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Ashanti v. Tilton

February 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By Order, filed on 1/23/09, this court directed defendant to file a response to plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, filed on 3/19/08 (docket #13), supplemented by a filing on 5/07/8 (# 16), by 2/06/09, which defendant has done.

Second Amended Complaint*fn1

This action proceeds upon the second amended complaint, filed on 6/12/07. The named defendant is James E. Tilton, CDCR Secretary. Plaintiff, a Muslim, is an inmate at California Medical Facility (CMF)-Vacaville, and alleges that he has been denied a Halal diet, required by the tenets of his Islamic faith. Second Amended Complaint (SAC), p. 4.*fn2 He contends that not being provided a Halal diet violates his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, and his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Id. His equal protection claim is based on the allegation that Jewish prisoners are permitted kosher diets, and that Muslims are permitted by their religion either kosher meats or meats prepared by Muslims, but he is not allowed the kosher diet at CMF, which he had at Solano State Prison in 2004; plaintiff further contends the vegetarian diet permitted by state regulation is not an adequate substitute. Id.

Although plaintiff concedes that he and other Muslim prisoners are permitted to hold their Friday Jumu'ah prayers in the CMF gym, he believes his constitutional rights, as well as RLUIPA, are violated by the failure of the prison to provide an interfaith worship facility appropriate for Muslims. SAC, p. 6. Plaintiff claims that the two CMF chapels are decorated "with religious idols and pictures" appropriate for practitioners of the Christian faith, precluding Muslims from praying within them. Id. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as money damages.

Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Plaintiff moves for preliminary injunctive relief, wherein plaintiff asks that defendant be enjoined, while this action is pending, to permit plaintiff a kosher diet and to provide plaintiff and other CMF Muslims with an "independent place of worship. " See Motion (Docket # 13) & Supp. Motion (Docket # 16).

Preliminary Injunction Standard

The legal principles applicable to a request for preliminary injunctive relief are well established. "The traditional equitable criteria for granting preliminary injunctive relief are: 1) a strong likelihood of success on the merits, 2) the possibility of irreparable injury to plaintiff if the preliminary relief is not granted, 3) a balance of hardships favoring the plaintiff, and 4) advancement of the public interest (in certain cases)." Dollar Rent A Car v. Travelers Indem. Co., 774 F.2d 1371, 1374 (9th Cir. 1985). The criteria are traditionally treated as alternative tests. "Alternatively, a court may issue a preliminary injunction if the moving party demonstrates 'either a combination of probable success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury or that serious questions are raised and the balance of hardships tips sharply in his favor.'" Martin v. International Olympic Comm., 740 F.2d 670, 675 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting William Inglis & Sons Baking Co. v. ITT Continental Baking Co., 526 F.2d 86, 88 (9th Cir. 1975)). The Ninth Circuit has reiterated that under either formulation of the principles, if the probability of success on the merits is low, preliminary injunctive relief should be denied:

Martin explicitly teaches that "[u]nder this last part of the alternative test, even if the balance of hardships tips decidedly in favor of the moving party, it must be shown as an irreducible minimum that there is a fair chance of success on the merits."

Johnson v. California State Bd. of Accountancy, 72 F.3d 1427, 1430 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Martin, 740 F.2d at 675).

In cases brought by prisoners involving conditions of confinement, any preliminary injunction "must be narrowly drawn, extend no further than necessary to correct the harm the court finds requires preliminary relief, and be the least intrusive ...

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