Cases & Deals

California prisoner wins preliminary injunction against California state prison in religious discrimination action

Client(s) Rouser, William

Client and California state prisoner William Rouser initiated this civil rights lawsuit 17 years ago against the California Department of Corrections ("CDCR"), seeking access to his Wiccan bible, necessary religious supplies, and time for group worship. A settlement agreement was reached in 1997, but in 2002 Mr. Rouser complained that the CDCR was not complying with the terms of the settlement and the action was reinstated. Mr. Rouser seeks damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In February 2009, Mr. Rouser opposed defendants' motion for summary judgment. Eastern District Judge Karlton denied summary judgment on the injunctive relief claims and denied in part summary judgment on the damages claims. Defendants appealed the denial of summary judgment as to the claims for damages, arguing qualified immunity. Mr. Rouser filed an answering brief in October 2009; the Ninth Circuit Court has yet to set a hearing. In the meantime, Mr. Rouser was transferred to a prison where virtually no religious program for Wiccan inmates exists. Mr. Rouser filed a motion with the district court to supplement his complaint to add a retaliation claim; he also sought a preliminary injunction. In December 2009 his motion to supplement the complaint was granted. In March 2010 Judge Karlton granted the motion for preliminary injunction and ordered the state to: allow Mr. Rouser to have regular group services; allow him to order necessary religious articles; refrain from taking and destroying his religious articles; announce Wiccan services over the PA system; allow Mr. Rouser access to a nature based religious area for group services; and allow him access to a fire pit during group services. In ruling on the motion, Judge Karlton found that plaintiffs had successfully shown a likelihood of success at trial and that defendants' continued conduct would irreparably harm Mr. Rouser. Jones Day also prevailed upon the judge to refrain from requiring our client to post a bond. In light of the preliminary injunction, counsel for both parties are currently discussing whether mediation may be an option to resolve some or all of the outstanding issues.

Rouser v. White et al., No. CV S-93-0767, 2010 WL 1525342 (E.D. Cal. April 15, 2010)