Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, No. C2-95-517.

Decision Date25 February 2002
Docket NumberNo. C2-98-275.,No. C2-97-382.,No. C2-95-517.
PartiesJohn W. GERHARDT, Plaintiff, v. Alan LAZAROFF, et al., Defendants, and Lee Hampton, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Reginald Wilkinson, et al., Defendants, and John Miller, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Reginald Wilkinson, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

David A. Goldberger, Ohio State Univ. College of Law, Columbus, OH, for Plaintiffs.

Todd Robert Marti, Ohio Attorney General's Office, Corrections Litigation, Columbus, OH, for Defendants.


SARGUS, District Judge.

These three cases, one pending before the undersigned Judge, one pending before Judge James L. Graham, and one pending before Magistrate Judge Terence P. Kemp, have been consolidated for the purpose of issuing a single ruling on defendants' motion to dismiss. The sole issue raised by the motion is the constitutionality of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq.

In a Report and Recommendation filed on August 27, 2001, Magistrate Judge Kemp, to whom the motion had been referred for an initial decision pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), recommended that the defendants' motion be denied, with the exception of that portion directed to plaintiffs' claims under the Ohio Constitution. Defendants objected to that recommendation, continuing to argue that RLUIPA was not a constitutional exercise of Congress' power under either the Spending Clause or the Commerce Clause. All of the plaintiffs, including the United States, which intervened in order to defend the constitutionality of RLUIPA, filed responses to the objections, and the defendants filed a reply. For the following reasons, the objections will be overruled and defendants' motion for partial dismissal will be denied with the exception of that portion directed to plaintiffs' claims under the Ohio Constitution.


The facts of this case are essentially those set forth in the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. Because, for the most part, defendants' challenge is a legal challenge and not dependent upon the facts of any particular case, a lengthy recitation of the facts is unnecessary. However, as more fully discussed below, there are certain facts which the defendants assert have been established for purposes of the Court's ruling and which, they claim, were overlooked or improperly disregarded by the Magistrate Judge. The Court will comment on those factual issues in the context of discussing the legal objections which defendants have raised.

Otherwise, the facts are relatively straightforward. Each of the plaintiffs claims to have been denied the right to practice his religion in the prison setting due to what plaintiffs assert are unwarranted concerns about security or unjustified assumptions about the relationship between plaintiffs' chosen religion and prison gang activity, primarily White Supremacy gangs. Although plaintiffs originally contended that their constitutional rights were being violated under the Turner v. Safley standard, see Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987), after RLUIPA was enacted, they contended that the more restrictive standards set forth in that statute applied to the state's actions. The State of Ohio then sought a ruling from the court that RLUIPA is unconstitutional.


Defendants challenged RLUIPA on grounds that its enactment exceeded Congress' powers under either the Spending Clause or the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The Magistrate Judge determined that the Spending Power provided adequate support for the enactment of RLUIPA, and consequently did not reach the Commerce Clause issue. Defendants argued both that the Magistrate Judge's conclusions with respect to the Spending Clause are erroneous, and that the Magistrate Judge erred in refusing to reach the arguments relating to the Commerce Clause. For the following reasons, the Court finds each of defendants' objections to be without merit.

Defendants first argue that a statute such as RLUIPA which imposes a "least restrictive means" test on the actions of prison officials is too vague to be enforceable in the prison setting. Defendants argue that, although this test governs the actions of a state when dealing with private citizens' First Amendment concerns, it not only has the potential to lead to judicial second-guessing in the prison setting, but has, when applied in the past, produced judicial decisions diametrically opposed to each other, thus leaving prison officials without sufficient guidance to determine how to implement RLUIPA's requirements.

The short answer to defendants' arguments is that any statute which contemplates judicial review under a standard which is not susceptible to mechanical and precise definition has the potential to lead to conflicting judicial decisions on similar sets of facts. This potential result is not fatal to the enforceability of the statute. The Court further believes that defendants' continued reliance on Turner v. Safley, supra, is unavailing. In Turner, the Supreme Court was interpreting a provision of the Constitution. In doing so, it weighed the constitutional rights of inmates against the realities of the prison setting. Although the Court did not conclude that the First Amendment required imposition of a "least restrictive means" test, Congress, in enacting RLUIPA, has decreed otherwise with respect to a narrow class of First Amendment claims. Once Congress makes that decision, it is the Court's duty to implement it unless the statute exceeds Congress' power or is otherwise unconstitutional. The fact that the Supreme Court did not impose such a high standard absent a congressional directive to do so is, by itself, not persuasive on the issue of whether Congress had the power to impose a higher standard if it so chose.

Defendants make several arguments which, they claim, should have been resolved by the Magistrate Judge on the basis of their "uncontroverted" affidavits. They contend that, as a factual matter, (1) there is an inadequate relationship between the federal funds provided and the purposes of RLUIPA; (2) that any such relationship is not proportional to the amount of federal funds utilized in the prison programs in Ohio; and (3) that the enforcement of RLUIPA in the prison setting will necessarily involve burdening other inmates by placing them at a greater risk of physical harm because RLUIPA will prevent prison officials from restricting activities of other prisoners which pose legitimate security threats. In response, plaintiffs argue primarily that these are all matters of "legislative" fact and that defendants in an individual case may not, by entering affidavits into the record, compel the Court to reach the conclusion that, for example, to enforce RLUIPA would necessarily burden other inmates. That is a judgment, according to plaintiffs, which Congress is free to make and which the Court may overturn only if it is irrational.

The Court agrees with plaintiffs on this issue. For the most part, defendants have raised a facial challenge to RLUIPA's constitutionality, and have not contended that under the facts of any of the specific cases pending before the Court, applying RLUIPA would produce unconstitutional results. When evaluating a facial challenge to a statute, the Court must be careful not to allow the legislative findings underlying enactment of the statute to be "trumped by the fact finding apparatus of a single court." Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Schmoke, 63 F.3d 1305, 1312 (4th Cir.1995), vacated on other grounds, 517 U.S. 1206, 116 S.Ct. 1821, 134 L.Ed.2d 927 (1996), reaffirmed 101 F.3d 325 (4th Cir.1996), cert. denied 520 U.S. 1204, 117 S.Ct. 1569, 137 L.Ed.2d 714 (1997). Beyond that fundamental point, however, the Court is persuaded that the United States has demonstrated an adequate relationship between the purpose of the federal funds and the purposes of RLUIPA, and that the four-part test set forth in South Dakota v. Dole, 483 U.S. 203, 107 S.Ct. 2793, 97 L.Ed.2d 171 (1987) has been satisfied here.

Defendants' reliance on FCC v. League of Women Voters, 468 U.S. 364, 399-400, 104 S.Ct. 3106, 82 L.Ed.2d 278 (1984) for its proportionality argument is also misplaced. Importantly, that case involved a Congressional enactment which, if validated, would have restricted the First Amendment free speech rights of the recipients of federal funds. In the context of a First Amendment challenge, the Court held that there must be a substantial relationship between the purpose of the funding and the interests sought to be advanced by the First Amendment restrictions. Otherwise, Congress could simply not "justify the substantial abridgment of important journalistic freedoms which the First Amendment jealously protects." Id. at 402, 104 S.Ct. 3106. By contrast, Congress passed RLUIPA to enlarge rather than restrict the free exercise of religion, and the First Amendment concerns identified in League of Women Voters are not present here. Further, the radio stations at issue in that case were prohibited from spinning off affiliates to carry on the work which Congress had prohibited, so that it was impossible for them to carry out their free speech activities by segregating the Congressional funds from the entity which performed those activities.

As the plaintiffs contend, the state has, among other things, the recourse simply to choose not to accept federal funding. If the funding is, as defendants assert, a de minimis portion of the state prison budget, then Ohio has more incentive to forego federal funding of its prisons. Should it do so, the State would not be subject to RLUIPA under a Spending Clause theory. Since Ohio has continued to accept federal funds after RLUIPA's enactment, however, it has clearly not chosen this alternative.

Defendant's other primary...

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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • November 18, 2022
    ...argued that strict scrutiny was too indeterminate to form an enforceable Spending Clause condition. See Gerhardt v. Lazaroff , 221 F. Supp. 2d 827, 841, 844 (S.D. Ohio 2002). But the district court rejected the argument, holding that strict scrutiny was such a well-established framework bef......
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    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • September 5, 2003
    ...E.g., Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062 (9th Cir.2002); Johnson v. Martin, 223 F.Supp.2d 820 (W.D.Mich. 2002); Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D.Ohio 2002); Charles v. Verhagen, 220 F.Supp.2d 955 (W.D.Wis.2002). But see Madison v. Riter, 240 F.Supp.2d 566 (W.D.Va. 2003). Furt......
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    • January 23, 2003
    ...Johnson v. Martin, 223 F.Supp.2d 820 (W.D.Mich.2002); Charles v. Verhagen, 220 F.Supp.2d 955 (W.D.Wis. 2002); Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D.Ohio 2002). However, the backdrop of authority is not as unanimous in support of RLUIPA as it might seem. Several judges have come to th......
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    • November 18, 2022 certain applications, the states could easily discern what core obligations the statute entailed in the mine-run of cases. See, e.g., id. at 844 have been enforcing that exact standard against state action for years."). Whether we ever actually adjudicated the correctness of that holding......
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2 books & journal articles
  • RLUIPA at four: evaluating the success and constitutionality of RLUIPA'S prisoner provisions.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 28 No. 2, March 2005
    • March 22, 2005
    ...Charles v. Verhagen, 348 F.3d 601 (7th Cir. 2003); Johnson v. Martin, 223 F.Supp.2d 820 (W.D. Mich. 2002) (same); Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D. Ohio 2002) (same), overruled sub nom. Cutter v. Wilkinson, 349 F.3d 257 (6th Cir. (293.) See generally C. Lupu, The Failure of RFRA......
  • Gerhardt v. Lazaroff.
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    • Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 25, February 2003
    • February 1, 2003
    ...District Court ELEVENTH AMENDMENT Gerhardt v. Lazaroff, 221 F.Supp.2d 827 (S.D.Ohio 2002). State prisoners sued prison officials in three separate actions, alleging that each prisoner was denied the right to practice his religion due to unwarranted concerns about security, in violation of t......

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