502 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2007), 05-16010, Smith v. Allen

Docket Nº:05-16010.
Citation:502 F.3d 1255
Party Name:Tony Lee SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Richard F. ALLEN, et al., Defendants, Steve Walker, Chaplain, Willie Whiting, Chaplain, Bill Lindsey, Chaplain, Anthony Askew, Chaplain, Donal Campbell, Commissioner, Albert Murray, Deputy Commissioner, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 02, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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502 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2007)

Tony Lee SMITH, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Richard F. ALLEN, et al., Defendants,

Steve Walker, Chaplain, Willie Whiting, Chaplain, Bill Lindsey, Chaplain, Anthony Askew, Chaplain, Donal Campbell, Commissioner, Albert Murray, Deputy Commissioner, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05-16010.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Oct. 2, 2007

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Henry F. Sherrod, III (Court-Appointed), Henry F. Sherrod, III, P.C., Florence, AL, for Smith.

Kevin Christopher Newsome, Bradley, Arant, Rose & White, LLP, Birmingham, AL, Bettle J. Carmack, Montgomery, AL, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, and BIRCH and WILSON, Circuit Judges.

BIRCH, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Tony Lee Smith, a prison inmate, brought this action against a number of members of the Religious Activities Review Committee of the Alabama Department of Corrections ("ADOC"), contending that these members had violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 through § 2000cc-5, as well as his constitutional rights, by declining him permission to possess certain items in connection with his practice of Odinism. Smith sought injunctive relief and monetary damages. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant-appellees, and Smith now appeals. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.


Smith is presently an inmate at the Kilby Correctional Facility in Mt. Meigs, Alabama. At the time this action was commenced, Smith was an inmate at the

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Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw, Alabama. Smith is a practitioner of Odinism, an ancient pre-Christian faith also known as Asatru.1 Odinism's theology is grounded in ancient Icelandic sagas and runic mysticism. Adherents to the religion strive to attain the "Nine Noble Virtues," which are described as courage, truth, honor, fidelity, discipline, hospitality, industriousness, self-reliance, and perseverance. To attain these virtues, members of the Odinist faith must communicate with the ancient Norse gods and goddesses--by studying runes, practicing rites on specified days of the week, and observing the major Odinist holidays. See R1-8, Exh. B4; Rust, 883 F.Supp. at 1298.

During his incarceration, Smith submitted a series of requests to the Religious Review Committee of the ADOC, seeking approval of certain practices in connection with his practice of Odinism. In February 2001, Smith first requested permission to light a small fire; permission to observe the Odinist rites on specified days of the week; and permission for a designated area at the prison site for him to conduct his worship. The ADOC granted Smith's request to practice his Odinist religion and to receive Odinist literature, but denied his request to have a designated area for worship, based on its concern that doing so would pose security concerns and "could easily result in violence against other inmates and staff," and the assertion that "[t]his religion also promotes racial superiority and is a popular front for hate groups." R1-8, Exh. D; see also id. Exh. C. Shortly thereafter, in November 2001, Smith filed this lawsuit, alleging violations of RLUIPA, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause.

While Smith's lawsuit was pending, in June 2003 Smith submitted a supplemental request to the ADOC Religious Activities Review Committee, this time requesting the following: one small quartz crystal; one religious necklace in the shape of "Thor's hammer," R2-63, Exh. K-1 at 3; permission from the ADOC to light a pine wood fire in a "small fire pit, approximately 9" in diameter and 9" deep," id. at 2; permission to observe Thursday ("Thor's Day") as a designated day of worship, id. ; and a formal recognition of Odinism by the ADOC. Id. at 1. Smith was advised by a Chaplain with the ADOC that the Chaplain would personally review the request; the Chaplain later stated that, in a discussion with Smith, he had told him that

after [Smith's] filing the request, with authoritative sources, validating the requests, [the request] would be reviewed by me and then [the Warden], who were different reviewers at the institutional level . . . Inmate Smith's requests would then be sent to the Religious Activities Review Committee with the scholarly, authoritative sources validating his claims for these requests. I stressed the importance of identifiable[,] authoritative sources, which scholars and/or his specific faith community collectively recognize.

Id., Exh. K at 3.

In connection with Smith's pending request, Smith had a friend who was outside of the prison system submit additional sources on Odinism--via mail--to the ADOC Chaplain. The Chaplain, however, advised Smith that he found that the

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sources "may be okay, but that they were incomplete and sketchy since they did not give information on the basic [tenets] of the religion itself or reference further sources that could be accessed by me." Id. at 4. Consequently, the Chaplain sought to "gather more informative sources on [his] own," including having discussions with a Chaplain in a prison in Nebraska2 about the doctrinal underpinnings of Odinism, and locating additional background sources on the religion. Id. After the Chaplain had "gather[ed] information" and "research[ed] the [credibility]" of Smith's requests, he submitted Smith's case to the ADOC Religious Activities Review Committee ("the Committee") for a final decision. Id.

After conducting a meeting to discuss Smith's request, the Committee rendered a decision in October 2003. The Committee's decision was as follows. First, the Committee granted Smith's request for a religious necklace in the shape of Thor's hammer. The Committee also granted Smith's request to use a ceremonial fire in connection with his practice of Odinism, albeit "in the form of a candle in a private secure place." R2-98, Exh. M at 2. The Committee granted Smith's request to have a special day of the week--Thursday/Thor's Day--to practice the Odinist rites. It also granted Smith's requests to recognize a total of four Odinist holidays; to possess runes to use in connection with his religious study; and to use and possess a small, fern tree twig "in a manner that would not jeopardize security." Id. With respect to Smith's request to have Odinism recognized by the ADOC, the Committee stated that the request was granted, insofar as the ADOC agreed to formally recognize Smith's right to independently practice Odinism, including his right to have "literature, space, and [] approved paraphernalia." Id. at 1.

The Committee declined the following aspects of Smith's request. First, it declined Smith's request to possess a small crystal, due to a "lack of supporting materials validating a need for this item." Id. Second, the Committee denied Smith's request for a "designated place of worship" to perform the Odinist rites. Id. at 2. With respect to this issue, the Committee expressed concern that Odinism's alleged connections with Neo-Nazism and white supremacist beliefs would pose security problems in the prison, were Odinism to be granted a designated area of worship in the open, common area of the prison. The Committee, however, advised Smith that he would be granted a secure location to practice his Odinist rites, stating: "[w]hen a secure place of worship is required, the Warden and the Chaplain may designate a suitable location for Smith to conduct his rites." Id. Finally, the Committee declined Smith's request for a fire pit, limiting him instead to a small candle.

Smith was released from imprisonment in January 2004. The ADOC defendant-appellees subsequently moved for summary judgment in connection with Smith's pending lawsuit.3 After reviewing the parties'

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arguments, the magistrate judge made the following recommendations.

First, the magistrate judge found that the ADOC had already granted a number of Smith's requests, including his request for a worship spot; for a Thor's hammer necklace; for a small fire; and for a formal recognition of Odinism as a valid religion. Accordingly, the magistrate judge determined that these claims had all been rendered moot. He found that the only claim still pending before the court was Smith's RLUIPA claim based upon the denial of his request for a small quartz crystal. As to that remaining claim, the magistrate judge found that Smith had been released from prison, thereby mooting the injunctive relief aspects of that claim.4

As to Smith's claim for monetary damages under RLUIPA--based only on the denial of the requested crystal--the magistrate judge found that Smith had lodged claims against the defendants-appellees in both their official and individual capacities. With respect to Smith's official capacity suit, however, the magistrate judge stated that a suit against the defendant-appellees in their official capacities for money damages would not lie, because "the proper defendant in the official action claims is the governmental entity." R3-146 at 9. Accordingly, to the extent Smith's action involved any official capacity claims against the defendants-appellees, the magistrate judge recommended that they be granted summary judgment.

With respect to Smith's claim against the defendants-appellees in their individual capacities--based, again, solely on the denial of the crystal--the magistrate judge found that Smith had established a prima facie RLUIPA claim. Specifically, the magistrate judge found that Smith had demonstrated that "ADOC's curtailment of his use of a...

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