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Sterr v. Baptista

February 5, 2010

MARK A. STERR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. BAPTISTA, ET. AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Court Judge

Before the Court is pro se Plaintiff Marc A. Sterr's ("Plainitff") Motion for Reconsideration of Denial of an Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order (the "Motion"). The Court finds the matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. FED. R. CIV. P. 78; E.D. Cal. R. 78-230(m). After considering the moving papers, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order/Preliminary Injunction.

I. BACKGROUND

At all times relevant, Plaintiff has been a prisoner of the State of California in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, confined at Mule Creek State Prison. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants D. Baptista, S. Barham, I. Mohamed, D. Long, R. Rubia, and M. Martel (collectively, "Defendants") have denied his right to practice his sincerely held religious faith of Asatru.

On July 2, 2009, Plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction. Plaintiff alleged he was being denied possession of personal religious artifacts, the ability to grow medicinal herbs, the use of a ceremonial wood-burning fire, and the authorization to have flowers growing on the ceremonial spiritual grounds. Plaintiff also alleged that the "grass only" policy prohibiting the Earth-based religions from having flowers on ceremonial grounds would force Plaintiff to dig up the current floral arrangements and gardens. Plaintiff further alleged the policy outlining the days and times the Earth-based religions may use the grounds restricted his ability to use the grounds on a daily basis.

On July 17, 2009, this Court denied Plaintiff's motion. Relying on the factors set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254 (1987), the Court found Plaintiff did not present a meritorius case and was therefore not entitled to preliminary relief. The Court also found that Defendants did not impose a substantial burden on Plaintiff's religious practices under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA").

On July 30, 2009, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration of this Court's denial of Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. Plaintiff urges that the "grass-only" policy creates an undue burden under RLUIPA and holds no compelling, legitimate governmental interest. Plaintiff also alleges the grounds schedule regulation restricts Plaintiff's ability to use the grounds on a daily basis. Plaintiff's motion is therefore limited to reconsideration of the "grass-only" policy and the grounds schedule regulation. While this Court previously considered and summarily denied Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim, the Court reconsiders this claim below.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Motion for Reconsideration

Fed. R. Civ. P.60(b) provides for reconsideration only upon a showing of "(1) mistake, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) fraud; (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied or discharged judgment; or (6) 'extraordinary circumstances' which would justify relief." School Dist. No. 1J, Multnomah County v. Acands, Inc., 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Fuller v. M.G. Jewelry, 950 F.2d 1437, 1442 (9th Cir. 1991)).

These grounds are further limited by the Local Rules. E.D. Cal. R. 78-230(k) provides that the party seeking reconsideration must provide the court with the material facts and circumstances surrounding the motion, indicating "(1) when and to what Judge or Magistrate Judge the prior motion was made, (2) what ruling, decision or order was made thereon, (3) what new or different facts or circumstances are claimed to exist which did not exist or were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion, and (4) why the facts or circumstances were not shown at the time of the prior motion." E.D. Cal. R. 78-230(k).

In Plaintiff's motion, Plaintiff moves this Court to conduct an additional analysis of his claim under RLUIPA. A "First Amendment claim is subject to a rational relationship test which requires the state to show the regulation has a reasonable relationship to a legitimate penological interest. [A] RLUIPA claim mandates a 'more searching standard' of review: strict scrutiny which requires the state to show the regulation is the least restrictive means to further a compelling interest." Schnitzler v. Reisch, 518 F.Supp.2d 1098 (D. S.D. 2007), quoting Murphy v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections, 372 F.3d 979 (8th Cir. 2004). Because the majority of the Court's original opinion focused on the First Amendment claim, the Court will reconsider the RLUIPA claim at this time. However, upon reconsideration, Plaintiff's claim still fails to meet the required showing to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction.

B. Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction

Generally, courts grant equitable relief in the event of irreparable injury and the inadequacy of legal remedies. See Stanley v. Univ. of S. Cal., 13 F.3d 1313, 1320 (9th Cir. 1994); see also Weinberer v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305, 312, 102 S.Ct. 1798 (1982) ("[T]he basis for injunctive relief in the federal courts has always been irreparable injury and the inadequacy of legal remedies."). Plaintiffs must satisfy additional requirements to be granted preliminary relief. Plaintiffs have the burden of showing that they are entitled to preliminary relief. The "traditional test" requires that Plaintiffs demonstrate (1) a strong likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a significant threat of irreparable injury; (3) greater hardship to Plaintiffs than Defendants; and (4) that the public interest favors granting the injunction. See American Motorcyclist Ass'n v. Watt, 714 F.2d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1983).

The "alternative test" permits the plaintiff to meet its burden by showing either "(1) a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury or (2) the existence of serious questions going to the merits and the balance of hardships tipping in [the plaintiff's] favor." Nike, Inc. v. McCarthy, 379 F.3d 576, 580 (9th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). "These two formulations represent two points on a sliding scale in which the required degree of irreparable harm increases as the probability of success decreases." U.S. v. Nutri-cology, Inc., 982 F.2d 394, 397 (9th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted). "The critical element in determining the test to be applied is the relative hardship to the parties. If the balance of harm tips decidedly toward the plaintiff, then the ...


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