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Case Name Moussazadeh v. Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice PC-TX-0018
Docket / Court 3:07-CV-574 ( S.D. Tex. )
Additional Docket(s) 9:04-cv-5  [ 04-5 ]
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Special Collection DOJ Civil Rights Division Statements of Interest
Case Summary
On October 12, 2005, an inmate of Eastham Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The plaintiff sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), its executive director and the warden of the Eastham Unit ... read more >
On October 12, 2005, an inmate of Eastham Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The plaintiff sued the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), its executive director and the warden of the Eastham Unit under 42 U.S.C. §2000 and Texas State Code §110.001. The plaintiff alleged that the TDCJ and specifically the Eastham Unit have denied his access to a kosher diet, which he requires as part of his sincere religious belief. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, claiming violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

On December 19, 2005, this case was consolidated with another case regarding the rights of a Jewish inmate under RLUIPA. On April 6, 2006, both parties moved to stay the litigation pending settlement negotiations to address the claims of both inmates, which Judge Judith Guthrie approved on April 12, 2006. Judge Guthrie requested progress reports at the beginning of each month regarding the status of settlement negotiations. Sadly, in September of 2006, the second inmate who joined in the case passed away, and so the consolidation order was withdrawn on October 16, 2006.

The parties continued to file status reports on settlement negotiations, but on June 1, 2007, the plaintiff was transferred to Stringfellow unit where a kosher kitchen was recently put in operation. On November 20, 2007, the case was transferred to the Southern District of Texas because Judge Gunthrie determined that it was a more proper venue as the Stringfellow unit was located in the Southern District. Based upon this transfer, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case and in the alternative, moved for summary judgment on August 22, 2008 essentially arguing that the plaintiff received the relief sought. However, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on September 11, 2008 claiming that the defendants refused to guarantee that the plaintiff would receive kosher meals if transferred to another unit.

On March 26, 2009, Judge Melinda Harmon granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that the plaintiff received the relief sought. Further, Judge Harmon ruled that the plaintiff’s amended complaint regarding the defendant’s future actions inconsequential on the grounds that he could always file another suit and that government actors should be “accorded a presumption of good faith because they are public servants.”

The plaintiff appealed the judgment to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on April 10, 2009. In the meantime, on October 10, 2009, the plaintiff was transferred to the Stiles Unit for disciplinary reasons, where kosher meals were available for purchase but not provided. The United States Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court on February 5, 2010 because the court found that the conditions about which the prisoner complained had substantially changed and so the case was no longer moot (because the inmate had been transferred). 364 Fed. Appx. 110.

On December 10, 2010, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. The motions were fully briefed and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division filed a brief arguing that the defendants had not met their burden of demonstrating a compelling government interest to justify the substantial burden placed on the inmate given the refusal to provide him with a kosher diet. Further, the defendants did not show that this refusal was the least restrictive means of furthering their interest and so the DOJ argued that the obligations under RLUIPA were not met and the defendants motion should be denied.

On September 20, 2011, Judge Melinda Harmon granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on two grounds (1) that the inmate’s claim was barred by the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement and (2) that defendants established the plaintiff’s “lack of sincerity regarding [his] kosher practice as a matter of law.” 2011 WL 4376482. Because under RLUIPA, the inmate needed to show a substantial burden on his religious belief, a necessary component of this burden was to establish that his religious belief was sincere—Judge Harmon found that the inmate only offered a conclusory declaration that his religious diet needs were sincere, and rather “his personal desire to harass defendants with an unnecessary lawsuit took precedence…” Id.

The plaintiff filed an appeal on October 14, 2011 and on December 21, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court. The Fifth Circuit disagreed that the inmate’s claim was barred by the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement—the Court held, contra the district court, that the inmate did not need to “re-exhaust” his grievance due to the changed circumstances in the case. The Fifth Circuit also found that the the defendants had not proved the inmates lack of sincerity, and that the religious lapses pointed to in the defendant’s summary judgment were not equal to insincerity. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit found that there was a remaining factual question: whether there was a less restrictive means for minimizing costs and maintaining security than to force the inmate to pay for his kosher meal. The court said that if there was a less restrictive means, then RLUIPA commands that defendants adopt it. 2012 WL 6635226.

The case then went back to the district court where the discovery process continued until April 4, 2014 when the parties again moved to stay the case because they were in process of negotiating a settlement. According to a court-mandated status report, the plaintiff had been moved from the Stiles Unit back to the Stringfellow Unit on April 18, 2013 where he was participating in the Jewish Dietary Program and receiving kosher meals. A few days later, Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy granted the stay. The case was reassigned to Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt on May 21, 2015 and then to Judge George C. Hanks, Jr. on August 19, 2015. Then, on January 8, 2016 both parties issued a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal, which was granted on March 31, 2017.

Nichollas Dawson - 10/05/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Religion discrimination
Religious programs / policies
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)
Defendant(s) Texas
Plaintiff Description Jewish inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filing Year 2007
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 ]

3:07-cv-574 (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0018-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/10/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-TX-0018-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/12/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion on Dismissal [ECF# 135] (2009 WL 819497) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0018-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/26/2009
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (364 Fed.Appx. 110)
PC-TX-0018-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/05/2010
Source: Westlaw
Statement of Interest of The United States
PC-TX-0018-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 04/08/2011
Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section
Opinion on Remand [ECF# 223] (2011 WL 4376482) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0018-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 09/20/2011
Source: Westlaw
Opinion (703 F.3d 781)
PC-TX-0018-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/21/2012
Source: Google Scholar
PC-TX-0018-0009.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/21/2012
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion (709 F.3d 487)
PC-TX-0018-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/20/2013
Source: Google Scholar
Order [ECF# 242] (2014 WL 897928) (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0018-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 03/06/2014
Source: Westlaw
Judges Barksdale, Rhesa Hawkins (Fifth Circuit)
Dennis, James L. (Fifth Circuit)
Hanks, George Carol Jr. (S.D. Tex.)
Harmon, Melinda (S.D. Tex.)
PC-TX-0018-0004 | PC-TX-0018-0006 | PC-TX-0018-0007
Jolly, E. Grady (Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0018-0003 | PC-TX-0018-0008
King, Carolyn Dineen (Fifth Circuit)
Smith, Jerry Edwin (Fifth Circuit)
PC-TX-0018-0005 | PC-TX-0018-0008
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bagenstos, Samuel R. (District of Columbia)
Croft, William Scott (District of Columbia)
Donnelly, Matthew J. (District of Columbia)
PC-TX-0018-0001 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Gardner, Allen M. (District of Columbia)
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Gaubatz, Derek L. (District of Columbia)
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Goodrich, Luke W. (District of Columbia)
Knapp, James C. Jr. (District of Columbia)
Lee, Ronald H. (District of Columbia)
Murchison, Matthew Todd (District of Columbia)
Mygatt, Timothy D (District of Columbia)
Palmer, David Paul (District of Columbia)
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia)
Rassbach, Eric C (District of Columbia)
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Robinson, Anne Wylde (District of Columbia)
Smith, Jonathan Mark (District of Columbia)
Defendant's Lawyers Cunniff, Celamine (Texas)
Gardner, M. Carol (Texas)
Moran, Nathaniel Q. (Texas)
Ward, George Baxter IV (Texas)
Other Lawyers Rifkin, Lori Ellen (District of Columbia)

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