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Fields v. Voss

February 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge



A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Allen L. Fields ("Plaintiff") is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, hereinafter "the RLUIPA"). This action is proceeding against Defendants W.T. Voss, Patrick Daley, Mae O'Brien, Linda Clark, and Cindy Maynard on Plaintiff's claim that they violated his rights under the RLUIPA by substantially burdening his religious exercise. (Doc. 13.) Plaintiff is seeking monetary damages, and appears to be suing defendants in both their official and personal capacities. (Doc. 1, Comp.)

On July 9, 2009, pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants Patrick Daley, Mae O'Brien, Linda Clark, and Cindy Maynard ("Defendants") filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; that Plaintiff may not pursue monetary damages against them in their individual/personal capacities; and that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under the RLUIPA. (Doc. 25.) Plaintiff filed an opposition on July 22, 2009.*fn1 (Doc. 26.) Defendants failed to file a reply.

B. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

In their motion to dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claim for damages against them in their official capacities is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. (Doc. 25, Motion, 7:1-8:4.)

It is true that the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought against an unconsenting state, Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Co. , 951 F.2d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted); see also Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida , 116 S.Ct. 1114, 1122 (1996); Puerto Rico Aqueduct Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc. , 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993); Austin v. State Indus. Ins. Sys. , 939 F.2d 676, 677 (9th Cir. 1991), and "a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office," and "[a]s such, it is no different from a suit against the State itself." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police , 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). However, the RLUIPA was enacted pursuant to Congress' Spending Power under Article I of the Constitution; [the] RLUIPA "[s]section 3 applies when the 'substantial burden [on religious exercise] is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance' . . . ." Cutter v. Wilkinson , 544 U.S. 709, 716 (2005) quoting § 2000cc-1(b)(1); Mayweathers v. Newland , 314 F.3d 1062, 1066 (9th Cir. 2002). Congress may create a funding contract that conditions the award of federal monies to the state's waiver of sovereign immunity to private lawsuits seeking to enforce the legislation. See, e.g., Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools , 503 U.S. 60, 74-75 (1992) (finding that the Spending Power permitted Congress to create a private cause of action against a state institution for a violation of Title IX). By receiving federal funds to assist in the financial burdens of running state prisons, California has consented to being sued for violations of the RLUIPA such that "[t]he Eleventh Amendment does not bar this suit against California State prison officials under [the] RLUIPA." Mayweathers, 314 F.3d at 1069.

Thus, Defendants' motion to dismiss based on Eleventh Amendment immunity from Plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacities for violations of the RLUIPA should be denied.

C. Monetary Damages Against Defendants in Their Individual Capacities

Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot pursue money damages against Defendants in their individual/personal capacities as Plaintiff does not allege that Defendants, in their official capacity or otherwise, imposed a "land use regulation" so as to be liable under the RLUIPA. (Doc. 25, Motion, 8:5-9:6.) Defendants also argue that, Plaintiff's allegations regarding the settlement agreement entered by the State of California (in the case of Victor Wayne Cooper v. State of California, et al. , Case No. C-02-3712-JSW in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California) show that "Defendants established a regulatory mechanism to provide Plaintiff Kosher meals while at Coalinga State Hospital," and that Plaintiff's allegations that he did not receive Kosher-for-Passover meals during Passover in 2007 is "not an action representing a substantial burden of a program or activity implementing the land use regulation, " but rather "isolated instances of errors or failures of individuals to give effect to an agreed-to practices [sic]" and that the "alleged misconduct was not in furtherance of a regulatory program or standard." ( Id. at 8:20-25, emphasis in original.)

Defendants mistakenly assume that Plaintiff's action is brought for land use regulations under section 2 of the RLUIPA. However, the RLUIPA targets two areas for protection: land use regulation (section 2 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc) and the religious exercise of institutionalized persons (section 3 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1). The latter section, which is at issue in actions brought by confined persons, states that "[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution ... even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability," unless the government can demonstrate that the burden "is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and "is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a).*fn2

Section 3 of the RLUIPA affords to prison inmates a "heightened protection from government-imposed burdens," by requiring that the government demonstrate that the substantial burden on the prisoner's religious exercise is justified by a compelling, rather than merely a legitimate, governmental interest. See Warsoldier v. Woodford , 418 F.3d 989, 994 (9th Cir.2005) (citation omitted). In doing so, section 3 affords confined persons "greater protection of religious exercise than what the Constitution itself affords." Lovelace v. Lee , 472 F.3d 174, 186 (4th Cir.2006). Section 3 applies whenever "the substantial burden on religious exercise is imposed in a program or activity that receives federal financial assistance." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1).

1. Money Damages

While "there is a division of authority" on the question of whether monetary damages are available, this District has found that the RLUIPA's phrase, "appropriate relief," is sufficiently broad to include some forms of monetary relief. See Guru Nanak Sikh Soc. of Yuba City v. County of Sutter , 326 F.Supp.2d 1140, 1161-62 (E.D. Cal. 2003). This position is bolstered by "the general rule that all appropriate relief is available in an action brought to vindicate a federal right when Congress has given no indication of its purpose with respect to remedies." Franklin , 503 U.S. at 68-69 ref. J.I. Case Co. v. Borak , 377 U.S. 426 (1964). In Franklin , despite the silence in the statute (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681) as to available remedies, it was held appropriate to "presume the availability of all appropriate remedies unless Congress has expressly indicated otherwise." 503 U.S. at 66, 112. "Absent clear direction to the contrary by Congress, the federal courts have the power to award any appropriate relief in a cognizable cause of action brought pursuant to a federal statute" -- both injunctive and monetary. Id .

While the Ninth Circuit has not specifically addressed the issue of whether monetary damages are available under the RLUIPA, ...

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