On August 14, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in the Southern District Court of Florida on behalf of Jewish prisoners under 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(f) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 against the Florida Department of Corrections. The DOJ asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that defendant violated religious freedoms granted by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Specifically, plaintiffs claimed the Florida Department of Corrections violated RLIUPA and substantially burdened the prisoners' religious exercise by not offering kosher meals to inmates.
On May 15, 2013, Muslim prisoners filed a motion to intervene, seeking halal, or in the alternative, kosher meals for Muslim prisoners who observe halal dietary laws. Judge Patricia A. Seitz denied the motion on September 6, 2013.
The court issued a preliminary injunction on December 6, 2013. It required the defendants to provide a kosher diet program to all prisoners with a sincere religious belief by July 2014. It also enjoined three of the state’s methods for issuing a religious diet program: 1) the Orthodox sincerity test, 2) the “ten-percent rule,” which removed a prisoner from the Religious Diet Program for missing ten percent of meals within a month, and 3) a zero tolerance rule that suspended the kosher diet for prisoners who were caught eating non-kosher once, without opportunity to contest suspension.
The defendants filed motions for a stay of the preliminary injunction both to the Eleventh Circuit and the district court. The motions contested the enjoining of the three “tests” for granting a kosher diet as well as the July 2014 deadline for compliance. The Eleventh Circuit denied the motion for a stay in May 2014. The district then denied the motion for stay in June 2014. On June 27, 2014, the Circuit remanded to the district court to alter the July deadline.
On February 27, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit dismissed the defendant's remaining appeals of the preliminary injunction because of mootness. It ruled that under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which governs all RLUIPA challenges, a preliminary injunction will expire automatically after 90 days unless the court “makes the findings required under subsection (a)(1) for the entry of prospective relief. . .” and “makes the order final before the expiration of the 90-day period.” 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2). The district court made neither finding, so the preliminary injunction expired in March 2014.
Judge Seitz ruled on the summary judgment motions for declaratory relief and permanent injunctions on April 30, 2015. Declaratory relief was granted to the plaintiffs for three claims. The court held that the defendant violated RLUIPA through 1) denial of a kosher diet to sincere prisoners, 2) its “ten-percent rule”, and 3) its zero tolerance rule.
Summary judgment was also granted to the defendants on two claims, declaring that 1) the doctrinal sincerity test for a special diet did not violate RLUIPA as long as it was not unduly weighted in determining sincerity, and 2) an anti-bartering policy did not violate RLUIPA.
The court then issued its final ruling on a permanent injunction on August 12, 2015. The injunction ordered the defendants to 1) offer a kosher diet to all prisoners with a sincere religious basis for keeping kosher, 2) end the ten percent rule, and 3) stop enforcement of the zero tolerance rule without an opportunity for prisoners to contest their removal or suspension. The court then furthered ordered that the defendants create auditing and training procedures, produce both monthly and quarterly reports, and open access of their facilities to the Federal Dept. of Corrections. It provided a thirty day period to cure the failures in the kosher diet program.
As of April 5, 2016, the court continued to receive reports on compliance with the order and also fielded grievances from prisoners denied entry into the kosher diet program (though none received an additional hearing). Up to this point, the court did not issue any additional orders as a result of deficient compliance.Christina Bonanni - 10/18/2013
Dan Hofman - 04/10/2016