Madison v. Riter

Decision Date23 January 2003
Docket NumberNo. CIV. 7:01CV00596.,CIV. 7:01CV00596.
Citation240 F.Supp.2d 566
PartiesIra W. MADISON Plaintiff, v. R. RITER, et al. Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Virginia

Ira W. Madison, Dillwyn, VA, pro se.

Pamela Anne Sargent, Office of Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA, for defendants.


TURK, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff, Ira W. Madison, is an inmate under the supervision of the Virginia Department of Corrections seeking relief under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 (2002), for the alleged violation of his right to free exercise of religion. In an August 23, 2002 opinion, the Court denied summary judgment on the Plaintiffs First Amendment claim, holding that there was a material factual dispute concerning the sincerity of the Plaintiffs religious beliefs. The Court also denied qualified immunity to the Defendants, finding that the constitutional standards governing the Defendants' conduct were clearly established.

The Court took Plaintiffs RLUIPA claim under advisement until the constitutionality of the Act could be briefed and argued. The Court heard oral arguments from the parties and the United States Government as intervener, and the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiffs RLUIPA claim on the basis that the Act violates the United States Constitution is ripe for resolution.


The facts of the present case are explained in detail in the Court's August 23, 2002, opinion. For purposes of this motion, a short review of the facts is appropriate. The Plaintiff claims to be a member of a particular sect of the Hebrew Israelite faith, based out of the Beth El Temple in Norfolk, Virginia. The Plaintiff argues that his faith requires him to consume a kosher diet, provided by the Department of Corrections in particular prison facilities under the name "Common Fare Diet."

The Plaintiff first requested the Common Fare Diet on July 27, 2000, while an inmate at Greenville Correctional Center. Local officials at the facility approved the request, but Central Classifications Services ("CCS"), a Richmond-based agency of the Virginia Department of Corrections which must review all such requests, overturned the approval upon the belief that Plaintiff had no compelling religious reason to participate in the diet, that he could satisfy his dietary needs from the regular food line, and that he had not shown a sincere belief in his religion. Plaintiff made a second request for the diet after his transfer to Bland Correction Center in March of 2001. Again, local officials approved the request but CCS reversed the decision and denied Plaintiff the diet. After his administrative appeals were denied within the prison system, the Plaintiff filed this suit on August 6, 2001.

II The History of RLUIPA

On April 17, 1990, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Employment Division, Dept. of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872, 110 S.Ct. 1595, 108 L.Ed.2d 876 (1990), holding that the right of free exercise did not "relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a `valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).'" Id. at 879, 110 S.Ct. at 1600. The Court clarified existing free exercise precedent by rejecting the applicability of the test developed in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972), which established a strict scrutiny level of review for governmental actions that "substantially burden a religious practice," in the context of generally applicable laws.1 Sherbert, 374 U.S. at 402-03, 83 S.Ct. at 1792-94. The Court was not concerned about the possible discriminatory effect of its decision on religious belief, reasoning that narrow and constitutional exemptions would be provided by Congress and state legislatures when necessary to protect religion. Smith, 494 U.S. at 890, 110 S.Ct. at 1606.

The Court's prediction was fulfilled, and perhaps exceeded in degree, just three years later, when Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb (2002). The stated purpose of the Act is to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened." 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb(b)(1). The Act consequently forbids the government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, even in the case of generally applicable laws, unless the government can demonstrate that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. Id. § 2000bb-1(b).

The back-and-forth between Congress and the Supreme Court on the applicability of the Sherbert strict scrutiny test to laws of general applicability continued in 1997 when a challenge to the constitutionality of RFRA reached the Supreme Court in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 138 L.Ed.2d 624 (1997). Writing for a majority of the Court, Justice Kennedy held the Act unconstitutional as a violation of Congress's powers under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. Justice Stevens, concurring with the majority's opinion, wrote separately to voice his opinion that RFRA also violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Id. at 536-37, 117 S.Ct. at 2172. The reach of the Supreme Court's decision in City of Boerne has been the subject of much debate in the lower courts, as courts have disagreed as to whether City of Boerne invalidated RFRA as a whole or merely as it pertained to the states under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Compare In re Young, 141 F.3d 854 (8th Cir. 1998) (concluding that RFRA was only declared unconstitutional as it applies to the states), with United States v. Sandia, 6 F.Supp.2d 1278 (D.N.M.1997) (holding that the Court in City of Boerne held RFRA unconstitutional in its entirety). However, despite this confusion, it was clear in City of Boerne that the Court was continuing to resist the application of the Sherbert strict scrutiny test to allow individuals to avoid burdens imposed on religious belief by generally applicable laws. After City of Boerne, it was once again up to Congress to try and fashion such an exemption in a constitutional manner.

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 represents Congress's attempt to reestablish RFRA's strict scrutiny standard while avoiding the constitutional infirmities that led to the invalidation of RFRA. Congress nairowed the reach of the strict scrutiny test in RLUIPA to zoning ordinances and institutionalized persons and avoided § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment as the source of its authority to act, opting instead to use the Spending Power and the Commerce Clause. 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1) & (2). At the same time, Congress made ho changes to RFRA's strict scrutiny test, merely adopting the test in RLUPA. Section 2000cc-1(a) of the Act, the section covering the claims of prison inmates, reads as follows:

No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution, as defined in section 1997 of this title, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person

(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and

(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

RLUIPA requires the inmate to bear the burden of persuasion concerning the substantial burden imposed on his religious exercise, and then, as in any strict scrutiny case, the government bears the burden of persuasion on the remaining elements of the test. Id. § 2000cc-2(b).2

The match between the judiciary and the legislature over the use of the Sherbert test continues to play out, as the question of the constitutionality of RLUIPA is presently before this Court. The answer to this question depends on the ability of Congress to cure the constitutional problems presented by RFRA in passing RLUIPA, despite the Supreme Court's strong suggestion in City of Boerne that the strict scrutiny test imposed by RFRA and RLUIPA has constitutional problems independent of Congress's power to enact such a statute.

III The Constitutionality of RLUIPA

The Defendants claim that RLUIPA exceeds Congress's authority under the Spending and Commerce Clauses, and violates the Tenth Amendment, Establishment Clause, and the Separation of Powers. The Defendants' claims have been rejected by the few courts that have reviewed the constitutionality of RLUIPA. See Mayweathers v. Newland, 314 F.3d 1062, 2002 WL 31875409 (9th Cir.2002), affg Mayweathers v. Terhune, 2001 WL 804140 (E.D.Cal); 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 the conclusion that the Supreme Court's invalidation of RFRA in City of Boerne extended beyond § 5 to condemn any use of the Sherbert strict scrutiny test as a violation of the Separation of Powers or the Establishment Clause. See, e.g., Sandia, 6 F.Supp.2d 1278 ("City of Boerne stands ... for the proposition that in setting out to replace the constitutional test of Smith with one demanding higher scrutiny, Congress impermissibly crossed into the judiciary's Article III territory."); Warner v. City of Boca Raton, 64 F.Supp.2d 1272 (S.D.Fla.1999) (citing Justice Stevens' concurrence in City of Boerne for the proposition that RFRA "evidences a preference for religion...

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14 cases
  • Coronel v. Paul
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Arizona
    • April 20, 2004
    ...have held that the RLUIPA violates the Establishment Clause. See Cutter v. Wilkinson, 349 F.3d 257 (6th Cir.2003); Madison v. Riter, 240 F.Supp.2d 566 (W.D.Va.2003); Kilaab Al Ghashiyah (Khan) v. Dep't of Corrections of State of Wisconsin, 250 F.Supp.2d 1016 (E.D.Wisc.2003). The Defendants ......
  • Madison v. Virginia
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • December 29, 2006
    ...the Establishment Clause and because it exceeded Congress' authority under the Spending and Commerce Clauses. Madison v. Riter, 240 F.Supp.2d 566, 570 (W.D.Va.2003). The district court ruled that RLUIPA impermissibly advanced religion in violation of the Establishment Clause and dismissed p......
  • Westchester Day School v. Village of Mamaroneck, 02 CIV.6291 WCC.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • September 5, 2003
    ...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). Further, our research has uncovered two district court cases which have ruled on the constitutionality of RLUIPA as tha......
  • Cutter v. Wilkinson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • November 7, 2003
    ...circuit and district court opinions stand two district court decisions that reach the opposite conclusion. One is Madison v. Riter, 240 F.Supp.2d 566 (W.D.Va.2003) (Turk, J.), and the other is Kilaab Al Ghashiyah (Khan) v. Dep't of Corrections, 250 F.Supp.2d 1016 (E.D.Wis.2003) (Adelman, J.......
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3 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
    ...institutional security."). (227.) Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 593 (1984) (Blackmun, J., concurring). See also Madison v. Riter, 240 F. Supp. 2d 566, 578 n.10 (W.D. Va. 2003), overruled on other grounds 355 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2003) ("Some courts, in examining prison regulations under ......
  • Thomas C. Berg, the United States
    • United States
    • Emory University School of Law Emory International Law Reviews No. 19-2, March 2005
    • Invalid date
    ...concurring in the judgment). 54 Cutter v. Wilkinson, 349 F.3d 257 (6th Cir. 2003), rev'd. 125 S. Ct. 2113 (2005); Madison v. Riter, 240 F. Supp. 2d 566 (W.D. Va. 2003), rev'd, 355 F.3d 310 (4th Cir. 2003); Al Ghashiyah v. Dept. of Corrections, 250 F. Supp. 2d 1016 (E.D. Wis. 2003) . 55 125 ......
  • Madison v. Riter.
    • United States
    • Corrections Caselaw Quarterly No. 26, May 2003
    • May 1, 2003
    ...District Court RELIGIOUS DIET Madison v. Riter, 240 F.Supp.2d 566 (W.D.Va. 2003). A state prisoner brought an action against prison officials under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), seeking relief from alleged violations of his right ......

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