage an inmate’s claim that his free exercise and equal protection rights were infringed when prison authorities allocated a disproportionately small amount of its budget to African Hebrew Israelite services and singled out African Hebrew Israelite religious services for cancellation due to budget cuts. It also held that plaintiff had not failed to exhaust administrative remedies merely because his grievance did not list the names of the defendants.

In Patten v. Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92985 (ND CA, Aug. 4, 2011), a California federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that he was denied access to religious services and denied time in a chapel for meditation. Plaintiff failed to identify his religion or indicate whether access to a quiet sanctuary burdened his religious beliefs.

In Navarro v. Herndon, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94606 (ED CA, Aug. 23, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge recommended that an inmate be permitted to proceed with his claim that his free exercise and equal protection rights were violated when he was denied access to Native American religious services, or even a visit from a spiritual advisor after the death of family members, when he was placed for his own protection in administrative segregation.

In Harke v. Ada County Sheriffs, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94439 (D ID, Aug. 22, 2011), an Idaho federal magistrate judge held that the confiscation of a former jail inmate's Bible involved only de minimus harm, and that defendants had qualified immunity in a suit challenging the confiscation.  The Bible was taken because plaintiff violated jail rules when he shared it with other inmates.

In Epps v. Grannis, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94765 (SD CA, Aug. 23, 2011), a California federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94762, Aug. 1, 2011), and denied a preliminary injunction to a Muslim inmate who wanted into the kosher diet program, wanted to attend worship services and receive religious packages and artifacts. The court concluded that plaintiff's allegations were vague.