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