Ganther v. Ingle, 95-40131

Decision Date16 February 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-40131,95-40131
Citation75 F.3d 207
PartiesKenneth I. GANTHER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Tommy INGLE, Jr., et al., Defendants-Appellees. Summary Calendar.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Kenneth I. Ganther, Beeville, TX, pro se.

Linda M. Kearney, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Attorney General for State of Texas, Austin, TX, for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before WISDOM, DAVIS and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

The plaintiff/appellant, Kenneth I. Ganther, is a convicted felon confined in the McConnell Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Ganther filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking injunctive and monetary relief from TDCJ officials for alleged violations of his right to religious freedom. The district court dismissed his suit on the grounds of official immunity. Ganther now appeals both the dismissal of his case, and the interim denial of two emergency motions for injunctive relief. We AFFIRM in part, VACATE in part, and REMAND the case for further consideration.

BACKGROUND

Kenneth Ganther asserts that he is the pastor of the "House Hold Faith Full Gospel Church," a Protestant church that consists of approximately forty other TDCJ inmates. He alleges that for about six months before he filed suit, prison officials allowed his group to meet regularly in the prison recreation yard, and also allowed it to hold a one-week revival meeting. After several months, the group had grown in size, so Ganther asked for permission to use the TDCJ chapel once a week for Bible study and once a week Ganther filed this suit on August 25, 1993. He named the prison chaplain and three prison wardens as defendants, in both their official and personal capacities. Ganther requested both injunctive relief from the officers' orders and monetary damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

                for a Sunday service.   The TDCJ chaplain denied Ganther's request, citing a prison policy that the chapel only be used for distinct religions, rather than distinct denominations within religions.   The chaplain added that the prison offered three Protestant services each week that Ganther and his group could attend.   Shortly after the chaplain denied use of the prison chapel, prison officials also ordered Ganther and his group to disassemble and refrain from worship in the prison unit.   Ganther maintains that prison officials violated his right to religious freedom both by denying his group access to prison facilities and by ordering his group to disassemble
                

On June 17, 1994, the district court ordered service on the defendants, and ordered them to answer Ganther's complaint by August 17, 1994. On July 8, and July 20, 1994, before the defendants had answered, Ganther filed two emergency motions for injunctive relief. In the first, Ganther alleged that as retaliation for filing the instant suit, one Warden Woods, who is not a named defendant, changed Ganther's job assignment from an indoors position as a laundry attendant to an outdoors position as a yard worker, thereby aggravating Ganther's asthmatic condition.

In the second motion, Ganther alleged that prison officials had continued to retaliate against him by moving him into a dormitory with fresh paint that caused him respiratory problems. He acknowledged, however, that since he had filed his first emergency motion, prison officials had changed his work assignment back to an indoors position.

The defendants answered Ganther's complaint on August 19, 1994, two days late. With their answer, they also filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds of official immunity and the failure to state a cause of action.

On August 23, 1995, Ganther filed a motion for entry of a default judgment based on the defendants' failure to file a timely answer. Without addressing this motion, the district court first denied Ganther's two emergency requests for injunctive relief. It then granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment and concurrently entered final judgment. Ganther subsequently filed a motion for relief from judgment, which the court denied.

Ganther now appeals the grant of summary judgment to the defendants, the denial of his emergency motions for injunctive relief, and the district court's decision to address the defendants' motion for summary judgment before addressing his own motion for a default judgment.

I.

This court reviews de novo the decision to grant summary judgment. In their motion for summary judgment, defendants make three arguments for dismissal. First, they maintain that the claims against them in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Second, they argue that the claims against them in their personal capacities are barred under the doctrine of qualified immunity. Finally, defendants argue that Ganther failed to state a cause of action under which relief could be granted. We address each of these arguments in turn.

Federal claims against state employees in their official capacities are the equivalent of suits against the state. 1 The Eleventh Amendment prohibits a citizen from bringing suit against a state unless the state waives its immunity. 2 This prohibition does not apply, however, to requests for injunctive relief. 3

In this case, Ganther has requested both monetary and injunctive relief from the state officials. The district court correctly ruled that the Eleventh Amendment bars Ganther's claim for damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Section 101.057 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code provides that any waiver of sovereign immunity does not apply to claims arising out of intentional torts. 4 Thus, Texas has explicitly refused to waive its sovereign immunity for claims such as Ganther's. The Eleventh Amendment bars Ganther's damages claim against the defendants in their official capacities.

The district court did not complete its Eleventh Amendment analysis, however. It completely failed to address Ganther's request for injunctive relief against the defendants in their official capacities. It is black letter law that the Eleventh Amendment does not apply to a request for a federal court to grant prospective injunctive relief against state officials on the basis of federal claims. 5

Defendants argue that this exception does not apply here because Ganther allegedly does not have the requisite standing to proceed with a claim for injunctive relief. They argue that in order to seek an injunction against a state official, a plaintiff must show a real and immediate threat that he or she will in the future be subject to the conduct he attempts to proscribe. Defendants maintain that because all but one of the named defendants have left Ganther's prison unit since Ganther filed his suit, he cannot meet this burden, and therefore may not seek an injunction against the defendants in their official capacities.

This argument misconstrues Eleventh Amendment law. Although it is true that a plaintiff must have standing to obtain relief from a federal court, 6 this requirement does not limit suits seeking to enjoin state officials any more than it limits other claims for injunctive relief. In addition, Ganther clearly does have standing. Ganther has retained his standing against the one remaining original defendant, and through automatic substitution, has also retained standing against the official successors of the departed defendants. 7 Ganther's request for injunctive relief against the defendants in their official capacities falls within the established exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity. 8 The district court should not have dismissed this portion of Ganther's case against the defendants in their official capacities.

The district court also dismissed the claim against the defendants in their personal capacities under the doctrine of qualified immunity. In assessing a claim of qualified immunity, this court engages in a two part analysis. 9 The court first determines if the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a clearly established constitutional or statutory right. 10 If so, the court then decides if the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable. 11 In assessing whether a right is "clearly established," the court must use the standards applicable at the time of litigation. 12 In contrast, the court looks to the time of the In this case, the law at the time of the alleged offense was different from that at the time of the litigation. Ganther filed his suit on August 25, 1993, solely on the basis of a First Amendment violation. After that time, but before the district court dismissed the case, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 14 (RFRA) went into effect. Thus, the district court should have analyzed the first part of the qualified immunity test in light of RFRA, and should only have considered pre-RFRA law in the second part of the test. However, the district court's failure to consider RFRA in the first prong of the test was harmless error because the defendants' actions satisfy the second, objective reasonableness, prong of the qualified immunity inquiry.

alleged offense to determine if the defendant's conduct was "objectively reasonable." 13

Under pre-RFRA law, prisoners were only required to be given "reasonable opportunity" to exercise their religious freedom. 15 This requirement did not include the right to receive facilities or personnel identical to that of more populous denominations. 16 Thus, at the time Ganther filed his complaint, he had no right to demand use of the prison chapel or other prison facilities to hold services for his church. Therefore, applying the law at time of their actions, the defendants' conduct towards Ganther on this request was "objectively reasonable" under the second part of the qualified immunity test. It...

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