University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Dowdy-El v. Caruso PC-MI-0031
Docket / Court 06-cv-11765 ( E.D. Mich. )
State/Territory Michigan
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU of Michigan
Case Summary
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 ... read more >
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. In addition, 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. The case was assigned to Judge Avern Cohn and Magistrate Judge David Grand.

On December 20, 2012, Judge Avern Cohn adopted Magistrate Judge 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 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 an order preliminarily approving the parties' proposed settlement agreement which introduced new MDOC policies designed to meet the prisoners' remaining concerns. The agreement required the defendants to provide meals that comport with halal religious tenets and to provide notice to prisoners within 30 days of entry of judgment informing them that all disciplinary actions were to be expunged insofar as they related to requests for halal meals.

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 filed two appeals, but the Sixth Circuit rejected both for lack of jurisdiction on January 15, 2014 and March 3, 2014, respectively.

Over the next four years, separate members of the class action filed several motions seeking injunctions against the defendants for failure to comply with the settlement. The court repeatedly denied these requests for failure to state a claim. One such member of the class action appealed to the Sixth Circuit in December 2015. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to deny this member’s request for relief for allegedly being served contaminated halal food–the Sixth Circuit found such relief was not within the scope of the original settlement. The case is ongoing for monitoring and enforcement purposes.

Alex Wharton - 01/06/2015
Carolyn Weltman - 02/08/2016
Jake Parker - 07/10/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Free Exercise Clause
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Required disclosure
Religion discrimination
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
State law
Defendant(s) Michigan
Plaintiff Description Group of Muslim prisoners in various Michigan correctional facilities
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU of Michigan
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2013 - n/a
Filing Year 2006
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

2:06−cv−11765 (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/02/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-MI-0031-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/12/2006
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
First Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 13]
PC-MI-0031-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/02/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Second Amended Class Action Complaint [ECF# 37]
PC-MI-0031-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/27/2010
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order Adopting Report and Recommendation and Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification [ECF# 77] (2012 WL 6642763) (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 12/20/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 80] (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/24/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judgment [ECF# 85] (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/13/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Preliminary Order Approving Settlement [ECF# 88] (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/17/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Approving Settlement and Dismissing Case [ECF# 129] (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/20/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order Denying Motion for Contempt (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/06/2015
Source: Bloomberg Law
Order [ECF# 225] (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Cohn, Avern Levin (E.D. Mich.)
PC-MI-0031-0004 | PC-MI-0031-0005 | PC-MI-0031-0006 | PC-MI-0031-0007 | PC-MI-0031-0008 | PC-MI-0031-0009 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Grand, David R. (E.D. Mich.) [Magistrate]
Plaintiff's Lawyers Collier, Trent (Michigan)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Cook, Michael J. (Michigan)
McFarland, Todd (Maryland)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Moss, Kary L. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Quick, Daniel D. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Steinberg, Michael J. (Michigan)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Yitzchaki, Doron (Michigan)
PC-MI-0031-0002 | PC-MI-0031-0003 | PC-MI-0031-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Dean, Michael R. (Michigan)
Himebaugh, Kevin R. (Michigan)
Thurber, John L. (Michigan)

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