Warsoldier v. Woodford

Decision Date29 July 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-55879.,04-55879.
Citation418 F.3d 989
PartiesBilly Soza WARSOLDIER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Jeanne WOODFORD, Director of the California Department of Corrections, in her official capacity; John Laudeman, Warden of the Adelanto Community Correctional Facility, in his official capacity, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Audrey Huang (Argued and Briefed), Bingham, McCutchen, Los Angeles, CA; Ben Wizner (Briefed), ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

John E. Rittmayer (Argued) and Barry G. Thorpe (Briefed), Deputy Attorney General, State of California, Los Angeles, CA, for the defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Ronald S.W. Lew, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-04-02233-RSWL.

Before: PREGERSON, TASHIMA, and PAEZ, Circuit Judges.

PREGERSON, Circuit Judge:

California prisoner Billy Soza Warsoldier appeals from the district court's denial of his request for a preliminary injunction in his suit challenging a California Department of Corrections ("CDC") hair grooming policy, which requires that all male inmates maintain their hair no longer than three inches. Warsoldier refuses to adhere to the grooming policy because of his sincere religious belief that he may cut his hair only upon the death of a loved one. He argues that the policy, and CDC's refusal to permit a religious exception, violates his right to religious freedom. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1), and for the reasons set forth below, we reverse the district court's denial of Warsoldier's request for a preliminary injunction.


The facts here are undisputed by the parties. Billy Soza Warsoldier is a Cahuilla Native American. He has participated in his tribe's cultural, social, and religious affairs throughout his life. One tenet of Warsoldier's religious faith teaches that hair symbolizes and embodies the knowledge a person acquires during a lifetime and that hair may be cut only upon the death of a close relative. In keeping with his religion, Warsoldier maintains his hair long because he believes that cutting his hair would cost him his wisdom and strength. He further believes that if he were to cut his hair, he would be unable to join his ancestors in the afterlife and that instead, the deceased members of his tribe will subject him to taunting and ridicule. Except upon his father's death in 1980, Warsoldier has not cut his hair since 1971.

From April 2, 2003 to May 27, 2004, Warsoldier was an inmate at California's Adelanto Community Correctional Facility ("ACCF"), a minimum security prison located in Adelanto, California.1 CDC's grooming policy prohibits male inmates from maintaining their hair longer than three inches. 15 Cal.Code Reg. § 3062(e). On April 24, 2003, Warsoldier was given a copy of a Rules Violation Report, which alleged that he was not in compliance with CDC's grooming policy. He received similar notices of violation on June 3 and June 16, 2003. The prison held hearings on each of the violations, during which Warsoldier pleaded not guilty and asserted that his "religious beliefs and cultural background" prevented him from complying with the grooming policy. Nevertheless, after each hearing, Warsoldier was found guilty of violating the grooming policy. For his violations of the policy, Warsoldier was punished by confinement to his cell and the imposition of additional duty hours.

On July 20, 2003, the prison's Unit Classification Committee ("UCC") designated Warsoldier a "program failure" pursuant to section 3062(m) of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations for his refusal to cut his hair.2 As punishment, Warsoldier (1) lost his assignment to particular duties; (2) lost his phone call rights; (3) was expelled from print shop and landscaping classes; (4) was removed from his position as a member of the Executive Body for the Inmate Advisory Council; (5) was prohibited from going to the main yard for recreation; (6) had his monthly draw at the prison store reduced from $180 to $45; and (7) was prohibited from making special purchases at the prison store.

After Warsoldier pursued CDC's appeal process and exhausted all of the available administrative remedies, he filed suit in United States District Court. Warsoldier's suit challenges CDC's hair grooming regulation as violating his right to religious freedom under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). Warsoldier's complaint seeks preliminary and permanent injunctive relief prohibiting CDC from punishing him for exercising his religious beliefs and compelling CDC to lift all disciplinary sanctions that have been imposed upon him as a consequence of his refusal to adhere to the grooming policy. He also seeks a declaration that applying the policy to him violates his rights under RLUIPA.

The district court denied Warsoldier's request for a preliminary injunction, reasoning that because CDC had not forcibly cut Warsoldier's hair and had no intention of doing so before his release, it was questionable whether Warsoldier had suffered a constitutional injury. Because Warsoldier was scheduled to be released in eighteen days, the court concluded that the balance of hardships did not weigh in Warsoldier's favor and there was no need to grant a preliminary injunction.

Warsoldier appeals.

I. Standard of Review

A district court's decision regarding preliminary injunctive relief is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See Pharm. Research v. Walsh, 538 U.S. 644, 660, 123 S.Ct. 1855, 155 L.Ed.2d 889 (2003). We must reverse the district court if it abused its discretion or based its decision on an erroneous legal standard or on clearly erroneous findings of fact.3 Satava v. Lowry, 323 F.3d 805, 810 (9th Cir.2003). Where, as here, the district court's ruling rests solely on conclusions of law and the facts are either established or undisputed, de novo review is appropriate. See Sammartano v. First Judicial Dist. Court, 303 F.3d 959, 964-65 (9th Cir.2002).

II. Preliminary Injunctive Relief4

"To obtain a preliminary injunction, [Warsoldier] must show either (1) a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury or (2) the existence of serious questions going to the merits and the balance of hardships tipping in [Warsoldier's] favor." See Nike, Inc. v. McCarthy, 379 F.3d 576, 580 (9th Cir.2004) (quoting Gilder v. PGA Tour, Inc., 936 F.2d 417, 422 (9th Cir.1991)) (internal quotations omitted). "These two alternatives represent extremes of a single continuum, rather than two separate tests. Thus, the greater the relative hardship to [Warsoldier], the less probability of success must be shown." See Walczak v. EPL Prolong, Inc., 198 F.3d 725, 731 (9th Cir.1999) (internal quotations omitted).

A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

Section 3 of RLUIPA provides, in relevant part, that "[n]o government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . . even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability," unless the government establishes that the burden furthers "a compelling governmental interest," and does so by "the least restrictive means."5 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2). RLUIPA defines "religious exercise" to include "any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief." § 2000cc-5(7)(A). "A person may assert a violation of [RLUIPA] as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government." § 2000cc-2(a).

The Supreme Court recently upheld RLUIPA against a challenge under the Establishment Clause. Cutter v. Wilkinson, ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 2113, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (2005). In Cutter, the Court found that RLUIPA's institutionalized-persons provision was compatible with the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and concluded that RLUIPA "alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise." Id. at 2121. In upholding the act, the Court recognized RLUIPA "[a]s the latest of long-running congressional efforts to accord religious exercise heightened protection from government-imposed burdens," id. at 2117, and that Congress sought to provide inmates a mechanism to seek redress against the "frivolous or arbitrary' barriers [that] impeded institutionalized persons' religious exercise," id. at 2119; see also id. at 2115 (noting that RLUIPA's purpose is to "protect[ ] institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent on the government's permission and accommodation of their religion"). Congress did this by replacing the "legitimate penological interest" standard articulated in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987), with the "compelling governmental interest" and "least restrictive means" tests codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). See also Cutter, 125 S.Ct. at 2119.

Under RLUIPA, Warsoldier bears the initial burden of going forward with evidence to demonstrate a prima facie claim that CDC's grooming policy and its punitive sanctions designed to coerce him to comply with that policy constitute a substantial burden on the exercise of his religious beliefs. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-2(b).6 If Warsoldier establishes the prima facie existence of such a substantial burden, on which he bears the burden of persuasion, the CDC shall bear the burden of persuasion to prove that any substantial burden on Warsoldier's exercise of his religious beliefs is both "in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest" and the "least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental...

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