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California Muslims' Prayer Attendance And Religious Beard Injunction Made Permanent; $289,011 Awarded in Fees

California Muslims' Prayer Attendance And Religious Beard Injunction Made Permanent; $289,011 Awarded in Fees

by John E. Dannenberg

The U.S. District Court (E.D. Cal.) granted summary judgment and entered a permanent injunction (PI) against the California Department of Corrections (CDC), authorizing Muslim prisoners to leave their job assignments (without punishment) to attend one hour Friday Jumu'ah prayer services, as well as to maintain beards up to 1/2 inch long. The ruling was based upon the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIP A), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, et seq.

Karluk Mayweathers and five other prisoners sued prison officials at California State Prison (Solano) in 1996 on First Amendment grounds, seeking permission to attend weekly Jumu'ah prayer services during their job assignments without being penalized. They also challenged CDC's grooming policy denying them religious beards. In 2000 they amended their claim to include the then new RLUIPA. The district court granted preliminary injunctive relief (Mayweathers v. Terhune, 136 F.Supp.2d 1152 (E.D. Cal. 2001», which was upheld on appeal. (Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2001); PLN, Sept. 2002, p.18.)

CDC next challenged the constitutionality of the new RLUIPA, but was denied in both district and appellate courts. See: Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. den., Alameida v. Mayweathers (2003) 157 L.Ed.2d 30; PLN, Sept. 2003, p.6).

Since 1996, the court issued fifteen preliminary injunctions granting such relief - each automatically expiring after 90 days. Unsuccessful in appealing these injunctions, CDC nonetheless stipulated to them pending appeal. In this final litigation, the preliminary relief was made permanent in a novel ruling distinguishing habeas corpus, § 1983 and § 2000 claims. The court ruled that not only were the prisoners entitled to such beards and to attend prayer services without punishment, they were entitled to retrospective disciplinary credit-loss recovery as well as to have all corresponding paperwork expunged from their prison files.
The court first reviewed the rules for summary judgment to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Upon examining the extensive record, the court concluded that there were no factual disputes and that appeals regarding previous questions of law had been exhausted - thus ripening the case for rulings on the prisoners' motions for summary judgment and permanent injunction.

Next, the court validated standing of the current class members. The prisoners have standing to seek injunctive relief, and a holding to the contrary would allow prison officials to defeat prisoners' claims simply by changing individual plaintiffs' work schedules as soon as they file suit." (Citing Mayweathers, 258 F.3d 930, 934-35.) ... The mere fact that the substituted class representatives, who were added as representatives after the preliminary injunctive relief had been granted, have not been disciplined, does not suggest that they are inadequate as representatives.
As to grooming standards, the court had earlier denied relief based upon the pre-RLUIPA standard of Turner v. Safley (1987) 482 U.S. 78. But post-RLUIPA, it ruled that there existed ready alternatives to the beard restriction, and that CDC had not used the least restrictive means of accomplishing its goals of prison security and easy identification of prisoners. Therefore, the grooming standards, as applied, violated the RLUIPA.

Separately, as to Jumu'ah service attendance, the court found that [t]he absence of Muslim inmates for about one hour on Fridays only will not disrupt the operation of the work incentive program.

Next, the court examined the question of retrospective application of any relief. Regarding beards, the court found that since no injunction was available prior to the RLUIPA, the question was moot. But for the prayer restriction, the court had granted preliminary injunctions both before and after the RLUIPA, and concluded now that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act's limit to relief extending no further than necessary to correct the threat to plaintiffs' rights under RLUIPA, the relief drawn was appropriately narrow and minimally intrusive to correct the harm. Yet, RLUIPA is silent" as to retroactivity, and retroactivity absent express statutory authority is disfavored. However, since the court ruled that pre-RLUIPA, the restriction on Jumu'ah attendance was unconstitutional under Turner v. Safley, corrective relief for past violations was appropriate.
Nonetheless, the decision as to retrospective liberty interest relief for past disciplinary actions - e.g., restoring lost conduct credits, expunging besmirched prison records - required new thinking here because CDC lately raised a concern that under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), any relief as to loss of conduct credits implicated habeas corpus and that like in 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions, the exhaustion requirements of habeas corpus could not be circumvented by simply re-labeling a credit-loss claim a civil rights complaint.

In its analysis, the court first compared habeas and § 1983 as held in Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 476 (1973) and Heck. The court noted that Heck ruled that because the exhaustion requirement of habeas corpus was a more specific statutory enactment than the broad reach of the civil rights act of § 1983, its more narrowly drawn requirements would necessarily control: The [Preiser] Court's reasoning hinged on the distinction between the generality of section 1983 and the specificity of the federal habeas statutes in addressing a means for attacking the validity of confinement.

Extending this logic to the present tension between § 2000cc and habeas corpus, the court found that RLUIPA was expressly drafted narrower than habeas corpus, and that Congress's intent for RLUIPA necessarily trumped that of habeas corpus as to the question of the habeas exhaustion rule. Indeed, it found Heck irrelevant" to the question of exhaustion under § 2000cc when retrospective restoration of lost conduct credits was implicated. The court left to the parties to devise a mechanism to identify those plaintiffs who were entitled to credit restoration/file-expungement and to report that to the court within thirty days.
Plaintiffs were represented by Susan Christian of the Prison Law Office, San Quentin, California, and numerous law students. See: Mayweathers v. Terhune, 328 F. Supp. 2d 1086 (E.D. CA 2004).

In a separate, unpublished ruling, the court awarded attorney fees of $289,011 on November 19, 2004 for the seven year effort of appointed counsel Susan Christian to win rights for Muslim California state prisoners to attend Jumu'ah prayer services and to wear beards without suffering disciplinary sanctions. The touchstone of the fee ruling (42 U.S.C. § 1988(b)) was the court's determination per 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1)(A) that plaintiffs had indisputably proved actual violation of their rights protected by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and RLUIPA.

As noted above, the prolonged litigation involved numerous phases and appeals, with 15 preliminary injunctions issued pending final disposition. Each injunction was appealed, adding to the costs. See: Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 2001); Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. den., Alameida v. Mayweathers, 124 S.Ct. 66 (2003). Fees were also incurred in defending defendants' unsuccessful challenge to the constitutionality of the RLUIPA, as well as to gain an order governing a process for locating and expunging all related disciplinary documents from plaintiffs' files throughout the state.
Part of the fee award was made for the extensive use of 34 law students, under direction of attorney Christian, at the University of California at Davis' King Hall Civil Rights Clinic. The students were paid at the rate of $60/hr. for 1,913 hours of billed time, amounting to $114,780. Their tasks included conducting discovery, taking depositions, doing legal research and arguing motions in court. Carter White, supervising attorney of the King Hall Clinic, said, We are especially proud of this ruling. This is the largest amount that's ever been awarded on one case for work done by our students.

Attorney Christian's fees were paid at the rate of $112.50/hr. until 2/1/02, when the allowable rate became $169.50 under the PLRA. Overall, attorney fees of $174,231 were awarded for her 1,418 hours as reasonable and necessary" to prove the actual civil rights violations. Christian is now associated with the non-profit Prison Law Office, San Rafael, California.

The court also acknowledged that further fees may accrue for successful efforts in defending defendants' appeal of the judgment, as well as for any enforcement of injunctive relief. See: Mayweathers v. Terhune, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), No. CIV. S-96-1582 LKK/GGHJP, Order, November 19, 2004 (unpublished).

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Related legal case

Mayweathers v. Terhune