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Sixth Circuit Affirms Denial of Qualified Immunity for Michigan DOC Officials for Religious Book Censorship

On February 6, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a denial of qualified immunity for three Michigan prison officials accused of violating the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act (RLUIPA).

Gregory Figel sued Michigan prison officials after three religious books that were sent to him by a church were returned. The books were returned in accordance with Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Policy Directive 05.03.118, which prohibits prisoners from receiving books that are not sent directly from the publisher or from an authorized vendor, or not ordered by the prisoner using established ordering procedures.

After the district court denied the defendants summary judgment, an interlocutory appeal was taken. The defendants argued on appeal that Figel’s RLUIPA claim was not based on “clearly established” law at the time when the books were returned because the Supreme Court had yet to declare the law constitutional, and a panel of the Sixth Circuit struck down the law a few months after their alleged misconduct (this decision was later reversed by the Supreme Court).

The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument, holding that “at the time of the conduct in question, the constitutionality of the RLUIPA was clearly established.” See: Figel v. Overton, 263 Fed.Appx. 456 (6th Cir. 2008).

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Related legal case

Figel v. Overton