Sunday, December 25, 2011

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

Nelson v. Miller, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145431 (SD IL, Dec. 19, 2011), is a case on remand from the 7th Circuit which held that a prison chaplain substantially burdened an inmate's exercise  of religion by requiring that he provide documentation that his religion required a meatless diet, and by denying his requests for such a diet. In this decision, and Illinois federal magistrate judge concluded that defendant did not have qualified immunity and that his actions did not further a legitimate penological interest. The court awarded plaintiff $2980 in damages for violation of his 1st Amendment rights, but found that individual capacity claims under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act are barred by sovereign immunity.

In Greene v. Shearin, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145499 (D MD, Dec. 19, 2011), a Maryland federal district court rejected an inmate's free exercise claim, finding that his belief in "Good Mental Health" is a secular, not a religious, belief and that he had not shown that his desire to be supervised by African-Americans is a tenet of his religion.

In Sims v. Wegman, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145700 (ED CA, Dec. 19, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's complaint that as a member of Nation of Islam he should be entitled to change from a Vegetarian Diet to a Kosher Diet.

In Rodriguez v. Hubbard, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145701 (ED CA, Dec. 19, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed an inmate's free exercise and retaliation claims but gave him leave to amend to properly assert claims regarding confiscation of his Native American prayer pipe and other religious artifacts, denial or religious services and counseling and retaliation.

In Drumgo v. Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145829 (D DE, Dec. 16, 2011), a Delaware federal district court upheld a prison rule allowing inmates to have only one religious book in their cell, rejecting an inmate's complaint that authorities confiscated a Qur'an and Bible from his cell and returned only the Qur'an. the Bible was held as evidence for the inmate's disciplinary proceeding.

In Buckley v. Alameida, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146233 (ED CA, Dec. 20, 2011), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing complaints by a Black Orthodox Jewish prisoner that his kosher food packages were confiscated, but recommended that he be permitted to proceed with his claim that his menorah and Hanukkah candles were confiscated with intent to discriminate against him on the basis of religion.

In Pittman-Bey v. Clay, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147350 (SD TX, Dec. 22, 2011), a Texas federal magistrate judge permitted an inmate who is member of the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam to proceed with his claim that his free exercise rights were violated by a prison rule that allowed him to receive an after-sunset Ramadan meal only if he attended Friday Jumah services. His beliefs required that he not attend Jumah services while incarcerated.  However money damage claims against certain defendants were dismissed on 11th Amendment grounds, and claims against certain individual defendants were dismissed.

In Hankins v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147067 (WD PA, Dec. 22, 2011), a Pennsylvania federal district court adopted most of the recommendations of a federal magistrate judge (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147478, Nov. 30, 2011) and dismissed an inmate's complaint that he was denied consultation with a religious representative and denied religious materials.

In Cayce v. George, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147907 (MD TN, Dec. 23, 2011), a Tennessee federal district court dismissed a jail inmate's complaint that while in protective custody he was not able to attend religious services because of a lack of volunteers to provide services.

In Stewart v. Beach, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147765 (D KA, Dec. 22, 2011), a Kansas federal district court dismissed on qualified immunity grounds a complaint by a Rastafarian inmate that he was required to cut his dreadlocks in order to transfer prison facilities to be closer to his mother who had been diagnosed with cancer.

In Treesh v. Leha Bobb-Itt, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147837 (SD OH, Dec. 21, 2011), an Ohio federal magistrate judge denied a motion for reconsideration made by a Native American inmate in a case in which he complained that his free exercise rights were violated when he was not allowed to wear a feather in his hair on a daily basis. His motion was based on the denial of DNA testing to show he was a Native American, though that was not the basis on which authorities did not permit his wearing of a feather.