This matter is before the Court*fn1 on Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Goord, Leonard, Rashid, Al-Wahaidy, Ahmed, LoConte, Khalifah, and Elmi.
Defendant Umar joined in the Motions. For the reasons that follow, the Motions are granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs are Shiite Muslims who are currently incarcerated by the
New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS").
Plaintiffs Cook, Dennis, and Razi-Bey are incarcerated at Auburn
Correctional Facility. Plaintiff Amaker is incarcerated at Woodbourne
Correctional Facility, and Plaintiff Orafan is incarcerated at Eastern
Correctional Facility. Defendants are various prison officials: the
DOCS Commissioner, the current and former Ministerial Program
Coordinators for Islamic Affairs, the current and former Directors of
Ministerial and Family Services, and facility chaplains.*fn2
Plaintiffs have sued all Defendants in their individual and
official capacities, except for Umar and LoConte, who are sued only in
their individual capacities.
Plaintiffs are suing for alleged violations of their rights to freely practice Shiite Islam and to be free from the establishment of Sunni Islam. Specifically, Plaintiffs' primary claim is that Defendants violated their rights in not providing them with a separate Jumah service led by a Shiite prayer leader.*fn3 Plaintiffs contend that the unified Muslim service provided by DOCS does not meet their spiritual needs because they cannot receive proper religious guidance from Sunni Muslims. Plaintiffs also assert that Defendants have engaged in acts of hostility and discrimination against them based on their religion. They further claim that DOCS has established Sunni Islam as the official version of Islam and that DOCS officials have systematically discriminated against Shiite beliefs and practices in favor of Sunni Islam.
As pled in the Consolidated Complaint, Plaintiffs' specific claims are (1) violation of the free exercise of religion as provided by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, against all Defendants; (2) violation of the free exercise of religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, against all Defendants; (3) conspiracy to deny civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) and the First and Fourteenth Amendments, against Defendants Umar, Ahmed, Rashid, Al-Wahaidy, Khalifah, and Elmi; (4) establishment of religion as prohibited by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, against all Defendants; (5) violation of equal protection as provided by the Fourteenth Amendment, against all Defendants; (6) violation of the right to free exercise of religion as provided by New York Constitution Art. I, § 3, against all Defendants; and (7) violation of the right to free exercise of religion as provided by N.Y. Correction Law § 610, and DOCS Directives 4200, 4202, and 4750, against all Defendants. Plaintiffs seek declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for all claims.
This case began as two separate cases. The first, Civil No. 95-318, was filed in 1995, and alleged overt discrimination against Shiite inmates by various prison officials and challenged DOCS's religious policies. The second, Civil No. 00-2022, was filed in 2000 after RLUIPA was enacted and challenged the same policies and practices under the new law.
There are several previous rulings in the two cases which constitute important law of the case, and to which this Court will adhere. On February 12, 2003, in Civil No. 00-2022, Judge Kahn dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for monetary relief against all Defendants in their official capacities. After Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint, Judge Kahn again dismissed Plaintiffs' claims for monetary relief against all Defendants in their official capacities, as well as monetary damages sought for conduct predating the enactment of RLUIPA.
On August 20, 2003, this Court addressed a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by current Defendants Rashid, Goord, Umar, Khalifah, and Elmi in Civil No. 95-318. The Court ruled that (1) Plaintiffs had exhausted their remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act; (2) the above-named Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' claims arising from the denial of separate worship; (3) as a mere supervisor, Defendant Goord was entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs' claim of deprivation of the reasonable opportunity to practice their religion based on discriminatory conduct and comments; (4) Defendants Umar, Rashid, Khalifah, and Elmi were not entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's free exercise of religion claim based on an alleged deprivation of the reasonable opportunity to practice their religion because of discriminatory conduct and comments; and (5) Plaintiffs raised genuine issues of material fact whether alleged discrimination by Defendants Umar, Rashid, Khalifah, and Elmi burdened Plaintiffs' free exercise of religion. On November 20, 2003, the Court clarified its earlier ruling and explicitly reinstated Plaintiffs' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against Defendant Goord.
The two actions were consolidated on April 20, 2004, and Plaintiffs filed their Consolidated Complaint on May 19, 2004. On November 3, 2004, this Court was permanently assigned to the case.
D. The Motions for Summary Judgment
Defendants contest the merits of all of Plaintiffs' claims. They also seek summary judgment on the grounds that RLUIPA is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause and the Tenth Amendment and exceeds Congress's power under the Spending Clause and the Commerce Clause. Defendants assert various defenses such as failure to exhaust administrative remedies, qualified immunity, and Eleventh Amendment immunity.
Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). As the United States Supreme Court has stated, "summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986). The non-moving party may not rest on mere allegations or denials in response to the motion but must set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). The Court must view the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Cruden v. Bank of New York, 957 F.2d 961, 975 (2d Cir. 1992).
B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies
Defendants argue that some Plaintiffs have not exhausted their administrative remedies. The Court addressed this issue in its Order of August 18, 2003, and found that Plaintiffs have complied with the exhaustion requirement. This is the law of the case, and Defendants have offered no reason to reconsider this decision. Accordingly, summary judgment is not appropriate on this basis.
C. Free Exercise of Religion under RLUIPA
Defendants contend they are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim. The Court previously held in this case that Defendants Rashid, Goord, Umar, Khalifah, and Elmi were entitled to qualified immunity on the right-to-worship-separately claim brought under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but only as to the request for monetary relief. The Court will apply this law of the case to the RLUIPA right-to-worship-separately claim and to all Defendants because Plaintiffs have not established that the right of Shiite Muslims to worship separately from Sunni Muslims is a clearly established right. As Defendants concede, however, qualified immunity is not available for declaratory or injunctive relief. Because
Plaintiffs have also requested declaratory and injunctive relief for their RLUIPA claim, the Court must proceed to the merits.
2. Merits of the RLUIPA Claim
RLUIPA provides that the government shall not "impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution," unless the burden furthers "a compelling governmental interest" and does so by "the least restrictive means." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2). In applying the test, a court must give deference to the prison officials, who are responsible for creating and establishing policies and maintaining order and security. See Jolly v. Coughlin, 76 F.3d 468, 475-76 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted) (applying identical test under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act). There is no dispute that the Jumah service requested by Plaintiffs is a religious exercise,*fn4 but Plaintiffs must show that Defendants substantially burdened this religious exercise.
In determining whether a person's religious beliefs are substantially burdened, the Court must determine whether the belief is central or important to the individual's religious practice. Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582, 593-94 (2d Cir. 2003). Although Plaintiffs have submitted evidence from religious experts that a Jumah service for Shiite Muslims must be led by a Shiite prayer leader, the burden is to be measured by an individual's specific beliefs, not general ecclesiastical doctrine. See id. at 594.
First, by their own admission, Plaintiffs Orafan and Amaker attend the congregate Jumah service, which undermines the importance of a separate Shiite Jumah service to them. Second, even if Plaintiffs do not attend the congregate Jumah service, they may satisfy their prayer requirement by individually praying the Zohr prayer in their cells. Plaintiff Razi-Bey testified that Shiite law permits a follower to pray the Zohr prayer when there is not a Shiite prayer leader, and that the Zohr prayer is an acceptable accommodation. Plaintiff Cook testified that if a Jumah service cannot be formed, he will pray the Zohr prayer by himself. Additionally, Plaintiff Cook has led Shiite Jumah services at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, unbeknownst to DOCS officials, to satisfy the prayer requirement. Plaintiff Orafan testified that if a Jumah service cannot be congregated, he prays the shaura prayer. When asked about an alternative to the Jumah prayer, Plaintiff Amaker testified he says the Ashya prayer. By their own statements, praying the Zohr prayer is an acceptable alternative to a separate Jumah service for Plaintiffs Orafan, Cook, Razi-Bey, and Amaker.*fn5
Third, it is significant that Plaintiffs have not established the requisite number of Shiite inmates who want to and would attend a solely Shiite Jumah service at their respective facilities. Plaintiffs, their experts, and religious authorities have all stated that there must be at least five participants to form a valid Shiite Jumah. Notably, Plaintiffs' evidence also establishes that Jumah is not even obligatory unless there are seven participants. Considering that Plaintiffs have not shown that a valid Jumah can even be formed at any of Plaintiffs' facilities, the Court cannot conclude that the failure to provide a separate service constitutes a substantial burden. Any burden is caused by the mandates of the Shiite doctrine.
Considering the availability of the unified service, the option of performing the Zohr prayer, and the numerical requirement for a valid Jumah service, the Court finds that Defendants have not substantially burdened Plaintiff's religious exercise. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted on the RLUIPA claim.
b. Compelling Government Interest and Least Restrictive Means
As an alternative grounds for summary judgment, the Court finds that Defendants have satisfied their burden to show that a unified Jumah service is the least restrictive means of achieving compelling government interests. The compelling government interests asserted are security concerns, fiscal and staffing limitations, and space constraints. Maintaining security and preserving order are compelling government interests. See Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S. Ct. 2113, 2123 & n.11, 2124 n.13 (2005). Fiscal, staffing, and space considerations are a part of maintaining security and preserving order. See Marria v. Broaddus, No. 97 Civ. 8297 (NRB), 2004 WL 1724984, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2004).
Defendants have shown that providing a separate Jumah service would "seriously impact security staffing and the costs thereof." (LeClaire Aff. ¶ 16.) With one exception, Plaintiffs are housed in maximum security facilities. DOCS would have to increase the number of staff personnel, who would be required to escort inmates to and from the service as well as monitor the service. Increasing security staffing would result in an increase in work hours and overtime, which would constitute a significant payroll expense in a difficult fiscal climate. Identifying a separate space for the service would "pose a very difficult problem," especially because the two prayer services would need to occur at the same time, therefore possibly requiring an additional Mosque at each facility. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 21.) Using space not currently dedicated to religious programming is not an option. Not only is such space unavailable, but it also conflicts with DOCS's policy of holding religious services only in areas designated for religious purposes. Specifically with respect to the Auburn facility, "the addition of any program on Friday afternoon . . . would present an unacceptable security risk for inmates and officers." (Graham Aff. ¶ 11.) The areas identified by Plaintiffs -- the old school building, auditorium, and old law library -- are already beyond capacity or are otherwise unavailable because of construction. As to security, Defendants refer to a time when Muslim prisoners were divided into two groups: a generic faith and the American Muslim Mission. Inmates in the two programs competed for members, and violence ensued on many occasions. To combat the divisiveness, DOCS unified the programs, and Muslim inmates have since peacefully coexisted in the generic Islamic program.
The Court finds Defendants' interests compelling, and the policy of holding a unified Jumah service is the least restrictive means to satisfy those interests. Plaintiffs' suggested alternatives to hold a Shiite service in a separate space are not feasible. There is not the space, staffing, or resources to accommodate their request for a separate Friday ...