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Eric J. Fuller v. Matthew Cate

February 23, 2011



Plaintiff, a prisoner without counsel, filed this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 (the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA")). He alleges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's ("CDCR") prohibition on conjugal visits violates RLUIPA because it prevents him from fulfilling his duties, as a Muslim, to marry, consummate a marriage and engage in sexual relations with his wife.

Defendants Tilton and Martel ("defendants") move to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for failure to state a claim, and on the basis of qualified immunity.

As discussed herein, the motion must be granted in part and denied in part. As a threshold matter, defendants contest plaintiff's standing to present his claims. Plaintiff is not married, and therefore his claim of a right, cognizable under RLUIPA, for him to consummate a marriage and maintain a sexual relationship with a spouse does not present a case or controversy that is ripe for review. Accordingly, plaintiff lacks standing to pursue that claim and it must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. However, plaintiff also claims that the prohibition on conjugal visits deprives him of a right to enter into a valid Islamic marriage. Assuming such a right is cognizable under RLUIPA, plaintiff has asserted a concrete injury sufficient to establish his standing. Moreover, because plaintiff seeks only injunctive and declaratory relief, qualified immunity does not bar plaintiff's claim. Walker v. Gomez, 370 F.3d 969, 979 (9th Cir. 2004) (qualified immunity does not bar claims for declaratory and injunctive relief). Accordingly, as explained below, defendants' motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3177(b)(2) (the "regulation") prohibits overnight family visits to inmates who are serving a prison term of life without the possibility of parole. Plaintiff claims the regulation violates RLUIPA. Under RLUIPA, "[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 establishes that the burden furthers "a compelling governmental interest," and does so by "the least restrictive means . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2).

Plaintiff, who is Muslim, is serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Compl. at 1. He claims that his religion requires him to marry, consummate the marriage, and maintain a sexual relationship with his wife. Id.; Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dism. ("Opp'n") at 8-9. Plaintiff alleges that "[m]arriage is one of the most important institutions in Islam," and that a "marriage must be consummated" to be valid. Compl. at 1. Plaintiff alleges further that a Muslim has the right to divorce or refuse to marry if this obligation cannot be fulfilled. Id.

Plaintiff is not married, but has a fiancee. Compl. at 2-3; Opp'n at 2, 4, 9. Plaintiff claims the regulation makes it impossible for him to "consummate his marriage/have sexual relations with his wife and practice his religion . . . and by denying [plaintiff] the right to perform his religious duties to his wife or potential wife is to deny him his right to be married as a Muslim." Compl. at 2. As relief, plaintiff requests that the regulation be repealed and amended to allow Muslim prisoners serving life termsthe privilege of conjugal visits. Id. § V.

II. Jurisdiction/Standing

Defendants contend, in part, that this action should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction as plaintiff does not have standing and there is no justiciable case or controversy. Defs.' P. & A. in Supp. of Mot. to Dism. ("Defs.' P. & A.") at 3-4.

A. Standards

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute . . . ." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (internal citations omitted). Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to seek dismissal of an action where federal subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. "When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction in order to survive the motion." Tosco Corp. v. Cmtys. for a Better Env't, 236 F.3d 495, 499 (9th Cir. 2001).

A party may seek dismissal for lack of jurisdiction "either on the face of the pleadings or by presenting extrinsic evidence." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000)). In a factual challenge, the court may consider evidence demonstrating or refuting the existence of jurisdiction.*fn2 Kingman Reef Atoll Invs., L.L.C. v. United States, 541 F.3d 1189, 1195 (9th Cir. 2008). "In such circumstances, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Id. (quoting Roberts v. Corrothers, 812 F.2d 1173, 1177 (9th Cir. 1987)). Here, the material facts as to standing are not in dispute.

Standing is an element of subject matter jurisdiction. Warren, 328 F.3d at 1140. To establish standing under Article III of the Constitution, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) "an 'injury in fact' -- an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized," meaning that the injury must "affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way," and (b) "'actual or imminent,' not 'conjectural' or 'hypothetical'"; (2) "there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of -- the injury has to be 'fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant, and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court'"; and (3) "it must be 'likely,' as opposed to merely 'speculative,' that the injury will be 'redressed by a favorable decision.'" Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal citations omitted). Each element of standing is "an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case" and "must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation." Id. at 561.

Further, "[t]he ripeness doctrine prevents courts, through avoidance of premature adjudication, from entanglement in theoretical or abstract disagreements that do not yet have a concrete impact on the parties." 18 Unnamed "John Smith" Prisoners v. Meese, 871 F.2d 881, 883 (9th Cir. 1989). Ripeness "is often treated under the rubric of standing," and often "coincides squarely with standing's injury in fact prong." Thomas v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm'n, 220 F.3d 1134, 1138 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). An issue is not ripe for adjudication if it depends on "contingent future ...

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