Prisoner free exercise cases – May 10, 2015

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Ajala v. West, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57944 (WD WI, May 4, 2015), a Wisconsin federal district court held that the state had not shown as a matter of law that banning a Muslim inmate from wearing a kufi outside his cell and group worship is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. It ordered the case to trial on injunctive and declaratory relief, but found qualified immunity as to damages.

In Cauthen v. Rivera, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58244 (ED CA, May 4, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing a complaint by a Rastafarian inmate about a body cavity search.  Plaintiff objected on religious grounds that it would be indecent to expose his naked body to people that don’t “look like” him, such as females or homosexuals.

In Mallory v. Stanitis, 2015 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 312 (PA Commnw. Ct., May 5, 2015), a 3-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a Muslim inmate’s retaliation and free exercise claims growing out of plaintiff’s insistence on wearing his pants legs rolled up to the middle of his shins for religious reasons.

In Pabon v. Cheshire County Department of Corrections, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58717 (D NH, May 1, 2015), a New Hampshire federal district court adopted a magistrate’s recommendation (2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 183796, April 17, 2014), and allowed an inmate to proceed with his constitutional, but not his RLUIPA, claims for damages based on allegations that he was denied access to religious items and prevented from practicing his religion.

In Rinaldi v. United States, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59579 (MD PA, May 7, 2015), a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a Muslim inmate’s complaint that he was denied the opportunity to engage in congregate Friday Jumuah prayers with other Muslims. While issues of fact remained as to plaintiff’s claim under RFRA, he failed to allege personal involvement of any of the defendants.

In Fox v. Heyns, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60247 (WD MI, May 7, 2015), a Michigan federal magistrate judge recommended dismissing as moot, as well as for failure to exhaust, complaints by two inmates seeking recognition of the Christian Identity Faith and its holy days as well as of full-body immersion.

In Wilson-El v. Mutayoba, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60688 (SD IL, May 8, 2015), an Illinois federal district court upheld $10,100 punitive damage verdict a jury had awarded against a prison chaplain who had denied a Moorish Science Temple member a vegan diet.

In Oliver v. Adams, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60859 (ED CA, May 7, 2015), a California federal magistrate judge recommended allowing a Shetaut Neter inmate to move ahead with his First Amendment, RLUIPA and equal protection claims asserting favoritism to conventional Western world religions and denials of a religious diet, prayer rug, religious materials, worship services, and other programming.