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Hale v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 28, 2018

REVEREND MATT HALE, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marcia S. Krieger, Chief United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (# 186), the Plaintiff's Response (# 193), and the Defendant's Reply (# 199); the Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and Response to So-Called “Fact Exhibit” (# 202), the Defendant's response (# 203), and the Plaintiff's reply (# 205); the Plaintiff's Motion to Allow Declarations by Nonparties (# 206) and the Defendant's response (# 207); and the Defendant's Motion to Strike Exhibits (# 210) and the Plaintiff's response (# 211). For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted and the remaining motions are denied as moot.

         I. JURISDICTION

         The Court exercises jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         The Court summarizes the pertinent facts here and elaborates as necessary in its analysis.

         I. Mr. Hale and his beliefs

         Plaintiff Matt Hale, proceeding pro se, [2] is an inmate in the custody of Defendant Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and housed at the Administrative Maximum facility in Florence, Colorado (ADX). He is a member, practitioner, and former leader of the Church of the Creator (also referred to as “Creativity”). Members of the Church of the Creator consider Creativity to be a religion. It is undisputed that a central tenet of Creativity is the premise of the superiority of the white race and the need for racial purity and segregation.

         For the sake of convenience, the Court will not reproduce the parties' recitation of Creativity's religious texts. Suffice it to say that a survey of the roughly 41 principles of Creativity set forth by the parties - 5 fundamental beliefs, 16 commandments, and 20 points of creed - reveals that nearly all of those principles comprise exhortations or instructions to adherents to accomplish the singular goal of promoting the purity of the white race and advocating for the geographic, political, and social segregation (if not the outright destruction) of other races. The most prominent secondary points found in those principles are instructions to preserve the environment of the Earth, to restore soil fertility and improve farming yields, and to promote a natural lifestyle so as to advance the physical and mental health of adherents.

         II. BOP actions giving rise to this suit

         From July 2010 to January 2011 and again from January to August 2013, the BOP imposed a mail restriction on Mr. Hale's incoming and outgoing correspondence. The restriction was imposed in response to Mr. Hale's efforts to direct affairs within the Church of the Creator. For the same reasons, the BOP denied Mr. Hale a copy of a book entitled Nature's Eternal Religion (a Creativity religious text), the diet outlined in Salubrious Living (another Creativity religious text), and the ability to conduct an on-camera interview with a Chicago television station.

         III. Mr. Hale's claims

         Mr. Hale brought this suit alleging that the mail restriction and various other prison restrictions violated his constitutional rights. Currently pending are six claims, which the Court groups by subject matter. The first three claims focus on the mail restrictions, alleging that the restrictions (1) violated Mr. Hale's constitutional right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, (2) violated his rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq.; and (3) were imposed as retaliation against him because of his exercise of his First Amendment rights. The second set of claims relate to Mr. Hale's claims that he was denied access to a diet consistent with the principles of Creativity, and that the denial (4) deprived him of his free-exercise rights under the First Amendment, and (5) violated RFRA. Finally, the final claim is that (6) Mr. Hale was denied the opportunity to possess a copy of Nature's Eternal Religion, in violation of his right to free speech under the First Amendment.

         IV. The BOP's Motion

         The BOP moves for summary judgment on all claims (# 186). In the course of briefing, the BOP attached an exhibit to its reply that organized its evidence and Mr. Hale's response thereto. Mr. Hale moves to strike this “fact exhibit” (# 202). Mr. Hale has also asked to submit declarations from nonparties in support of his summary-judgment response (# 206). The BOP moves to strike a notice filed by Mr. Hale (# 210).

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Int'l Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary adjudication is authorized when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Substantive law governs what facts are material and what issues must be determined. It also specifies the elements that must be proved for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producer's Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). A factual dispute is “genuine” and summary judgment is precluded if the evidence presented in support of and opposition to the motion is so contradictory that, if presented at trial, a judgment could enter for either party. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. When considering a summary judgment motion, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, thereby favoring the right to a trial. See Garrett v. Hewlett Packard Co., 305 F.3d 1210, 1213 (10th Cir. 2002).

         If the movant has the burden of proof on a claim or defense, the movant must establish every element of its claim or defense by sufficient, competent evidence. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). Once the moving party has met its burden, to avoid summary judgment the responding party must present sufficient, competent, contradictory evidence to establish a genuine factual dispute. See Bacchus Indus. Inc. v. Arvin Indus. Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991); Perry v. Woodward, 199 F.3d 1126, 1131 (10th Cir. 1999). If there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact, a trial is required. If there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, no trial is required. The court then applies the law to the undisputed facts and enters judgment.

         If the moving party does not have the burden of proof at trial, it must point to an absence of sufficient evidence to establish the claim or defense that the non-movant is obligated to prove. If the respondent comes forward with sufficient competent evidence to establish a prima facie claim or defense, a trial is required. If the respondent fails to produce sufficient competent evidence to establish its claim or defense, then the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Mail Restriction Claims

         Mr. Hale alleges that the mail restrictions violated his free-exercise rights, RFRA, and were retaliatory to his exercise of First Amendment rights. The BOP contends that CREATIVITY is not a religion for purposes of the Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would proscribe Claims 1, 3, 5, and 6. Second, it contends that even if it was, and Mr. Hale's religious practices were burdened by the mail and other restrictions, such restrictions were nevertheless permissible because they were supported by a compelling justification.

         1. Standing

         The BOP first challenges Mr. Hale's standing to attack the mail restrictions, arguing that Mr. Hale is only capable of seeking injunctive relief against the BOP, and that the 2010 and 2013 mail restrictions are no longer in effect. The Court addressed a similar argument in its September 30, 2015, Opinion and Order (# 66), finding that although Mr. Hale was not the subject of a current mail restriction, the restrictions that he challenged were “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Id. at n.1.

         In the instant motion, the BOP argues that although Mr. Hale is once again under restrictions on his correspondence with others, those restrictions are qualitatively different from the restrictions he was under in 2010 and 2013. As the Court understands it, the 2010 and 2013 restrictions prohibited Mr. Hale from corresponding with persons beyond his immediate family on any topic whatsoever. Now, he is permitted to correspond with persons outside his immediate family, but is still prohibited from having any such communications that touch on matters relating to Creativity. Thus, the BOP contends the “Court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to award prospective injunctive relief because the current manner in which Mr. Hale's communications are monitored bears no relation to those past restrictions.” The Court finds that its observations in the September 30, 2015, Opinion and Order on the question of standing remain valid. It is undisputed that, presently, Mr. Hale remains restricted in his ability to correspond with anyone about Creativity. Although other aspects of the 2010 and 2013 mail restrictions are not present in the current restrictions on Mr. Hale, the aspects of the 2010 and 2013 restrictions that animate his Free Exercise and RFRA claims - the inability to correspond with others about his purported religious beliefs - remain. More importantly, assuming Mr. Hale could otherwise establish his free-exercise or RFRA claims, he could conceivably be entitled to injunctive relief that would effectively modify the continuing restrictions on his ability to correspond about Creativity. In such circumstances, the Court is satisfied that Mr. Hale has standing to bring the current constitutional and RFRA claims.

         2. The Free Exercise Clause and RFRA

         The Free Exercise Clause prevents the government from making any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, which can manifest itself in either the freedom to believe or the freedom to act. See U.S. Const. amend I; United States v. Meyers, 95 F.3d 1475, 1480 (10th Cir. 1996) (citing Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 303-04 (1940)). Where the freedom to believe is absolute, the freedom to act may be regulated for the protection of society. Cantwell, 310 U.S. at 303-04. If a law is neutral and generally applicable, it does not violate the Free Exercise Clause “even if the law has the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice.” Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 531 (1993). Going further, RFRA generally prohibits the government from burdening a person's exercise of religion, even by operation of a law of general applicability. 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(a).

         Though they vary slightly, both the constitutional and RFRA standards protect only belief systems that may properly be considered religious. See Thomas v. Review Bd. of Ind. Emp't Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 713-14 (1981); Thiry v. Carlson, 78 F.3d 1491, 1494 (10th Cir. 1996). To establish his free-exercise claim, Mr. Hale must show that (1) he has a sincerely-held belief that is religious in nature; (2) that the mail restrictions substantially burdened that belief; and (3) that the BOP lacked a legitimate penological interest that justified the restrictions, considering the factors set forth in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). Kay v. Bemis, 500 F.3d 1214, 1218-19 (10th Cir. 2007). And to establish his RFRA claim, Mr. Hale must demonstrate he wishes to engage in (1) a religious exercise (2) motivated by a sincerely held belief, which (3) is subject to a substantial burden imposed by the government. See Kikumura v. Hurley, 242 F.3d 950, 960 (10th Cir. 2001). Thus, the question of whether CREATIVITY may be considered a “religion” affects the analysis of both Mr. Hale's free-exercise and RFRA claims (Claims 1, 3, 5, and 6).

         Although they appear similar, Mr. Hale's free-exercise and RFRA claims differ slightly, particularly as they relate to the nature of the governmental interest in question. Under the Free Exercise Clause, the government's interest need only be “reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, ” and the Court applies the deferential Turner standard in assessing that penological interest, generally. Under RFRA, however, the Court must consider the particular application of the governmental action on the inmate in question and determine whether there is a compelling justification for applying that policy to that inmate. Id. Moreover, under RFRA, the government bears the burden of proof that its interests are compelling and narrowly-tailored. Ghalani v. Sessions, 859 F.3d 1295, 1305 (10th Cir. 2017). Thus, the RFRA claim places a more substantial burden on the government than does the free-exercise claim.

         Here, the BOP moves for summary judgment on both claims, arguing that: (1) the principles of Creativity are not “religious” in nature; and (2) to the extent they are, the BOP is nevertheless entitled to summary judgment on the RFRA claim[3] because it has a compelling interest in preventing Mr. Hale from corresponding about Creativity and the restrictions on Mr. Hale are narrowly-drawn to effectuate that interest.

         2. Whether Creativity is a Religion[4]

         In this Circuit, to determine if a belief system is truly “religious”, the Court considers whether it: (1) addresses ultimate ideas, (2) contains metaphysical beliefs, (3) prescribes a particular moral or ethical system, (4) involves comprehensive beliefs, and (5) is accompanied by accoutrements of religion. Meyers, 95 F.3d at 1483. No. one factor is dispositive, but “purely personal, political, ideological, or secular beliefs” will not likely suffice. Id. at 1484 (citing Yoder, 406 U.S. at 216). Religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection. United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 184-85 (1965). Indeed, the concept of white supremacy, though secular in the sense that it is a racist idea, could be religious in context. Wiggins v. Sargent, 753 F.2d 663, 667 (8th Cir. 1985).

         Examples of how the Meyers criteria are applied to particular factual scenarios are instructive with regard to application to the facts of this case. As noted below, when the Meyers factors are applied, unusual belief systems are not found to be religions for one of two reasons -either belief system is so vague and indeterminate that it fails to prescribe any moral or ethical system (Africa, Jacques) or the beliefs are so narrowly focused that they do not address metaphysical or ultimate issues or otherwise comprise a comprehensive set of beliefs. (Meyers, Quaintance, Versatile). In both circumstances, the belief system is found to be a secular rather than religious one.

         In Meyers, the defendant was charged with cannabis possession. As a defense, he testified that he was the founder and reverend of the “Church of Marijuana”, wherein he was religiously commanded to use, possess, grow, and distribute cannabis “for the good of mankind and the planet earth.” 95 F.3d at 1479. Although the court noted that whether a belief structure is established or recognized cannot be the sole determinant of whether it qualifies as a religion, the secular nature of Meyers' beliefs more accurately espoused a philosophy or way of life rather than a religion. Id. at 1484.

         In Africa v. Pennsylvania, upon which Meyers was partially based, the defendant was a prisoner who requested a special, raw-food diet as adherent to MOVE, an organization “opposed to all that is wrong.” 662 F.2d 1025, 1026 (3d Cir. 1981). MOVE's goals were to bring about peace, stop violence, and end corruption. Id. MOVE adherents believed in using things but not misusing them. Id. Avoiding ceremonies and rituals, every act of life was invested with religious significance to MOVE adherents. For MOVE adherents, “every day of the year can be considered a religious ‘holiday'” because no single day is more special than another. Id. Noting that MOVE did not address any fundamental, ultimate, or overarching principles, the court held that MOVE was concerned with secular matters and lacked a comprehensive, multi-faceted theology. Id. at 1033-36.

         In Jacques v. Hilton, the plaintiffs were founders of the United Church of Saint Dennis, ULC Inc., which was loosely affiliated with the Universal Life Church. 569 F.Supp. 730, 731 (D.N.J. 1983). Saint Dennis was not a reference to any particular individual. The church recognized the “Spirit of Life” as a supernatural force, which each individual possessed. A central tenet of the church was each individual's right to honor any supreme being in any manner he chose, and to act consistently with his own beliefs. Church adherents celebrated June 21 as the day life began. There we no rituals at meetings, rather they were opportunities for participants to assist each other in reconciling any conflict that they were experiencing. Applying Africa, the court determined the church was not a religion because its exhortation ...


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