Prisoner free exercise cases – April 6, 2014

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Smith v. Governor for the State of Alabama, (11th Cir., April 2, 2014), the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a number of claims by an Odinist inmate, including his complaint that he was denied religious items (rune container, leather folder for study materials, quartz crystal and outdoor fire pit); claims of retaliation; security threat group designation; destruction of his artwork; and his challenge to the prison’s faith-based honor dorm.

In McKinley v. Maddox, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40889 (WD OK, March 27, 2014), an Oklahoma federal district court adopted in modified form a magistrate’s recommendations (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42243, March 4, 2014), and dismissed without prejudice a former inmate’s suit complaining that he was not permitted to attend off-site religious services. The dismissal was a sanction for plaintiff’s failure to appear at a scheduled deposition.

In Debardelaben v. McKeon, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40526 (WD MI, March 27, 2014), a Michigan federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41916, March 6, 2014) and dismissed on qualified immunity grounds an inmate’s complaint that he was wrongly removed from the kosher diet program for having purchased non-kosher food from the prison store. Plaintiff was permitted to proceed with a retaliation claim.

In Shapiro v. Community First Services, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42459 (ED NY, March 27, 2014), a New York federal district court dismissed an inmate’s 1st Amendment Bivens action against a privately-owned halfway house to which he was sentenced for violating probation. Plaintiff claimed he was not given sufficient time to travel to attend Quaker services on Sundays.

In Riehl v. Martin, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42870 (ND NY, March 31, 2014), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendations (2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186610, Dec. 19, 2013) and permitted a Jewish inmate to proceed with his 1st Amendment (but not his RLUIPA) damage claim alleging that some of the food served to him during Passover 2012 was not kosher for Passover.

In Heard v. Finco, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43048 (WD MI, March 31, 2014), a Michigan federal district court permitted Muslim inmates to proceed with their claims alleging that they received inadequate amounts of food in their Ramadan meals in violation of the 1st Amendment and RLUIPA. Their 8th Amendment claims were dismissed. The magistrate’s recommendations in the case are at 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45458, Feb. 25, 2014.

In Hampton v. Wetzel, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43207 (MD PA, March 31, 2014), a Pennsylvania federal district court permitted a Muslim inmate to proceed against certain defendants on his complaint that authorities refused to provide him with a medically prescribed therapeutic diet tray at times to permit observance of the Ramadan fast. 

In Ind v. Colorado Department of Corrections, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43461 (D CO, March 31, 2014), a Colorado federal district court held that the free exercise rights under RLUIPA of an inmate of the Christian Separatist faith were violated by limiting him to possessing two books while in administrative segregation.

In Davis v. Abercrombie, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43966 (D HI, March 31, 2014), an Hawaiian federal district court, in an opinion that extensively discusses Native Hawaiian religious rituals, permitted Hawaiian inmates housed in private prison facilities in Arizona to move ahead with their complaints regarding denial of daily outdoor group worship and possession of certain sacred items. Claims regarding a number of other infringements of religious practices were dismissed.

In Seymore v. City of New York, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44951 (SD NY, March 26, 2014), a New York federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation and dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a Muslim inmate’s complaint that during Ramadan 2012 religious services were cancelled or curtailed.