Alvarez v. Hill

Decision Date13 March 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-35068.,06-35068.
Citation518 F.3d 1152
PartiesBlackie ALVAREZ, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jean HILL, Superintendent; Max Williams; Mitch Morrow; J. Gilmore; S. Franke; T. O'Connor; Sonja Hoyt; T. Armstrong; S. Babb; Cain; Rider, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Blackie F. Alvarez, pro se; John B. Schochet (argued), Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Seattle, WA, and Michael B. King, Talmadge Law Group PLLC, Tukwila, WA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Hardy Myers, Attorney General, Mary H. Williams, Solicitor General, Michael C. Livingston, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Rolf C. Moan (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Oregon Attorney General, Salem, OR, for the defendants-appellees.

James McCurdy, Lindsey Hart Neil & Weigler, LLP, Portland, OR, for the amicus curiae ACLU Foundation of Oregon, Inc.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Oregon; Anna J. Brown, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-04-00884-BR.


FISHER, Circuit Judge:

We revisit in this appeal the longstanding principle that federal complaints plead claims, not causes of action or statutes or legal theories. Blackie Alvarez ("Alvarez") brought suit alleging that prison officials substantially burdened his religious exercise by denying him various accommodations. Those officials ("appellees") now insist that Alvarez's failure to specifically plead in his complaint a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), see 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1, bars his argument that the district court erred in not analyzing his religious exercise claims under RLUIPA, which establishes a more protective standard than does the First Amendment. They are plainly incorrect. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm in part, reverse in part and remand.


In June 2004, Alvarez, then an inmate at the Oregon State River Correctional Institution, filed a pro se complaint seeking redress for violations of the "First [and] Fourteenth Amendments" on the part of prison officials.1 Alvarez alleged that they "`burden[ed] substantially' ... his religion" by denying him the "right to participate and practice the Sweat Lodge Ceremony and Sacred Pipe Ceremony" and by making it "difficult if not impossible to communicate with any of his tribe[']s religious representatives." He also alleged that they forbade him from wearing a headband, consuming tobacco for ceremonial purposes and participating in group worship.2 Four months later, Alvarez supplemented his complaint with a self-styled "Motion in Support of Original Complaint with Law." Alvarez asserted there that the district court had "supplemental jurisdiction" of his free exercise claims under "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000cc," and other civil rights statutes.

Appellees thereafter filed for summary judgment in December 2004. They argued that although the prison's policies burdened Alvarez's constitutional free exercise rights, they were "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests" and consequently satisfied the standard set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987). Responding directly to appellees' reliance on Turner, Alvarez opposed their "conclusory" assertions of the governmental interest in security and safety, referring to the more stringent "standard set by the R.L.U.I.P.A.2000." He asserted this was so because RLUIPA "explicitly changed the standard by which restrictions on the free exercise of religion are to be judged, and clearly applies in the prison context." Citing Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir.2002), and 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1), Alvarez contended that RLUIPA "restores a higher standard which requires the state to demonstrate ... that its regulations or practices are `in furtherance of a compelling government[al] interest.'" Additionally, he identified RLUIPA as providing a statutory ground for relief apart from the Free Exercise Clause. He explained he was bringing suit under the "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (R.L.U.I.P.A.) ... in relation to ... substantial burdening and interference with Sacred Religious Objects and Practices. And violation of plaintiff's First Amendment (free exercise)." (Emphasis added.) Prison officials were "not only violating plaintiff's constitutional rights, but the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act." (Emphasis added.)

The appellees' reply acknowledged that Alvarez's "claim must be analyzed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act." His "claims of an RLUIPA violation [were] without merit," they argued, given the serious "safety and security" concerns justifying restrictions on religious practice while an inmate was in disciplinary housing.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees. Citing Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir.1997), a religious exercise case litigated before the passage of RLUIPA, the court held that an inmate could prevail on a free exercise claim only by showing that prison officials "burdened the practice of [his] religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his religious faith." The court found the restrictions on Alvarez's religious exercise were not a "substantial burden on the practice of his religion." Furthermore, the court held that insofar as officials had produced "sufficient evidence" that the restrictions furthered the "legitimate institutional goals" of maintaining prison safety and security, they did not "rise to the level of a constitutional violation."


A district court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Blanford v. Sacramento County, 406 F.3d 1110, 1114 (9th Cir.2005). "Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party ... we must determine whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law and whether there are any genuine issues of material fact." Galvin v. Hay, 374 F.3d 739, 745 (9th Cir.2004).


We agree with Alvarez's contention that summary judgment would have been inappropriate on the available record had RLUIPA's standard been applied to his religious exercise claim. Under Turner, which governs inmate free exercise claims brought under the First Amendment, prison restrictions will be upheld as long as they are "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 997-98 (9th Cir.2005) (quoting Turner, 482 U.S. at 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254). By contrast, RLUIPA disallows policies that impose "a substantial burden on ... religious exercise" unless the burden "furthers `a compelling governmental interest,' and does so by `the least restrictive means.'" Id. at 994 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)).

The district court's analysis did not take account of RLUIPA, which "accord[s] religious exercise heightened protection from government-imposed burdens." Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 714, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 161 L.Ed.2d 1020 (2005). In finding that Alvarez's religious exercise was not substantially burdened, the district court required him to show he was prevented from "engaging in conduct mandated by his religious faith."3 RLUIPA, however, defines "religious exercise" to include "any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(7)(A) (emphasis added). Moreover, the district court accepted the government's proffered justifications without engaging in the more searching scrutiny RLUIPA requires. Under RLUIPA, prison officials bear the burden of establishing that the restriction challenged is the "least restrictive alternative to achieve" a compelling governmental interest. See Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 998. "[N]o longer can prison officials justify restrictions on religious exercise by simply citing to the need to maintain order and security in a prison." Greene v. Solano County Jail, 513 F.3d 982, 989 (9th Cir. 2008). They now must demonstrate that they "actually considered and rejected the efficacy of less restrictive measures before adopting the challenged practice." Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 999.


Appellees offer no rebuttal to Alvarez's suggestion that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether their restrictions on his religious exercise were the least restrictive means of maintaining prison security, and so essentially concede that a RLUIPA claim would have survived summary judgment. Instead, they assert that Alvarez pled only a First Amendment claim, because his "complaint [did] not identify RLUIPA as the basis for a separate claim." The contention that his complaint's omission of a citation to RLUIPA precludes Alvarez from advancing legal arguments based on that statute is entirely meritless. We hold that Alvarez's RLUIPA claim was presented to the district court because his complaint and subsequent filings provided appellees with "fair notice" of that claim, even though the statute was not cited in the complaint itself. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

The form complaint used by Alvarez, which was provided by the prison itself, instructed inmates to "[s]tate here as briefly as possible the facts of your case"; they were "not [to] give any legal arguments or cite any cases or statutes." (Emphasis in original.) In the space for indicating the "civil right" underlying his claim, Alvarez wrote that the appellees had violated his "First [and] Fourteenth Amendment[ ]" rights by "`burdening substantially' ... his religion." Alvarez then pled with commendable — even greater than necessary — particularity how prison officials were doing just that. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and...

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