Davilla v. Anthony Haynes et al
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS 127 and denying 119 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge Lisa G. Wood on 3/29/17. (slt)
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CIVIL ACTION NO.: 2:12-cv-5
V.J. FLOURNOY; and KEN HARRIS, JR.,
Presently before that Court are Defendants' Objections,
dkt. no. 129, to the Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendation dated January 10, 2017, dkt. no. 127. After an
independent and de nova review of the record, the undersigned
OVERRULES Defendants' Objections, CONCURS with the Report and
Recommendation, and ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation, as
supplemented herein, as the opinion of the Court.
The Court's prior Orders lay out the factual and procedural
history of this case in detail. In short, Plaintiff, an inmate
at the Federal Correctional Institution in Jesup, Georgia, is a
practicing member of the Santeria religion. This action centers
on Plaintiff's allegations that, on several separate instances,
Defendants denied Plaintiff access to Santeria necklaces
required for his religious practice. After remand by the
Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Defendants filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief
under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act ("RFRA"),
42 U.S.C. § 2000bb,
Dkt. No. 119. In their Motion,
Defendants argued that the prison's new policy of requiring
unapproved vendors to undergo a background check and appear on
an inmate's visitation list before sending religious articles
does not violate RFRA. Id. Specifically, Defendants contended
that the policy does not substantially burden Plaintiff's
religious exercise and that, even if it did, the policy is
narrowly tailored to protect a compelling government interest.
On January 10, 2017, the Magistrate Judge recommended
denial of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt.
No. 127. The Magistrate Judge found that the record, "when
construed in favor of Plaintiff, establishes that Defendants'
policy substantially burdened his exercise of religion . . . .
Id. at p. 8. Having determined Defendants' policy placed a
substantial burden on Plaintiff's exercise of religion,
Defendants were then required to show that their policy
Defendants do not dispute the sincerity of Plaintiff's religious
beliefs. Dkt. No. 119, p. 11.
furthered a compelling government interest and was the least
restrictive means of furthering that interest. The Magistrate
Judge determined that, at this stage, Defendants failed on both
fronts and recommended denial of the Motion for Summary
Judgment. Defendants filed Objections on January 24, 2017.
Dkt. No. 129.
Defendants object only to the Magistrate Judge's
determination that the prison's policy substantially burdens
Plaintiff's religious exercise. Dkt. No. 129,
p. 3. In support
of their contention, Defendants largely reiterate the arguments
set forth in their Motion for Summary Judgment, which the
Magistrate Judge fully addressed in his Report.
Defendants also attempt to liken the case here to Smith v.
Allen, 502 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2007),
abrogated on other
grounds by Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277 (2011). Defendants
argue that, just as in Smith, simply denying Plaintiff's sincere
request for a religious item does not make the policy a
substantial burden as a matter of law. Dkt. No. 129,
However, in Smith, the Court determined that there was no
substantial burden because the plaintiff had failed to
"establish the need for, or relevance of" the religious items
requested. Smith, 502 F.3d at 1277, 1280. Plaintiff's need for
and the relevance of the requested religious items are not in
dispute in this case, and thus, this case cannot be paralleled
Additionally, Defendants argue that there is no substantial
burden because they have not "given Davila an 'absolute denial'
of his requested religious items" and that he need only "tak[e]
modest administrative steps" to acquire his necessary religious
items. Dkt. No. 129, p. 6. However, as the Magistrate Judge
noted in his Report, the policy requiring these "modest
administrative steps" is itself problematic—the most concerning
aspect of which is its ambiguous and "fluid" nature. Dkt. No.
124-1, p. 3. In fact, other than a sparse internal e-mail
between the chaplains and affidavits from Defendant Harris,
Defendants have failed to provide the Court with any concrete
policy or procedure documenting the details and requirements of
this new policy or even its actual existence. Dkt. No. 124-1,
p. 6. That Defendants have inconsistently or "fluidly" applied
this purported policy only serves to exacerbate the Court's
Defendants contend that the inconsistent enforcement of
their new policy is only relevant to RFRA's compelling interest
analysis. Dkt. No. 129, p. 7. However, a substantial burden
can be found by the plain fact that restrictions are imposed
"arbitrarily, capriciously, or unlawfully." Westchester Da
Sch. v. Viii. of Mamaroneck, 504 F.3d 338, 350 (2d Cir. 2007)
(considering land-use restrictions under RLtJIPA); see also Guru
Nanak Sikh Soc'y of Yuba City v. County of Sutter, 456 F.3d 978,
990-91 (9th Cir. 2006). How the government implements the
policy, not merely the policy itself, is highly relevant to the
analysis of governmental action. Furthermore, given the
ambiguity within the purported policy in this case, the
Government's apparently inconsistent application of that policy
to Plaintiff is especially relevant to the Court's substantial
Finally, Defendants argue that, because Plaintiff was not
personally impacted by the lack of time limitation for the
chaplain to process a request, there is no substantial burden on
his religious exercise. Dkt. No. 129, p. 72 However,
construing the record in Plaintiff's favor, this wide breadth of
discretion to grant, deny, or interminably delay an inmate's
request, combined with the ambiguity surrounding the policy and
Defendants' haphazard application, fortifies Plaintiff's case
for a substantial burden. Essentially, the purported policy
gives no assurance to any inmate-much less Plaintiff-that even
complete compliance will result in receipt of their religious
articles. See Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church
Inc. v. City of New Berlin, 396 F.3d 895, 901 (7th Cir. 2005)
To the extent Defendants are attempting to discuss the issue of
Plaintiff's standing, the Magistrate Judge has already appropriately
addressed and rejected Defendants' arguments. Dkt. No. 127, p. 8 n.5.
(per Posner, J.) (finding substantial burden under RLUIPA given
"delay" and "uncertainty" arising from need to keep applying for
rezoning). Further, Plaintiff has produced evidence that his
receipt of religious items has been inhibited by this policy.
Thus, at this stage, the record before the Court contains
sufficient evidence that Defendants have and will continue to
substantially burden Plaintiff's exercise of his sincerely held
Accordingly, the Court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's Report
and Recommendation, as supplemented herein, as the opinion of
the Court and DENIES Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment,
dkt. no. 119.
SO ORDERED, this 29th day of March, 2017.
LISA GODBEY WOO h, CHIEF JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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