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California Muslim Prisoner Defeats Summary Judgment Order in Mixed Appellate Ruling

by Ed Lyon

Darrell Eugene Harris is a Muslim prisoner confined in California’s prison system. He filed a civil rights suit raising state and federal claims against prison guard S. Escamilla.

Harris alleged that Escamilla removed his Koran from a protective cover, threw it on the ground and then stepped on it. After the Koran was desecrated, Harris was unable to use it for his daily readings, causing a substantial burden on his ability to exercise his religious beliefs.

The district court granted summary judgment to Escamilla and Harris appealed.

In an unpublished ruling on May 24, 2018, the Ninth Circuit held the district court erred in its grant of summary judgment, finding Escamilla was not entitled to qualified immunity on Harris’ First Amendment claim and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Harris’ damages claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), since monetary damages are not available under RLUIPA. Further, since Harris had since been transferred to another facility, his RLUIPA claims seeking injunctive and declaratory relief were moot and thus should be dismissed.

However, Harris had sufficiently pleaded coercion in a state law claim pursuant to California’s Bane Act. The problem was Harris’ failure to submit an administrative claim under the Bane Act prior to filing his lawsuit as required by California’s Government Claims Act.

In summary, the Court of Appeals instructed the district court to dismiss the RLUIPA claims as moot; reversed the grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity on Harris’ First and Fourteenth Amendment claims; and ordered the district court to grant Harris leave to amend his complaint under the Bane Act after he complies with the Government Claims Act. The case remains pending on remand. See: Harris v. Escamilla, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 13726 (9th Cir. 2018). 


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Related legal case

Harris v. Escamilla