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Buddhist Prisoner Retaliated Against; District Court Abused Discretion, Reversed

Buddhist Prisoner Retaliated Against; District Court Abused Discretion,

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the U.S. District Court,
Northern District of Ohio, in a claim of retaliation made by a Buddhist
prisoner against officials of the North Central Correctional Institution
(NCCI) and Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DORC).
Douglas Spies, now known as Gunaratna Sarika, is a Buddhist prisoner at
NCCI. In December 1995 he sued NCCI chaplains for failure to recognize his
Zen Buddhist religious name, for failing to provide outside religious
services, and for failure to provide him with a strict vegan diet. Sarika
continued to pursue internal remedies with NCCI and DORC after filing the
lawsuit seeking accommodation of his religious beliefs and practices.
In February 1996, prior to learning of Sarika's suit, Reverend Marloe,
DORC's Religious Services Administrator for the Northern Region of Ohio,
convened a meeting of the NCCI chaplains and then-NCCI Warden John D.
Morgan. At the meeting, Reverend Karlen read a letter written to him by
Sarika in which Sarika asked rhetorically, "must I take these issues into
federal court, Reverend Karlen?" At the meeting, DORC officials noted, with
disapproval, that Sarika "actively participated in the grievance process on
behalf of himself and other [prisoners] in seeking expanded privileges."
Following the meeting, NCCI officials confiscated certain religious items
from Sarika, refused to let the chaplains store them for the Buddhists, and
prohibited Buddhists from meeting in the chapel for meditation. Sarika
added these officials to his suit, alleging retaliation for filing
grievances and the lawsuit.

The District Court granted summary judgment on the religious issues but did
not rule on the retaliation claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary
judgment but reversed and remanded for consideration of the retaliation
claim. See: Spies v. Voinovich, 173 F.3d 398 (6th Cir. 1999).

On remand, the District Court denied the defendants' motions for summary
judgment. The case was tried in a bench trial. Sarika moved to supplement
his pleadings to show continuing retaliation by NCCI officials, but the
District Court refused to consider the motion. Using the standard of
Thaddeus-X v. Blatter, 175 F.3d 378 (6th Cir. 1999) (en banc), the District
Court found no retaliation and denied relief. Sarika again appealed.

The Sixth Circuit found, as did the District Court, that Sarika had engaged
in protected conduct and prison officials took adverse action against him.
The District Court held that because the adverse actions occurred prior to
learning of Sarika's initial lawsuit, there was no "causal connection"
between the protected activity and the adverse action; therefore, the third
part of the Thaddeus-X test was not met. The appeals court agreed with this
conclusion in part but noted that Sarika attempted to supplement his
pleading to show a continuing pattern of adverse actions taken against him
and other Buddhists after the lawsuit was filed.

"[W]hen a district court is presented with a motion to supplement under
Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 15(d), it must at the very least issue a ruling on that
motion." The appellate court held that refusal to rule on the motion to
supplement the pleadings was an abuse of discretion. Further, the facial
allegations in the proposed supplement appeared to satisfy the standard of
Thaddeus-X, making the claim "potentially meritorious." Thus, the district
court erred.

The District Court's decision was reversed and the case was remanded with
instructions to consider, and rule upon, Sarika's motion to supplement.
This case is published in the Federal Appendix and is subject to rules
governing unpublished cases. See: Spies v Voinovich, 48 Fed.Appx. 520 (6th
Cir. 2002).

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Related legal case

Spies v. Voinovich

Spies v. Voinovich, 173 F.3d 398, 1999 Fed.App. 0137 (6th Cir. 04/14/1999)

[1] U.S. Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

[2] No. 97-4175

[3] 173 F.3d 398, 1999

[4] April 14, 1999


[6] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo. Nos. 95-07733; 96-07257-James G. Carr, District Judge.

[7] Counsel Argued: Alphonse A. Gerhardstein, Laufman, Rauh & Gerhardstein, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant. Robert C. Angell, Office OF The Attorney General, Corrections Litigation Section, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees. ON Brief: Alphonse A. Gerhardstein, Laufman, Rauh & Gerhardstein, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant. Robert C. Angell, Office OF The Attorney General, Corrections Litigation Section, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

[8] Before: Boggs, Suhrheinrich, and Moore, Circuit Judges.

[9] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Boggs, Circuit Judge


[11] Pursuant to Sixth Circuit Rule 206

[12] File Name: 99a0137p.06

[13] Argued: October 27, 1998

[14] BOGGS, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SUHRHEINRICH, J., joined. MOORE, J. (pp. 15-22), delivered a separate opinion Dissenting in part.


[16] Douglas Spies appeals the dismissal of his First Amendment prisoner's rights action, which alleged that (1) various prison regulations violated his free exercise rights, and (2) prison officials retaliated against him for filing this lawsuit. Spies claims that the district court's determination that various prison policies that allegedly burden his right to free exercise of religion were reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, pursuant to the four-part standard in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987), was in error. He also claims that the lower court erred by awarding appellees summary judgment on his retaliation claim. For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the trial court's grant of summary judgment on his free exercise claims, but REVERSE and REMAND the grant of summary judgment on his retaliation claim.


[18] Douglas Spies is an inmate at North Central Correctional Institution ("NCCI") in Marion, Ohio. He was ordained as a Zen Buddhist in December 1994, and was given the religious name of Gunaratna Sarika. After his ordination, Spies attempted to organize formal Buddhist worship at NCCI, and presented a formal request to the prison chaplains to start a group "chanting practice." He and another inmate were given permission by the chaplains to use the prison chapel on a weekly basis in order to meditate. The chaplains claim that they instructed the two inmates not to talk to or interact with each other during these meditative sessions; Spies claims that they were never so instructed.

[19] Spies claims that from the time of his ordination through early 1996, he meditated with one or more fellow Buddhists in the chapel on a regular basis. He was given permission to use several religious articles during these meditative sessions, including a small statute of Buddha, an altar cloth, a picture of Buddha, a wooden sculpture of a fish, and incense. Spies kept some of these articles in his cell; others were stored on his behalf by the chaplains.

[20] Spies also inquired several times to one of the chaplains about getting a community leader to come in and instruct those interested in Buddhism. The chaplain responded that, pursuant to prison policy, an outside leader could not come to NCCI to lead formal religious services until there were at least five Buddhist inmates at the facility. This prison policy was commonly referred to as the "rule of five." The chaplain, however, told Spies that he was permitted to have "a personal minister come in to instruct him." Hawley gave Spies the address of a Buddhist prison ministry at a nearby temple and subsequently "wrote several letters from the department to the temple, informing them of an interest here in the institution."

[21] In mid-1995, Spies filed a grievance with prison officials alleging that, because he was a Buddhist, the prison was required to provide him with a vegan *fn1 diet. One of the prison chaplains investigated his complaint by contacting the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles, CA, which responded that veganism was not a required tenet of the Buddhist faith, although followers were requested to refrain from eating flesh. NCCI subsequently rejected his request, on the ground that "evidence does not support [Spies's claim] that this facility is required to supply [Spies] with a religious Vegan diet," although "this facility does offer inmates the ability to eat meat-free meals." On December 15, 1995, Spies filed a formal complaint seeking a court order requiring NCCI officials to recognize his dietary needs and his new religious name.

[22] In early 1996, a prison chaplain indicated to Spies that the Buddhists' meditation sessions in the chapel, which consisted in part of group chanting, were in fact group worship services (i.e., not simply several inmates meeting in the chapel to meditate independently and silently) and, thus, would have to cease until five Buddhist inmates at the facility were interested in having formal services. If five Buddhist inmates were to become interested, formal services could commence at NCCI as soon as a religious leader from outside the facility could be found to lead services. *fn2 The chaplain explained that Spies and other Buddhists "could indeed have private devotions, but they could not have a corporate experience without the appropriate supervision." Hawley made this decision in accordance with "the administrative policies under the provisions for inmate-led groups or inmate groups."

[23] This same chaplain told Spies a few weeks later that Spies's religious articles could not be stored in his cell or by the chaplains, because the articles (1) presented a security risk; (2) could create liability concerns for the prison if stored by the chaplains; and (3) might spark other inmates to make allegations of favorable treatment towards Spies. Spies alleges that the chaplain said to him, "This is what you wanted with your lawsuit, isn't it?"

[24] Spies subsequently amended his complaint, adding a claim alleging retaliation by prison officials that stemmed from the filing of his lawsuit. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the ground that the regulations enforced by the prison officials (the "rule of five," prohibition of inmate-led groups, prohibition on possessing certain religious articles, and non-provision of vegan meals) did not violate his free exercise rights because they were reasonably related to legitimate penological interests and, thus, constitutional under Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1986). The court, however, did not make explicit findings related to each part of the four-part Turner standard. Additionally, the court did not make any ruling on Spies's retaliation claim, apart from dismissing it with the rest of the complaint. Spies now appeals.


[26] A. Spies's First Amendment challenges to various prison regulations

[27] Spies claims that five policies at NCCI are unconstitutional because they violate his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. He challenges NCCI policies that: (1) require the existence of five documented members of a faith interested in forming a faith group before such a group is formed; (2) forbid him from keeping certain religious articles in his living area or in the chapel; (3) forbid the existence of inmate-led worship groups; (4) do not recognize his religious name; and (5) do not provide him with vegan meals.

[28] We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. EEOC v. University of Detroit, 904 F.2d 331, 334 (6th Cir. 1990). We must determine whether the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Canderm Pharmacal, Ltd. v. Elder Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 862 F.2d 597, 601 (6th Cir. 1988). We do not endeavor to weigh the evidence; we need only determine whether there is a factual dispute that precludes summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

[29] The Supreme Court has instructed that "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). The Turner Court outlined four factors that are relevant in determining the reasonableness of a challenged prison regulation. "First, there must be a valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it." Ibid. If not, the regulation is unconstitutional, and the other factors do not matter. Id. at 89-90. Unlike the first factor, the remaining factors are considerations that must be balanced together: (2) "whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates"; (3) "the impact that accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally"; and (4) whether there are "ready alternatives" available "that fully accommodate the prisoner's rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests." Id. at 90-91. It should be noted that Spies also makes claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. These claims are without merit because the Supreme Court has declared that Act unconstitutional as applied to the states. City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 2170-72 (1997).

[30] As a preliminary matter, we note that a trial court is not required to weigh evenly, or even consider explicitly, each of the four Turner factors. See Scott v. Mississippi Department of Corrections, 961 F.2d 77, 80 (5th Cir. 1992); see also Nobles v. Hoffman, No. 92-2692, 1 F.3d 1244, 1993 WL 299333 at *2 (7th Cir. Aug. 2, 1993); cf. Casey v. Lewis, 4 F.3d 1516, 1522 (9th Cir. 1993) ("we need not remand [to require a court to consider a Turner factor] because the resolution of this factual dispute in favor of the prisoners would not weigh heavily in our analysis."). Nothing in Turner nor in the case of O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342 (1987), in which the Supreme Court first applied the Turner standard to prison regulations allegedly infringing free exercise rights, requires a court to do so. In fact, the O'Lone decision simply states that Turner v. Safley "drew upon our previous decisions to identify several factors relevant to this reasonableness determination." Id. at 350 (emphasis added). The four Turner factors are, therefore, simply "relevant" to the ultimate inquiry a court must undertake "when a prison regulation impinges on inmates' constitutional rights": determining whether a prison regulation is "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." See Turner, 482 U.S. at 89.

[31] By creating the Turner test, the Supreme Court surely did not intend to provide a mechanism through which prisoners could mount repeated challenges to prison regulations and require courts to analyze, in detail, the impact such regulations would have in any particular factual setting, even if prior court precedent would seem to dictate the validity of the regulations. On the contrary: the Supreme Court's creation of the Turner standard was motivated by a desire to "ensure[] the ability of corrections officials to anticipate security problems and to adopt innovative solutions to the intractable problems of prison administration, and avoid[] unnecessary intrusion of the judiciary into problems particularly ill suited to resolution by decree." O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349 (quotation marks omitted). Penal authorities may need a clear rule for dealing with certain continuing or recurring situations, even when that rule could be better-tailored to the rights of individual prisoners through a court's flexible, case-by-case analysis. Scott, 961 F.2d at 80.

[32] Thus, we need not remand Spies's free exercise claims to the district court to require the court to consider whether there are ready alternatives available to the regulations in question that fully accommodate the prisoner's rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests. First, as we have just explained, a trial court is not required to weigh evenly, or even consider, each of the four Turner factors. Second, to require the trial court to do so would constitute a classic example of "unnecessary intrusion of the judiciary into problems particularly ill suited to resolution by decree" that the Supreme Court has warned against. O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349 (quotation marks omitted).

[33] Finally, and most importantly, the "ready alternatives" part of the Turner test

[34] "is not a `least restrictive alternative' test: prison officials do not have to set up and then shoot down every conceivable alternative method of accommodating the claimant's constitutional complaint. But if an inmate claimant can point to an alternative that fully accommodates the prisoner's rights at de minimis cost to valid penological interests, a court may consider that as evidence that the regulation does not satisfy the reasonable relationship standard." Turner, 482 U.S. at 90-91 (citation omitted) (emphasis added).

[35] In other words, in order for a court to consider whether "ready alternatives" exist, a plaintiff challenging a prison regulation must first affirmatively argue the existence of a specific alternative. It is not the court's job to speculate about "every conceivable alternative method of accommodating the claimant's constitutional complaint." Thus, if a plaintiff has not "pointed to" a ready alternative, it would make no sense to require a trial court to make a definitive ruling on the existence of "ready alternatives."

[36] Therefore, the district court did not err in failing to consider, with regard to some of the regulations at NCCI, whether "ready alternatives" to the regulations existed. However, because we review both the facts and law behind a grant of summary judgment de novo, we shall mention the Turner factors, when necessary, and briefly state why none weigh in favor of the plaintiff with regard to any of the prison regulations.