Cases & Deals

Jones Day prevails before United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Prisoners’ Establishment Clause Claim allowed to proceed

Clients Shawna Hartman and Caren Hill

A Jones Day team of lawyers, led by David Kiernan and Thomas Ritchie, along with co-counsel Barbara McGraw, prevailed before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In a decision released February 19, 2013, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims under the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution and the California State Constitution, and remanded these claims to the district court for further proceedings. This victory will allow Plaintiffs to proceed before the district court with their claim that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). infringed on their constitutional rights by failing to maintain any neutral criteria in evaluating whether a growing membership in a minority religion warrants a reallocation of resources used in accommodating inmates’ religious exercise needs.

Plaintiffs Caren Hill and Shawna Hartmann are members of the Wiccan religion who have been inmates in custody of the CDCR. Pursuant to the CDCR Operations Manual, the prisons maintain paid full-time and part-time chaplains for five specified faith groups. Members of other faith groups may consult with the paid chaplains and are allowed access to volunteer chaplains of their own faith. However, members of faiths without paid chaplains, such as the Plaintiffs here, may only have limited or intermittent access to a chaplain familiar with their religious beliefs and practices.

Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, contending that the CDCR policies violate their rights under the United States Constitution, the California State Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. After the district court dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ federal claims, Plaintiffs appealed the matter to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s dismissal of the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment Establishment Clause claim, as well as their claim under the California State Constitution, remanding the case to the district court for further hearings. Noting that "a prison administration accommodating inmates’ rights under the First Amendment must do so without unduly preferring one religion over another," the Court held that Plaintiffs had sufficiently plead facts that demonstrated that the prison administration failed to employ any neutral criteria in determining whether paid chaplaincy positions are necessary to meet the religious exercise needs of inmates adhering to religions outside of the five faiths designated by the CDCR Operations Manual.

Shawna Hartmann and Caren Hill v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, et al., US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Case No. 11-16008; D.C. No. 1:10-cv-0045-LJO-SMS

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