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Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio v. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation And Corrections

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

December 14, 2017


          Algenon L. Marbley Judge



         Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a Complaint against Defendants on August 26, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiffs are inmates at various state correctional facilities throughout Ohio who brought civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their official and personal capacities.[1] On October 1, 2015, the Undersigned performed an initial screen, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e), and issued a Report and Recommendation to dismiss all monetary claims against Defendants in their official capacities, as well as to dismiss certain parties and all claims other than alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, and the First Amendment. (ECF No. 4.) On November 10, 2015, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint without having properly sought leave from the Court. (ECF No. 8.) On May 5, 2016, the District Judge adopted the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 12.) On May 23, 2016, the Court struck Plaintiffs' first proposed Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 17.) On August 15, 2016, Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 25.) On January 30, 2017, the Undersigned recommended that Plaintiffs' First Amendment claims be dismissed, and the District Judge adopted the recommendation on March 17, 2017. (ECF No. 33; Christian Separatist Church Soc'y of Ohio v. Mohr, No. 2:15-CV-2757, 2017 WL 1030458 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 17, 2017).)

         Defendants now seek summary judgment with respect to the remaining RLUIPA claims. (ECF No. 82.) Plaintiffs filed their Response in Opposition on October 5, 2017, and Defendants filed their Reply on October 10, 2017. (ECF Nos. 86 & 87.) For the reasons that follow, the Undersigned RECOMMENDS that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment be DENIED. (ECF No. 82.) It is further RECOMMENDED that Plaintiffs' claims for money damages against Defendants be DISMISSED.


         Plaintiffs are inmates at various state correctional institutions throughout Ohio. Plaintiffs assert claims under RLUIPA for the following:

violation of racial discrimination, conspiracy to commit racial discrimination, failure of due process, denial of free exercise of religion, failure of equal protection, of freedom of speech, and to peacefully assemble, a failure to keep a contract and cruel and unusual treatment as measured against the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

(ECF No. 1 at 6.) Plaintiffs object to ODRC's policy on congregate worship, which forces them to worship with the ODRC-recognized Protestant Christian organization. Plaintiffs claim that Protestant Christianity is so theologically distinct from, and inimical to, their beliefs as to require an additional ODRC Religious Accommodation in order to exercise their religious beliefs. (Id.) Plaintiffs consider themselves members of the Christian Separatist Church Society of Ohio, an unincorporated organization for which Plaintiffs have sought a Religious Accommodation under ODRC regulation 72-REG-02. (Id. at 7.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants have refused all requests for a Religious Accommodation or have arbitrarily delayed making administrative decisions on the matter. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs claim that without an ODRC Religious Accommodation they cannot engage in their required congregate worship, to include group worship and reading of religious literature. (Id. at 11.) In addition, Plaintiffs claim that because of ODRC's failure to approve a Religious Accommodation, they are not able to observe all of their required holy days. (Id. at 8-9.) In sum, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants' denial of a Religious Accommodation and other requests amount to a “wholesale denial” of Plaintiffs' right to practice their religion. (Id. at 11.)


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The moving party has the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists, and the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Stansberry v. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp., 651 F.3d 482, 486 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotations omitted); cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2) (providing that if a party “fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact” then the Court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion”).

         “Once the moving party meets its initial burden, the nonmovant must ‘designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Kimble v. Wasylyshyn, 439 F. App'x 492, 495-96 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (requiring a party maintaining that a fact is genuinely disputed to “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record”). “The nonmovant must, however, do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, . . . there must be evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party to create a genuine dispute.” Lee v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 432 F. App'x 435, 441 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported and the nonmoving party fails to respond with a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of its case, summary judgment is appropriate.” Stansberry, 651 F.3d at 486 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).


         Under RLUIPA, a government may not impose a “substantial burden on the religious exercise” of an inmate, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of such burden “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). The purpose of RLUIPA is to “protect[ ] institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent upon the government's permission and accommodation for exercise of their religion.” Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 721 (2005). In determining whether a practice is the “least restrictive means” of furthering a compelling government interest related to the incarceration of prisoners, a court must give due deference to the judgment of prison officials as to the safety concerns implicated by ...

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