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Blackie Alvarez v. Jean Hill

January 20, 2012

BLACKIE ALVAREZ, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JEAN HILL; MAX WILLIAMS; MITCH D.C. MORROW; JUDY GILMORE; STEVE FRANKE; TOM O'CONNER; TOM ARMSTRONG; STEVE BRABB; BRAD CAIN; SONNY RIDER; SONIA HOYT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon Anna J. Brown, District Judge, Presiding No.3:04-CV-00884-BR

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ebel, Circuit Judge:

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted October 12, 2011-Portland, Oregon

Before: David M. Ebel,*fn1 Marsha S. Berzon, and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Ebel

OPINION

The question presented here is what relief is available to Plaintiff-Appellant Blackie Alvarez, a former inmate in the Oregon Department of Corrections ("ODOC"), on claims alleging that ODOC employees substantially burdened the practice of his religion in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc to 2000cc-5. Money damages are not available under RLUIPA against state officials sued in their official capacity. And, because the ODOC has released Alvarez from its custody, his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are moot. Therefore, having jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we AFFIRM the district court's dismissal of Alva-rez's claims.

BACKGROUND

In June 2004, Alvarez sued several ODOC officials in their official capacity, alleging, among other things, that they were substantially burdening Alvarez's practice of his Native American religion.*fn2 The district court granted the ODOC officials summary judgment, but this court remanded Alvarez's claims for further consideration under RLUIPA. Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1154-55, 1159 (9th Cir. 2008). On remand, the district court again granted the ODOC officials summary judgment and dismissed Alvarez's RLUIPA claims, ruling: 1) money damages are not available under RLUIPA against state officials sued in their official capacity; and 2) in light of Alvarez's release from ODOC custody, his claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are moot. Alvarez appeals, challenging both determinations.

DISCUSSION

I. Oregon's sovereign immunity bars Alvarez's RLUIPA claims for money damages against Defendants sued in their official capacity

We review de novo questions of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Holley v. Cal. Dep't of Corr., 599 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2010).

[1] The Supreme Court, in Sossamon v. Texas, held that money damages under RLUIPA are not available against states because of their sovereign immunity. See 131 S. Ct. 1651, 1655 (2011). And, "[f]or sovereign-immunity purposes, we treat [a] suit against state officials in their official capacities as a suit against the state." Holley, 599 F.3d at 1111. ...


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