University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Cutter v. Wilkinson PC-OH-0021
Docket / Court 2:97-cv-00382-JLF-TPK ( S.D. Ohio )
State/Territory Ohio
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
Beginning on April 3, 1997, three prisoners in the state of Ohio filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Ohio Department of Corrections. Each of the plaintiffs claimed that his constitutional right to practice his ... read more >
Beginning on April 3, 1997, three prisoners in the state of Ohio filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Ohio Department of Corrections. Each of the plaintiffs claimed that his constitutional right to practice his religion, which was protected by the newly enacted Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), had been violated during his incarceration. The defendants argued that RLUIPA was unconstitutional, exceeding Congress' powers under either the Spending Clause or the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The three cases (Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, Hampton v. Wilkinson, and Miller v. Wilkinson) were consolidated at the request of the defendants for the purpose of ruling on the constitutionality of RLUIPA. On March 14, 2001, the U.S. Attorney General's Office was granted permission to intervene in the case as a plaintiff to defend the constitutionality of RLUIPA. Ohio State University College of Law represented the plaintiffs.

On February 25, 2002, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Judge Edmund A. Sargus and Judge James L. Graham) denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that: 1) Congress's condition that states which received federal funds for prison activities or programs had to comply with RLUIPA was a proper exercise of Congressional power under the Spending Clause; 2) that this condition did not violate the Establishment Clause; 3) that the state was not immune from this lawsuit under the Tenth Amendment; and 4) that the state had waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D.Ohio 2002). The defendants appealed.

On November 7, 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Judge Karen Nelson Moore, Judge Ronald Lee Gilman, and Judge Arthur J. Tarnow) reversed the district court's judgment and remanded the case, holding that the provision in RLUIPA which is applicable to institutionalized persons, prohibiting the government from imposing a substantial burden on prisoners' exercise of religion unless the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means, violated the Establishment Clause. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 349 F.3d 257 (6th Cir. 2003). The plaintiffs appealed, and on October 12, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the petition for writ of certiorari. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. 308 (2004).

On May 31, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the judgment of the Sixth Circuit, holding that RLUIPA's institutionalized-persons provision was a constitutionally permissible exercise of Congress' power under the Spending Clause. The Court then remanded the case back to the circuit court for consideration of the merits of each individual claim. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 125 S.Ct. 2113 (2005).

On September 13, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Judge Moore, Judge Gilman, and Judge Tarnow) affirmed the original judgment of the district court, holding that RLUIPA was constitutional under the Spending Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Tenth Amendment. The circuit court then remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 423 F.3d 579 (6th Cir. 2005).

Litigation continued, and in 2009, the parties moved to conditionally dismiss the case because they reached a settlement agreement. The parties reopened the case while they worked out the language of the agreement, though there seemed to be no dispute of the content of the agreement. The settlement agreement remained private, though it seems that the defendants issued a settlement check to the plaintiffs, according to a joint motion filed by the parties to reopen the case.

Kristen Sagar - 08/19/2007
Maurice Youkanna - 08/01/2014

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
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)
Defendant(s) Ohio Department of Corrections
Plaintiff Description State prisoners alleging that each prisoner was denied right to practice his religion due to unwarranted concerns about security in violation of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
Indexed Lawyer Organizations None on record
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Damages
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year 2009
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Case Studies Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University)
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
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Links Cruel Confinement: Abuse, Discrimination and Death Within Alabama's Prisons
Written: Jun. 04, 2014
(Southern Poverty Law Center )
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  The Oyez Project, Cutter v Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005)
Written: May. 31, 2005
By: Oyez Project (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

97-382 (S.D. Ohio)
PC-OH-0021-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/06/2009
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Opinion and Order (221 F.Supp.2d 827) (S.D. Ohio)
PC-OH-0021-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/25/2002
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion (349 F.3d 257)
PC-OH-0021-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/07/2003
Source: Google Scholar
Memorandum Decision (543 U.S. 924)
PC-OH-0021-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/12/2004
Opinion (125 S.Ct. 1413)
PC-OH-0021-0004.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/28/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Opinion (544 U.S. 709)
PC-OH-0021-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/31/2005
Source: Westlaw
Opinion [United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit] (423 F.3d 579)
PC-OH-0021-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/14/2005
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Gilman, Ronald Lee (Sixth Circuit)
PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0005
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
Graham, James L. (S.D. Ohio)
Kemp, Terence Peter (S.D. Ohio)
Moore, Karen Nelson (Sixth Circuit)
Sargus, Edmund A. Jr. (S.D. Ohio)
Tarnow, Arthur J. (E.D. Mich.)
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Goldberger, David A. (Ohio)
PC-OH-0021-0001 | PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006 | PC-OH-0021-9000
Todd, James Dale (Tennessee)
Urban, Jennifer L. (Ohio)
Wolman, Benson (Ohio)
PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Angell, Robert C. (Ohio)
Cannon, Marci L. (Ohio)
Carney, Stephen P. (Ohio)
Cole, Douglas R. (Ohio)
Crawford, Franklin E. (Ohio)
Hirt, Theodore C. (District of Columbia)
King, Philip A. (Ohio)
Marti, Todd Robert (Ohio)
PC-OH-0021-0001 | PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006 | PC-OH-0021-9000
Paoletti, Paula Luna (Ohio)
Petro, Jim (Ohio)
Other Lawyers Clement, Paul D. (District of Columbia)
Keisler, Peter D. (District of Columbia)
Millett, Patricia Ann (District of Columbia)
Raab, Michael S. (District of Columbia)
PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006
Stern, Mark B. (District of Columbia)
PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006
Stern, Marc D. (New York)
PC-OH-0021-0002 | PC-OH-0021-0006
Waldman, Joshua (District of Columbia)

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