Sunday, February 12, 2012

Recent Prisoner Free Exercise Cases

In Sharp v. Johnson, (3d Cir., Feb. 9, 2012), inmates who were members of the Habashi sect of Sunni Islam sought, and were refused, separate religious services from the existing Sunni services. In affirming the district court's judgment for defendants, the 3rd Circuit held that RLUIPA does not impose liability for damages in suits against defendants in their individual capacities. It also held that prison officials, in defending against a 1st Amendment free exercise claim, have the burden to show a connection between a restriction and penological interests, but the trial court error in that regard did not matter because here defendants had qualified immunity.

In Davis v. Castelloe, (4th Cir., Feb. 2, 2012), the 4th Circuit, reversing the district court, held that an inmate's free exercise claim survives frivolity review. The district court (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152786, ED NC, April 15, 2011) had dismissed plaintiff's claim that religious property belonging to him, including a prayer book, other books, a rosary and a crucifix were destroyed by the chaplain who was "anti-Catholic" and who denied the Catholic community equal time as other religious groups.

In Damron v. Jackson, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13359 (SD OH, Feb. 3, 2012), an Ohio federal district court denied a motion to amend its earlier decision that rejected a complaint over a prison's refusal to permit separate congregate worship services for Christian Separatist adherents.

In Lindh v. Warden, Federal Correctional Institution, Terre Haute, Indiana, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13121 (SD IN, Feb. 3, 2012), an Indiana federal district court, in a lawsuit by convicted enemy combatant John Walker Lindh, held that recitation of the 5 daily Muslim group prayers is a religious exercise based on Lindh's sincerely held religious beliefs. But genuine issues of material fact remain as to whether a restriction on group prayer substantially burdened Lindh's free exercise and, if it did, whether the government showed a compelling interest and least restrictive means.

In Thaxton v. Simmons, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12841 (ND NY, Feb. 2, 2012), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13555, Jan. 5, 2012) and dismissed an inmate's claim that his free exercise rights were violated when his kosher food tray was contaminated on two occasions.

In Lister v. Coleman, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15016 (ND OH, Feb. 6,2012), an Ohio federal district court held that an inmate had not sufficiently alleged a free exercise claim through a general allegation that he was denied the right to purchase religious items to practice his Native American Indian religion.

In Martz v. SCI-Coal Township Therapeutic Community, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15821 (MD PA, Feb. 8, 2012), a Pennsylvania federal district court permitted an inmate to proceed against certain defendants on his complaint that he was required, in order to receive favorable parole consideration, to complete a substance abuse program that violated his religious beliefs.

In Porter v. Van Tatenhove, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15396 (WD MI, Feb. 8, 2012), a Michigan federal district court rejected claims by an inmate that he had the right to have his religious name, which he legally adopted after his commitment, appear on his prison pass.

In Johnson v. Alvarez, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14253 (D NV, Feb. 7, 2012), a Nevada federal district court denied an inmate a preliminary injunction, rejecting his claim that he was disciplined for disobedience solely because he was a Muslim practicing his religious beliefs.

In North v. Clarke, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15204 (ED VA, Feb. 7, 2012), a Virginia federal district court  granted an inmate summary judgment, holding that a Department of Corrections policy that allows inmates to receive music and religious CD's, but not secular spoken-word CD's, violates the 1st and 14th Amendments. However, the court denied an award of damages on qualified immunity grounds.

In Cottier v. Schaeffer, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14062 (D SD, Feb. 6, 2012), a South Dakota federal district court held that plaintiff failed to plead facts to support his claim that, while in prison, he has not been permitted to "worship through ceremonials and traditional rites of the Lakota Nation."

In Turner v. Gibson, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16065 (ED CA, Feb. 9, 2012), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed, with leave to amend, an inmate's complaint that Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish prisoners in administrative segregation are not provided spiritual counseling or services.

In Colvin v. Caruso, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16151 (WD MI, Feb. 9, 2012), a Michigan federal district court, in a case on remand from the 6th Circuit, issued declaratory relief finding that a Department of Corrections policy that provides a prisoner's religious menu is to be revoked for mere possession of "any food item that violates a tenet of his or her designated religion" violates prisoners' free exercise rights. Here plaintiff was taken off a kosher diet after a non-kosher powder protein supplement was found in his cell.