Prisoner free exercise cases – March 8, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Spence v. Nelson, (5th Cir., March 5. 2015), the 5th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a Shia Muslim inmate’s complaint regarding an alleged unpublished prison mail room policy that prohibited inmates from receiving literature from Iran.  The court concluded that the named plaintiffs were not the policy makers responsible.

In Triplett v. LeBlanc, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24468 (MD LA, March 2, 2015), a Louisiana federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24663, Feb. 5, 2015) and dismissed an inmate’s complaint that his free exercise and equal protection rights were infringed when he was reassigned and disciplined for not attending a scheduled church call-out for inmate ministers.

In Addis v. Arizona Department of Corrections, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25519 (D AZ, March 2, 2015), an Arizona federal district court dismissed with leave to amend an inmate’s complaint that trash, contraband or notes were sometimes placed in kosher meals.

In Hammer v. Keeling, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25641 (ED VA, March 3, 2015), a Virginia federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint over being temporarily removed from the Common Fare religious diet because he was found concealing a bell pepper in the front of his pants.

In Mitchell v. Cox, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25871 (D NV, March 2, 2015), a Nevada federal district court permitted an inmate who identified as Jewish and Hebrew-Israelite to move ahead with complaints regarding kosher meals, denial of attendance at Sabbath services and restrictions on leaving his cell to observe Passover.

In Sutton v. VanLeeuwen, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26367 (D CO, Feb. 25, 2015), a Colorado federal district court dismissed an inmate’s complaint that his free exercise rights were infringed when he was forced to eat meat.

In Cullen v. Saddler, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27459 (CD IL, March 6, 2015), an Illinois federal district court granted summary judgment to a pro se plaintiff who objected that while in prison he was required to participate in a religious 12-step program in order to be considered for additional good time credit. The court suggested that if further proceedings were necessary to decide whether plaintiff in fact suffered the $350 damages he claimed, that the parties should waive a jury trial.

In Adams v. Woodall, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27719 (MD TN, March 4, 2015), a Tennessee federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing complaints of a Muslim inmate’s complaints regarding denial of religious jewelry, denial of access to religious vendors and denial of a religious diet.

In Smith v. United States Congress, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27818 (ED VA, March 6, 2015), a Virginia federal district court dismissed a complaint by a Nation of Islam inmate that Virginia state prison rules prevented him from purchasing CDs of sermons of Minister Farrakhan directly from The Final Call and barred Arabic language CDs.

In Lucas v. Director of Department of Corrections, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27957 (ED CA, March 5, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies a Muslim inmate’s complaint that he has not received a religious diet.  The court held that an amended complaint filed after administrative remedies are exhausted cannot cure a prematurely filed original complaint.