United States District Court, D. Oregon
OPINION AND ORDER
Mustafa T. Kasubhai, United States Magistrate Judge.
an inmate at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (EOCI),
filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleged violations
of his right to religious freedom under the First Amendment
and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(RLUIPA). Defendants move for summary judgment on grounds
that they have accommodated plaintiff's religious
requests and he cannot establish a substantial burden on his
religious beliefs or practices. For the following reasons,
defendants' motion is granted.
alleges that defendants substantially burdened his religious
beliefs - which he initially characterized as
“Israelite” - by precluding his participation in
special Passover meals and denying him kosher food and other
items necessary to the practice of his religion. Compl. at 3
(ECF No. 2). Plaintiff maintains that in doing so, defendant
Stuart Young, the Assistant Administrator of Religious
Services, held him to a “Rabbinical Standard” of
Judaism that is unrelated to plaintiff's beliefs as a
“Natzarim Yisraelite” and “Orthodox
Sephardic Jew.” Id. at 4-5; see also
Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (Pl.'s Resp.)
at 5-6 (ECF No. 73); Young Decl. Att. 16 (ECF No. 67).
court previously granted summary judgment on several claims
based on plaintiff's failure to exhaust his
administrative remedies. Remaining are plaintiff's claims
that defendants burdened his religious beliefs by: 1) denying
special Passover meals; 2) denying or prohibiting religious
apparel; and 3) failing to provide adequate kosher food and
drink options. To prevail on their motions for summary
judgment, defendants must show there is no genuine dispute as
to any material fact and they are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must
construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in
the light most favorable to plaintiff. Torres v. City of
Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011).
sustain his First Amendment claim, plaintiff must show that
defendants burdened the free exercise of his religion without
any justification reasonably related to a legitimate
penological interest. See Shakur v. Schiro, 514 F.3d
878, 884 (9th Cir. 2008). To constitute an impermissible
burden, the government's conduct must do more than
“inconvenience” a religious exercise; it
“must have a tendency to coerce individuals into acting
contrary to their religious beliefs or exert substantial
pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate
his beliefs.” Jones v. Williams, 791 F.3d
1023, 1031-32 (9th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). An inmate
need not “objectively show that a central tenet of his
faith is burdened, ” because it is the “sincerity
of his belief rather than its centrality to his faith that is
relevant to the free exercise inquiry.”
Shakur, 514 F.3d at 884. At the same time, the
asserted belief must be “sincerely held” and
“rooted in religious belief” rather than secular
or philosophical concerns. Malik v. Brown, 16 F.3d
330, 333 (9th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
similarly prohibits prison officials from infringing on a
prisoner's religious beliefs or practices. See Cutter
v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 721 (2005) (“RLUIPA
thus protects institutionalized persons who are unable freely
to attend to their religious needs and are therefore
dependent on the government's permission and
accommodation for exercise of their religion.”). To
establish a RLUIPA claim, plaintiff must show that defendants
imposed “a substantial burden on [his] religious
exercise.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-1(a),
2000cc-2(b); Greene v. Solano Cnty. Jail, 513 F.3d
982, 988 (9th Cir. 2013) (finding that a prohibition against
a religious exercise may constitute a substantial burden). If
plaintiff makes this showing, the burden then shifts to
defendants to prove that the burden imposed “serves a
compelling government interest and is the least restrictive
means of achieving that interest.” Shakur, 514
F.3d at 889; 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc-1(a), 2000cc-2(b).
court held previously, defendants are entitled to summary
judgment on plaintiff's claims for money damages under
RLUIPA. See ECF No. 38 at 11; see also Wood v.
Yordy, 753 F.3d 899, 904 (9th Cir. 2014) (finding that
“there is nothing in the language or structure of
RLUIPA to suggest that Congress contemplated liability of
government employees in an individual capacity”);
Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1063 (9th Cir. 2012)
(noting that “money damages under RLUIPA are not
available against states because of their sovereign
immunity”); Holley v. Cal. Dep't of Corr.,
599 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that “the
Eleventh Amendment bars Holley's suit for
official-capacity damages under RLUIPA”).
Eleventh Amendment similarly bars § 1983 claims for
money damages against ODOC or Young in his official capacity.
Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S.
58, 65-66, 71 (1989). Thus, plaintiff may obtain only
injunctive relief against the Oregon Department of
Corrections (ODOC) or money damages against Young in his
alleges that beginning in 2016, ODOC and Young prohibited him
from receiving special Passover meals served to Jewish
inmates. Plaintiff maintains that, while he does
not subscribe to “Rabbinical” standards of
Judaism, he nonetheless “follows strict
‘Orthodox' Jewish standards” and is entitled
to receive the same Passover meals. Pl.'s Resp. at 6.
January 26, 2016, plaintiff received the following
The ODOC process has changed for who is allowed to receive
Kosher Passover Meals. According to our Administration in
Salem, only those who are of Jewish faith will receive the
Kosher 8 days of Passover meals.
Your request [for Passover meals] will be accommodated in the
following way this year.
You will continue to receive your regular Kosher diet meals.
You will also be given Matzo to supplement your dietary needs
during this time.
Young Decl. Att. 2 at 65.
January 27, 2016, plaintiff submitted a kyte to his chaplain
expressing concern that only inmates of Jewish faith would
receive the special Passover meals. Id. ¶ 40
& Att. 15. Although plaintiff had previously
self-identified as being Messianic, he told the chaplain he
was an “Orthodox Jew” and requested the special
Passover meals. Id.
February 8, 2016, plaintiff provided a “DNA
chart” and asserted that it established his
“Sephardic Jewish bloodline” as an
“Orthodox Sephardic Jew.” Id. ¶ 41
& Att. 16.
February 19, 2016, Young advised plaintiff that Jewish
lineage is confirmed when a person's mother is Jewish and
asked plaintiff to provide his mother's name, contact
information, and her synagogue so that ODOC could confirm his
claim. Young Decl. ¶ 43 & Att. 17. Young further
stated, “A review of your Religious Services
participation records show[s] you are participating in
Torahmen which is a Messianic religious service.”
Id. Att. 17. Young informed plaintiff that ODOC had
consulted with Messianic Rabbis concerning the Eight Days of
Passover, and they advised “that a vegetable/bean meal
prepared in a kosher manner with matzo, served on a paper
tray with plastic utensils was acceptable based on Messianic
tenets of faith from the Torah.” Id. Young
advised plaintiff that the special Passover meals were
“designed for strict adherence to a Jewish dietary law
in which specific food items are removed from the regular
kosher diet” and that the meal he would be provided
complied with his Messianic affiliation. Id. ¶
42 & Att. 17. Young concluded by noting that plaintiff
was “not prohibited from observing the Eight Days of
Passover meals and a Seder Meal as Messianic.”
April 3, 2016, plaintiff again asserted that he was an
“Orthodox Jew” rather than a Messianic Jew, while
proclaiming that “all Israelites/Jews ARE
Messianics.” Young Decl. ¶ 44 & Att. 18.
Plaintiff also provided contact information for a synagogue
his mother attended in Ashland, Oregon. Id. Rabbi
Avrohom Perlstein, an ODOC chaplain, spoke with Rabbi Zweibel
of the Ashland synagogue to confirm plaintiff's claim;
Rabbi Zweibel stated that he had never heard of plaintiff or
his mother. Id. ¶ 45 & Atts. 19, 22.
April 19, 2016, Young advised plaintiff that Rabbi Zweibel
did not support his claim to Jewish heritage, and plaintiff
disputed the rabbi's assertion. Id. ¶ 46-47
& Atts. 20-21.
December 2016, plaintiff again raised the issue of Passover
meals. Young informed plaintiff that the matter would not be
revisited. Id. ¶¶ 49-50 & Atts. 23-24.
February 2019, ODOC informed plaintiff that he will receive
the same Passover meals served to Jewish inmates unless he
asks to be removed from the Passover meals or engages in
behaviors - such as ordering non-kosher canteen items - that
would make ...