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Smith v. Sears

December 21, 2006

EDWARD SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN SEARS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: District Judge Susan J. Dlott

Order Granting in Part Plaintiff's Motion To Amend Complaint and Granting Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside Judgment in Part.

This matter is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion to Amend his Complaint (doc. 89), Defendants' Response in Opposition thereto (doc. 92), and Plaintiff's Reply in support (doc. 93). Also before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside Judgment in Part (doc. 90), Defendants' Response in Opposition thereto (doc. 91), and Plaintiff's Reply in support (doc. 94). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Amend his Complaint to the extent that it seeks to add a claim for relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000cc et seq. ("RLUIPA") and to add the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC") as a defendant. The Court additionally GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside Judgment in Part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Edward Smith, a state correctional facility inmate, filed a pro se Complaint on March 17, 2003, alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights during his incarceration. (Doc. 1.) Specifically, Smith alleged that Defendants interfered with his rights of religious expression, retaliated against him for seeking to practice his religion, and employed excessive force in subjecting him to the cutting and trimming of his beard. (Id.) The Court initially dismissed three of Smith's claims sua sponte because it found he did not exhaust his administrative remedies. (Doc. 2.) However, after consolidating a second action filed by Smith and finding that he had exhausted his administrative remedies, the Court reinstated all of Smith's claims and allowed his original Complaint to serve as an amended complaint for the purpose of reinstating those claims. (Doc. 35.) Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint (doc. 4), and the Court denied the motion (doc. 38).

Defendants did not file an answer to the Complaint but moved for summary judgment (doc. 52), which motion the Court granted in part based on the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation (docs. 59, 65). Pursuant to that Order, Smith's only remaining claim is his freedom of religion claim arising out of the First Amendment. As the trial of the matter approached, Smith moved the Court to appoint him counsel (doc. 71), which motion the Court granted on August 1, 2006 (doc. 76). Smith's newly appointed counsel proceeded to take the depositions of several Defendants and, on November 22, 2006, moved to amend Smith's Complaint to add certain defendants and a claim under the RLUIPA (doc. 89) and to set aside the judgment against Smith as to his Eight Amendment claim for excessive use of force (doc. 90). Trial in the matter is scheduled for February 26, 2007.

II. ANALYSIS

A. The Court Grants Smith's Motion for Leave to Amend to the Extent it Seeks to Add a Claim Under the RLUIPA

As a preliminary matter, the Court rejects Smith's argument that he is entitled to file an amended complaint as a matter of right pursuant to Fed. Civ. R. 15(a). As explained above, Smith already has amended his complaint once by virtue of the Court's granting him permission to use the Complaint filed in case number 1:03cv189 as his "Amended Complaint" in the consolidated matter. See Doc. 59 at 3. However, the Court in its discretion grants leave for Smith to amend his Complaint to state a claim under the RLUIPA.

A motion for leave to amend is addressed to the discretion of the district court. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). In exercising its discretion, the Court is required to grant leave to amend "freely ... when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). However, the Court may deny leave to amend where it appears that doing so would be unproductive or futile. Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.

The Court finds it appropriate to permit Smith to amend his Complaint to specify the RLUIPA as a basis for relief. The statute provides:

No 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 demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). RLUIPA reflects Congress' intent to redress the harms that result from preventing prison inmates from exercising their religion. "The statute's legislative history indicates that it was enacted to prevent correctional institutions from restricting 'religious liberty in egregious and unnecessary ways.'" Mayweathers v. Terhune, 328 F.Supp.2d 1086, 1101 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (quoting 146 Cong. Rec. S7774-01 (July 27, 2000) (Joint Statement of Senators Hatch and Kennedy)). The statute provides individuals with a private right of action and endows federal courts with broad remedial powers to correct such harms, stating that the "Act shall be construed in favor of a broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this Act and the Constitution." 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-2(a), 2000cc-3(g).

Once a plaintiff produces prima facie evidence to support a claim alleging a violation of the Free Exercise Clause or a violation of section 2000cc, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion on whether the regulation substantially burdens the plaintiff's exercise of religion and the state bears the burden of persuasion on all other elements. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(b). The Court finds that the RLUIPA is applicable to Smith's case and, accordingly, justice requires that the Court permit Smith to amend his complaint to specify RLUIPA as a basis for relief.*fn1

B. The Court Grants Smith's Motion for Leave to Amend to the Extent it Seeks to Add the Director ...


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