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

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

March 30, 2018


          Deavers, Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter is before the Court for consideration of the Magistrate Judge's December 14, 2017 Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 102) recommending that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 82) be denied and the Plaintiffs' claims for monetary damages be dismissed. For the reasons stated herein, upon de novo review in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), this Court SUSTAINS Defendants' Objections (ECF No. 104), REJECTS the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 102), and hereby GRANTS Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 82).

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs are inmates at various state correctional facilities throughout Ohio run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction ("ODRC"). (ECF No. 1 at 2-4). Plaintiffs are members of the Christian Separatist Church Society ("CSCS"), which is "a militantly Christian, White Nationalist organization composed only of white Christian men and women" who hold the view that "true white Nationalism and Christianity are one in the same philosophy." (Id.; ECF No. 104-1). The CSCS faith thus encompasses the belief that the white race is superior to other races and its members hold white separatist views. (ECF No. 86-1 at ¶¶ 5-6).

         ODRC's policy on congregate worship requires Plaintiffs to worship with the ODRC-recognized Protestant Christian organization. Plaintiffs object to this policy because their faith is fundamentally different from Protestantism (Id. at ¶¶ 30-44) and congregate worship with those of their faith is a central tenant of their religion and necessary to attain personal salvation (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11; ECF No. 86-2 at 4). Plaintiffs sought Religious Accommodations under ODRC regulation 72-REG-02 seeking separate congregate worship services but ODRC denied the requests. (ECF No. 47 at Ex. 331-350).

         B. Procedural History

         On August 26, 2015, Plaintiffs filed this action against ODRC, ODRC Director Gary C. Mohr, ODRC Religious Services Administrator Michael Davis, and ODRC Chief Inspector Roger Wilson. (ECF No. 1). Pursuant to an initial screen under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A, this Court dismissed: (1) all § 1983 claims against ODRC and Defendants in their official capacity; (2) claims for violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1985(3) and 1986; (3) claims for violations of substantive Due Process and Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment; (3) all claims brought by Plaintiff Damron; and (4) all claims brought by the Christian Separatist Church. (ECF Nos. 4, 12). Therefore, the only claims that remained after the initial screening were claims brought by the individual Plaintiffs (minus Mr. Damron) against Defendants Mohr, Davis, and Wilson for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the First Amendment.

         Defendants moved to dismiss the remaining claims on August 15, 2016. (ECF No, 24). In response, this Court dismissed the First Amendment claim but allowed the RLUIPA claim to continue. (ECF Nos. 33, 42). Thus, the only claim at issue here is the RLUIPA claim. On August 29, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, purporting to seek summary judgment in their favor on both the RLUIPA claim and the First Amendment claim. (ECF No. 82). Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition on October 5, 2017 (ECF No. 86), and Defendants filed their Reply on October 10, 2017 (ECF No. 87). On December 14, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Summary Judgment Motion be denied. (ECF No. 102).

         The Magistrate Judge first found that Plaintiffs met their prima facie burden under RLUIPA of showing that prohibiting them from congregate worship substantially burdens their exercise of religion. (Id. at 9). Next, the Magistrate Judge found that Defendants failed to show that their congregate worship policy is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest, as required by RLUIPA. (Id. at 11). The Magistrate Judge noted that Defendants incorrectly based their summary judgment argument on the four-factor Turner reasonableness test that applies to First Amendment cases, but this Court already dismissed the First Amendment claims. (Id. at 10). She found that while ODRC's policy may be justified under the reasonable analysts, Defendants offered no evidence that the policy is the least restrictive means necessary to advance its compelling interest, and recommended denying summary judgment. (Id.). Finally, me Magistrate Judge recommended dismissing Plaintiffs' claims for money damages against Defendants in their individual capacity.


         If a party objects within the allotted time to a report and recommendation, the Court "shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which the objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Upon review, the Court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party's objections "must be clear enough to enable the district court to discern those issues that are dispositive and contentious." Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 380 (6th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).

         Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." A fact is deemed material only if it "might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the governing substantive law." Wiley v. United States,20 F.3d 222, 224 (6th Cir. 1994) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). The nonmoving party must then present "significant probative evidence" to show that "there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Moore v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc.,8 F.3d 335, 340 (6tii Cir. 1993). The mere possibility of a factual dispute is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Mitchell v. Toledo Hospital,964 F.2d 577, 582 (6th Cir. 1992). Summary judgment is ...

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