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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 in the 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 ... read more >
On October 12, 2005, an inmate in the 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 the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. §2000, and Texas State Code §110.001. The plaintiff alleged that the TDCJ and specifically the Eastham Unit denied him access to a kosher diet, which he required as part of his sincere religious belief. The plaintiff, represented by private counsel, sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. This case was assigned to Judge George C. Hanks, Jr.

On December 19, 2005, this case was consolidated with a similar case also 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 both plaintiffs’ claims. This was approved on April 12, 2006. The court requested progress reports at the beginning of each month regarding the status of settlement negotiations. In September of 2006, the second plaintiff who joined the case passed away. The consolidation order was withdrawn on October 16, 2006.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 the Stringfellow unit where a kosher kitchen was recently put in operation. On November 20, 2007, this case was transferred to the Southern District of Texas because the court determined that was a more proper venue as the Stringfellow unit was located in the Southern District. Based upon this transfer, on August 22, 2008, the defendants moved to dismiss the case and, in the alternative, moved for summary judgment. They argued 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 he would receive kosher meals if transferred to another unit.

On March 26, 2009, the court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that the plaintiff received the relief sought. Further, the court ruled that the plaintiff’s amended complaint regarding the defendant’s future actions was 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. While the appeal was pending, the plaintiff was transferred to the Stiles Unit for disciplinary reasons. There, kosher meals were available for purchase but not provided. The Fifth Circuit remanded the case to the district court on February 5, 2010. The Fifth Circuit found that this case was no longer moot since the conditions the plaintiff complained of about had substantially changed following his transfer. 364 Fed. Appx. 110.

On December 10, 2010, the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. Their motions were fully briefed and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (DOJ) 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 plaintiff 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 the defendants’ interest.

On September 20, 2011, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on two grounds: (1) that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s (PLRA) exhaustion requirement and (2) that the defendants established the plaintiff’s “lack of sincerity regarding [his] kosher practice as a matter of law.” 2011 WL 4376482. Since RLUIPA required the inmate show a substantial burden on his religious belief, a necessary component of this burden was to establish that his religious belief was sincere. The court found that the plaintiff only offered a conclusory declaration that his religious dietary 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 Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded to the district court. The Fifth Circuit disagreed that the plaintiff’s claim was barred by the PLRA’s exhaustion requirement. The Court held, contra the district court, that the plaintiff did not need to “re-exhaust” his grievance due to the changed circumstances in the case. The Fifth Circuit also found that the defendants had not proved the plaintiff’s lack of sincerity and that religious lapses 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 plaintiff to pay for his kosher meal. The court said that if there was a less restrictive means, then RLUIPA commands that the defendants adopt it. 2012 WL 6635226.

This case went back to the district court where the discovery process continued until April 4, 2014 when the parties again moved to stay the case in order to negotiate a settlement. The parties ultimately reached a private settlement agreement. 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. On January 8, 2016, both parties issued a Joint Stipulation of Dismissal, which was granted on March 31, 2017.

This case is now closed.

Nichollas Dawson - 10/05/2017
Hannah Greenhouse - 03/22/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Free Exercise Clause
Defendant-type
Corrections
Discrimination-basis
Religion discrimination
General
Religious programs / policies
Type of Facility
Government-run
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 Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Filing Year 2007
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  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)
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
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas [Ct. of App. ECF# 236]
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
show all people docs
Judges Barksdale, Rhesa Hawkins (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0008
Dennis, James L. (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0003
Hanks, George Carol Jr. (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Harmon, Melinda (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0004 | PC-TX-0018-0006 | PC-TX-0018-0007
Jolly, E. Grady (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0003 | PC-TX-0018-0008
King, Carolyn Dineen (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0008
Smith, Jerry Edwin (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0005 | PC-TX-0018-0008
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bagenstos, Samuel R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0001
Croft, William Scott (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Donnelly, Matthew J. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0001 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Gardner, Allen M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Gaubatz, Derek L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Goodrich, Luke W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Knapp, James C. Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Lee, Ronald H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Murchison, Matthew Todd (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Mygatt, Timothy D (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0001
Palmer, David Paul (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Perez, Thomas E. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0001
Rassbach, Eric C (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0002 | PC-TX-0018-9000
Robinson, Anne Wylde (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Smith, Jonathan Mark (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Cunniff, Celamine (Texas) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Gardner, M. Carol (Texas) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Moran, Nathaniel Q. (Texas) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Ward, George Baxter IV (Texas) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000
Other Lawyers Rifkin, Lori Ellen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-TX-0018-9000

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