United States District Court, D. Oregon
A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Judge You issued a Findings and Recommendation  on March
2, 2018, in which she recommends that this Court grant
Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment ,
deny Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment
, and dismiss Plaintiffs' Thirteenth Claim for
Relief. The matter is now before the Court pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil
filed timely objections to the Magistrate Judge's
Findings & Recommendation. Pls. Obj. ECF 302. When any
party objects to any portion of the Magistrate Judge's
Findings & Recommendation, the district court must make a
de novo determination of that portion of the
Magistrate Judge's report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1);
Dawson v. Marshall, 561 F.3d 930, 932 (9th Cir.
2009); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114,
1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc).
raise two objections to the F&R: (1) Plaintiffs have
established a substantial burden under the Religious Freedom
Restoration Act (“RFRA”) and (2) Plaintiffs have
standing. With regard to Plaintiffs' first objection, the
Court agrees with Judge You. The Ninth Circuit has taken a
narrow approach to defining what constitutes a
“substantial burden” under RFRA. See
e.g. Snoqualmie Indian Tribe v. FERC, 545 F.3d 1207,
1213(2008) (noting that in Navajo Nation the Ninth
Circuit adopted “a narrower definition” of what
constitutes a substantial burden than it had in prior
decisions). Per the dictates of Navajo Nation v. U.S.
a ‘substantial burden' is imposed only when
individuals are forced to choose between following the tenets
of their religion and receiving a governmental benefit
(Sherbert) or coerced to act contrary to their
religious beliefs by the threat of civil or criminal
sanctions (Yoder). Any burden imposed on the
exercise of religion short of that described by
Sherbert and Yoder is not a
‘substantial burden' within the meaning of RFRA,
and does not require the application of the compelling
interest test as set forth in those two cases.
535 F.3d 1058, 1070 (2008). Here, as discussed by Judge You,
Plaintiffs “have not established that they are being
coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs under the
threat of sanctions or that a governmental benefit is being
conditioned upon conduct that would violate their religious
beliefs.” F&R 10. “Without these critical
elements, [P]laintiffs cannot establish a substantial burden
under the RFRA.” Id.
regard to Plaintiffs second objection, Plaintiffs contend
that Judge You “conflated the merits of the RFRA claim
with the question of standing.” Pls. Obj. F&R 30.
The Court agrees. Judge You found that “by failing to
establish a prima facie case under the RFRA,
plaintiffs have failed to establish that they have suffered
an injury in fact” and “lack standing on the RFRA
claim.” F&R 17. But whether Plaintiffs have an
injury in fact for standing purposes is a separate inquiry
from whether Plaintiffs can succeed on the merits of their
case. See Kirola v. City and Cty of San
Franciso¸ 860 F.3d 1164, 1175 (9th Cir. 2017)
(finding “[t]he district court seems to have improperly
conflated [the plaintiff's] standing with whether she
would prevail on the merits”); Claybrook v.
Slater, 111 F.3d 904, 907 (9th Cir. 1997)
(“Whether a plaintiff has a legally protected interest
(and thus standing) does not depend on whether he can
demonstrate that he will succeed on the merits. Otherwise,
every unsuccessful plaintiff will have lacked standing in the
case, Plaintiffs have standing. First, Plaintiffs suffered an
ongoing concrete and particularized injury that the RFRA was
designed to protect: Plaintiffs contend they are limited in
their ability to access the site and exercise their religion
as they had previously done on a regular basis and would
continue to use the site for religious purposes if the damage
was remediated. Pl. Obj. F&R 28-29; Pl. Resp. Def. Mot.
Summ J. 27-28, ECF 292; see also Friends of the Earth,
Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167,
181-83 (2000) (finding allegations that members of the
plaintiff-organization would use a specific site for
recreational purposes as they had previously but for their
concerns of the defendant's pollution sufficient for
standing purposes). Second, Defendants do not appear to
contest that the injury suffered by Plaintiffs is fairly
traceable to Defendants' conduct. See Lujan v.
Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)
(“[T]here must be a causal connection between the
injury and the conduct complained of-the injury has to be
fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant,
and not the result of an independent action of some third
party not before the court.”). Third, the Court finds
that Plaintiffs' injury is redressable Id.
(“[I]t must be likely, as opposed to merely
speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable
decision.). Given Plaintiffs' broad request for various
forms of equitable relief, it is likely that the Court could
craft some relief that would mitigate Plaintiffs injury and
improve their access to the site and ability to exercise
their religion. See e.g. Neighbors of Cuddy Mountain v.
Alexander, 303 F.3d 1059, 1065-66 (9th Cir. 2002) (In
the context of mootness, the Ninth Circuit has held that an
injury is remediable where “the court below might order
other measures to help mitigate the damage” even if it
can't be entirely undone.); see also Feldman v.
Bomar, 518 F.3d 637, 642-43 (9th Cir. 2008) (listing
cases in which the court “could . . . remedy the
alleged harm” even though “the contested
government projects were complete”). However, as
Plaintiffs have not succeeded in establishing a prima
facie case under RFRA, this determination does not alter
the outcome of this decision.
Court has reviewed the pertinent portions of the record
de novo and finds no other errors in the Magistrate
Judge's Findings & Recommendation.
Court ADOPTS in part Magistrate Judge You's Findings and
Recommendation . Defendant's Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment  is GRANTED in part, and Plaintiffs
Thirteenth Claim for Relief under RFRA is dismissed.