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Case Name Holt v. Hobbs PC-AR-0014
Docket / Court 5:11-cv-00164-BSM-JJV ( E.D. Ark. )
State/Territory Arkansas
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On June 28, 2011, a devout Muslim prisoner at the Arkansas Department of Corrections' Cummins Unit filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") against the ... read more >
On June 28, 2011, a devout Muslim prisoner at the Arkansas Department of Corrections' Cummins Unit filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") against the Director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and the Warden of the Cummins Unit. The plaintiff, proceeding without counsel, asked the court for a temporary and permanent injunction against the enforcement of the prison's grooming policy, claiming that the prison was substantially interfering with his right to practice religion in violation of RLUIPA and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the prison's refusal to allow him to grow a 1/2 inch beard was not the least restrictive means of furthering the government's compelling interest in maintaining security in the prison.

On July 6, 2011, United States Magistrate Judge Joe J. Volpe, relying heavily on Fegans v. Norris, 537 F.3d 897 (8th Cir. 2008), recommended that the plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order be denied. On October 18, 2011, the District Court (Chief Judge Brian S. Miller), however, rejected the magistrate's proposed findings, noting that the defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving that the grooming policy was the least restrictive means to achieve prison security as applied to the plaintiff's case. The District Court then granted plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order, and remanded the case to the Magistrate Judge for further hearings on whether the grooming policy was the least restrictive means to maintain prison security.

After an evidentiary hearing, on January 27 2012, Magistrate Judge Volpe recommended that the Court's October 18, 2011 order be vacated, that the plaintiff's complaint be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Holt v. Hobbs, No. 11-cv-00164, 2012 WL 994481 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 27, 2012). Magistrate Judge Volpe noted that the state had brought forth credible evidence that a 1/2 inch beard presented security threats, notwithstanding the fact that under the policy a prisoner with a diagnosed skin condition was allowed to grow a 1/4 inch beard. For example, a 1/2 inch beard could conceal weapons and/or contraband; allowing a prisoner to keep a beard could allow him to disguise his identity (by shaving) in the event of an escape; and giving certain prisoners preferential treatment (allowing them to grow beards) could lead to other prisoners targeting them or seeing them as leaders. The plaintiff conceded that the government had a compelling interest in maintaining prison security, but argued that the policy was not the least restrictive means to do so. Specifically, the plaintiff referenced the procedures used by the New York Department of Corrections that maintain prison security by photographing inmates with and without a beard so that they may not disguise themselves in the event of an escape. Despite this evidence, Magistrate Judge Volpe declared that a high level of deference is owed to prison officials in judging the specific needs of their prison, and that policies of other prisons are not dispositive. Finally, the Magistrate Judge noted that because the plaintiff was already given several religious accommodations (a prayer rug, a list of distributors of Islamic material, correspondence with religious advisors, dietary accommodations, and unobstructed observance of religious holidays), the grooming policy did not "substantially burden" the plaintiff's religious exercise. The Magistrate Judge recommended that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice. Moreover, he recommended that dismissal of the complaint count as a "strike" for purposes of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which penalizes prisoners if they file more than three lawsuits that are frivolous or fail to state a claim. On March 23, 2012, the District Court (Chief Judge Brian S. Miller) adopted the Magistrate's recommendations in full, and dismissed the plaintiff's complaint. Holt v. Hobbs, No. 11-cv-00164, 2012 WL 993403 (E.D. Ark. Mar. 23, 2012).

The plaintiff appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 12, 2013, the Court (per curiam) held that the State met its burden under RLUIPA of establishing that the grooming policy was the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling government interest in prison security, and affirmed the District Court's dismissal of the case. The Court did, however, reverse the District Court's holding that the dismissal counted as a strike under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Holt v. Hobbs, 509 Fed.Appx. 561 (8th Cir. 2013); No. 12-3185, 2013 WL 2500568 (8th Cir. June 12, 2013).

Still without counsel, the plaintiff then sought review in the Supreme Court of the United States; the Supreme Court granted certiorari, limited to the RLUIPA claims, and appointed counsel. Holt v. Hobbs, 134 S.Ct. 1512 (2014). On January 20, 2015, the Court reversed, unanimously. In an opinion by Justice Alito, the Court held that Arkansas's grooming policy violates RLUIPA "insofar as it prevents petitioner from
growing a 1⁄2-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs." The opinion focused on the fact that the state's asserted security interest was undermined by the fact that it allowed prisoners to grow 1/4-inch beards for medical reasons, and also allowed prisoners to grow their hair longer than 1/2 inch.

On March 12, 2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case as moot. Plaintiff then filed a motion for contempt on March 24, 2015, arguing that the Department of Corrections was misapplying the court ruling. The court denied this motion for contempt.

On May 14, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion for permanent injunction, which was granted on June 4, 2015. The permanent injunction stated that prisoners can grow a 1/2 inch beard for religious reasons if they properly file for religious grooming accommodations. On June 9, 2015, the parties filed a joint notice stating that the Department of Corrections agreed to pay $134,000 to plaintiff's attorneys. On June 23, 2015, the court dismissed the case with prejudice.

On November 3, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion to reopen the case, alleging that he was advised that he should not help other prisoners file for religious grooming accommodations and was told not to teach Islam beliefs in a religious group for prisoners. The court denied this motion on November 20, 2015, because plaintiff had already been granted relief and was adding new claims. Plaintiff moved for reconsideration on November 27, 2015, stating that he was impermissibly and wrongly discharged from the PAL (Principles and Applications for Life) program in retaliation for exercising his right to advise other inmates on how to file for accommodations and for educating fellow inmates. The court denied this motion for reconsideration, on the grounds that the claims brought in the motion for reconsideration were unrelated to whether he should be permitted to wear a half-inch beard. The court found that if plaintiff wanted to pursue his new claims, he had to file a new case.

This case is now closed.

Joshua Arocho - 11/11/2014
Katie Chan - 11/17/2017
Jennifer Huseby - 11/02/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Preliminary relief granted
Defendant-type
Corrections
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Bathing and hygiene
Religious programs / policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Defendant(s) Arkansas Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description A devout Muslim inmate in the Arkansas Department of Corrections' Cummins Unit who wishes to grow a beard as required by his religion.
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 2015 - n/a
Filing Year 2011
Case Closing Year 2015
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Holt v. Hobbs, 574 US _ (2015)
The Oyez Project
Date: 01/20/2015
By: The Oyez Project (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  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
Book
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 ]

Docket(s)
12-3185 (U.S. Court of Appeals)
PC-AR-0014-9001.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/11/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
13-6827 (U.S. Supreme Court)
PC-AR-0014-9002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/07/2014
Source: Supreme Court website
5:11-cv-164 (E.D. Ark.)
PC-AR-0014-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/10/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 2]
PC-AR-0014-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/28/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Application for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order [ECF# 3]
PC-AR-0014-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/28/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Declaration of Vernell Conley [ECF# 24]
PC-AR-0014-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/01/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Declaration of Carlos Gutierrez [ECF# 25]
PC-AR-0014-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/01/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 28] (E.D. Ark.)
PC-AR-0014-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/18/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Leave to Amend [ECF# 32]
PC-AR-0014-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/19/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Declaration of Rashaad Farris [ECF# 68]
PC-AR-0014-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/19/2011
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Transcript of Hearing on Motion for Temporary Injunction Before the Honorable Joe J. Volpe, United States Magistrate Judge [ECF# 142]
PC-AR-0014-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/04/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Declaration of Paul Smith [ECF# 88]
PC-AR-0014-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/22/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Order [ECF# 93] (E.D. Ark.)
PC-AR-0014-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/23/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Notice of Appeal [ECF# 101]
PC-AR-0014-0017.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/27/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Affidavit [ECF# 113]
PC-AR-0014-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/31/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Affidavit [ECF# 114]
PC-AR-0014-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/05/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Statement of the Case [Ct. of App. ECF# 15]
PC-AR-0014-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/25/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Brief of Appellees and Addendum [Ct. of App. ECF# 22, 23]
PC-AR-0014-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/10/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Reply Brief of the Appellant [ECF# 31]
PC-AR-0014-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/26/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff [Ct. of App. ECF# 31] (509 Fed.Appx. 561)
PC-AR-0014-0016.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/12/2013
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
PC-AR-0014-0019.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 09/10/2013
Petitioner's Supplemental Brief [ECF# 11]
PC-AR-0014-0018.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 01/03/2014
On Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (135 S.Ct. 853)
PC-AR-0014-0020.pdf | WESTLAW | External Link | Detail
Date: 01/20/2015
Source: Supreme Court website
Permanent Injunction [ECF# 165] (E.D. Ark.)
PC-AR-0014-0022.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/04/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Joint Notice Regarding Costs and Fees [ECF# 166]
PC-AR-0014-0023.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion to Reopen for the Limited Purpose of Determining if Plaintiff Was Discriminated Against Based On This Case and His Religious Identity [ECF# 171]
PC-AR-0014-0024.pdf | Detail
Date: 11/03/2015
Source: Bloomberg Law
Judges Alito, Samuel A. Jr. (SCOTUS, Third Circuit)
PC-AR-0014-0020 | PC-AR-0014-9002
Breyer, Stephen Gerald (First Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-0020 | PC-AR-0014-9002
Kagan, Elena (SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Kennedy, Anthony McLeod (Ninth Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Miller, Brian Stacy (E.D. Ark.)
PC-AR-0014-0005 | PC-AR-0014-0009 | PC-AR-0014-0022 | PC-AR-0014-9000
Roberts, John Glover Jr. (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Scalia, Antonin (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Sotomayor, Sonia (Second Circuit, SCOTUS, S.D.N.Y.)
PC-AR-0014-0020 | PC-AR-0014-9002
Thomas, Clarence (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
PC-AR-0014-9002
Volpe, Joe J (E.D. Ark.) [Magistrate]
PC-AR-0014-0012
Plaintiff's Lawyers Benca, Patrick J. (Arkansas)
PC-AR-0014-0023 | PC-AR-0014-9000
Laycock, Douglas (Virginia)
PC-AR-0014-0018 | PC-AR-0014-0023 | PC-AR-0014-9000 | PC-AR-0014-9002
Defendant's Lawyers Cryer, Christine A. (Arkansas)
PC-AR-0014-0012 | PC-AR-0014-0014 | PC-AR-0014-0023 | PC-AR-0014-9000 | PC-AR-0014-9002
Curran, David A. (Arkansas)
PC-AR-0014-0023
McDaniel, Dustin (Arkansas)
PC-AR-0014-0014

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