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Epps v. Grannis

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 27, 2013

OMAR ERNEST EPPS, Plaintiff,
v.
N. GRANNIS, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISPOSING OF ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE, DISMISSING SOME CLAIMS AS MOOT, AND AMENDING SCHEDULING ORDER

ROGER T. BENITEZ, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Omar Ernest Epps, a prisoner at California's Calipatria State Prison proceeding pro se, filed a First Amended Complaint on February 26, 2011. In his Amended Complaint he named fourteen defendants in six counts alleging fifteen claims for relief.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's many claims for relief may be roughly grouped into two categories: (a) the § 1983 claims; and (b) the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA") claims. Previously, all of the § 1983 claims were dismissed against all of the Defendants except the claim in Count 5 against Defendant Meister in his individual capacity.[1] At the same time the civil rights claims were dismissed, an Order to Show Cause was issued because it appeared that the RLUIPA claims may be moot. Plaintiff filed his response arguing that his RLUIPA claims are not moot.

A. Mootness Doctrine

Federal courts have an obligation to inquire as to their jurisdiction, because Article III, § 2 of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to ongoing "Cases" or "Controversies." Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 64 (1997); Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11-12 (2004). Article III standing requires that a plaintiff show that he has "suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent." Id. Standing is evaluated at the time suit is filed. Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180 (2000). Mootness is the doctrine of standing set in a time frame. That is, standing "must continue throughout" the case. Id. at 189; Sanford v. MemberWorks, Inc., 625 F.3d 550, 556 (9th Cir. 2010). "A claim is moot when the issues presented are no longer live." Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted) (finding moot a prisoner's RLUIPA claim). As the Ninth Circuit put it in the case of Gator.com Corp. v. L.L. Bean, Inc., 398 F.3d 1125, 1128-1129 (9th Cir. 2005):

It is an inexorable command of the United States Constitution that the federal courts confine themselves to deciding actual cases and controversies. See U.S. CONST. art. III, § 2, cl. 1. For a case to fall within the parameters of our limited judicial power, "it is not enough that there may have been a live case or controversy when the case was decided by the court whose judgment we are reviewing." Rather, Article III requires that a live controversy persist throughout all stages of the litigation. Where this condition is not met, the case has become moot, and its resolution is no longer within our constitutional purview. Because "mootness is a jurisdictional issue, " we are obliged to raise it sua sponte.

(Citations omitted.)

B. No Damages Claims Under RLUIPA

Plaintiff sought money damages and injunctive relief against the individual defendants. However, RLUIPA does not provide money damages against prison officials, whether sued in their official capacity or individual capacity. Alvarez, 667 F.3d at 1063 (RLUIPA does not provide for damages against state official capacity defendants); Holley v. Cal. Dep't of Corr., 599 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2010) (same); Rendelman v. Rouse, 569 F.3d 182, 189 (4th Cir. 2009) (RLUIPA does not provide for damages against individual capacity defendants for denial of kosher meals); Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Texas, 560 F.3d 316, 329 (5th Cir. 2009) (RLUIPA does not provide for damages against individual capacity defendants); Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 889 (7th Cir. 2009) (same); Smith v. Allen, 502 F.3d 1255, 1275 (11th Cir. 2007) (same). Without damages claims available under RLUIPA, Plaintiff has only claims for injunctive relief. With no actual or imminent ongoing injury which can be remedied by injunctive relief, some of Plaintiff's RLUIPA claims are moot.

C. Live Case or Controversy Evaluation of RLUIPA Claims

Count 1 describes events that took place in 2006. Counts 2, 3, 4, and 5 describe events that took place in 2008. Count 6 describes a cell search that took place in 2010. The case was filed in September 2010.

The RLUIPA claim in Count 1 is moot. Count 1 describes a claim arising from October 2006. At that time, Plaintiff claims he was a Muslim and that there was no Muslim chaplain. Because there was no Muslim chaplain, there was no one who would permit him to break fast in a particular way. Plaintiff says his religion requires him to break fast in the prison chapel with a piece of fruit. The prison has had a Muslim chaplain since that time, according to Plaintiff, but he fears that the current chaplain is transferring out and may not be replaced, and he would face a repeat of the events from 2006. This is too speculative a basis for federal jurisdiction. The alleged injury-in-fact is now seven years past. To avoid dismissal, the claim must fall within the exception for cases that are capable of repetition yet evade review. Alvarez, 667 F.3d at 1067. To fit within the exception, the future possible injury must be both brief and reasonable to expect. Id. Count 1 meets the briefness requirement, but not the reasonable expectation requirement. Plaintiff's expectation is entirely speculative. The current chaplain might leave. A replacement might not be installed. The non-Muslim interim designee might not permit Plaintiff to break fast in the chapel with a piece of fruit when prison conditions would otherwise permit. That may be possible. But it is not a demonstrated probability. Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 482 (1982) ...


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