On April 12, 2006, a group of Muslim and Christian prisoners in various Michigan correctional facilities filed a § 1983 lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the Michigan Department of Corrections ("MDOC"). On January 27, 2010, the prisoners, then represented by both the ACLU and private counsel, filed a second amended complaint seeking class certification for all current and future similarly situated inmates.
The prisoners claimed that the MDOC violated § 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA") 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq.; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Specifically, the Muslim prisoners sought the following relief: accommodation to attend a religiously-required service on Fridays that did not conflict with other mandatory prisoner activities, such as work assignments; reversal of any punishment by the MDOC against inmates who refused to attend prison assignments that required the prisoners to miss any provided Friday Islamic religious services; accommodation for Muslim prisoners to be provided a religiously-mandated halal diet; and finally, accommodation to observe two annual religious feasts. A Seventh-day Adventist prisoner sought similar accommodations for observance of the Saturday holy day and reversals of similar disciplinary measures. The prisoners sought injunctive and declaratory relief remedying and enjoining the actions by the MDOC.
On December 20, 2012, the Court (Judge Avern Cohn) adopted Magistrate Judge David Grand's report and recommendation and granted the prisoners' motion for class certification. 2012 WL 6642763.
On May 24, 2013, Judge Cohn granted in part and denied in part both the prisoners' and the MDOC's motions for summary judgment. Judge Cohn dismissed the prisoners' Equal Protection claims relating to the prayer services and dietary accommodations. The Court also dismissed the Free Exercise claims relating to prayer services. But the Free Exercise claims relating to a halal diet were allowed to proceed as were the RLUIPA claims relating to both prayer services and dietary accommodations. Judge Cohn granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on all claims relating to the two annual religious feasts. On, August 13, 2013, Judge Cohn entered these conclusions as a judgment of the Court.
On September 10, 2013, the prisoners moved for approval of a proposed class settlement agreement regarding the remaining issues before the Court (the Free Exercise and RLUIPA claims for a halal diet and RLUIPA claims regarding accommodation for prayer services). On September 17, 2013, Judge Cohn issued a preliminary order approving the parties' proposed settlement agreement which introduced new MDOC policies designed to meet the prisoners' remaining concerns.
On November 20, 2013, Judge Cohn approved the settlement agreement and dismissed the case. In doing so, he also overruled several non-party objections to the settlement agreement and also denied several parties' motions to intervene. The court also found that the MDOC had adopted an appropriate policy regarding accommodations for halal diets. The Court further directed the MDOC to expunge from prisoners' records any punishment for missing a jail appointment such as a work, school, or administrative assignment due to a conflicting religious service. The Court retained jurisdiction solely for the purpose of enforcing any provision of the Court's order.
The MDOC has since filed two appeals, but the Sixth Circuit rejected both for lack of jurisdiction on January 15, 2014 and March 3, 2014, respectively.
Over the course of 2014 and 2015, separate members of the class action filed several motions seeking injunctions against the defendants for failure to comply with the settlement terms. The court repeatedly denied the requests to dismiss for failure to state a claim. One such member of the class action, Gene Favors, appealed to the Sixth Circuit in December 2015. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to deny Favors' request for relief of judgement for allegedly contaminated halal food, as such relief was not in the scope of the original settlement. Alex Wharton - 01/06/2015
Carolyn Weltman - 02/08/2016