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Matzke v. Heyns

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

March 28, 2017

DANIEL HEYNS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is currently an inmate at Chippewa Correctional Facility and is a practicing Wiccan.

Wiccans celebrate “Sabbats, ” which the complaint describes as Eight solar holidays derived from the myth of the wheel of the year, illustrating the Lord's progression as Son, Lover, and Father in the relation to the goddess throughout the year, and the struggle between rival twins embodying his two aspects of the light and the dark Lord who each rule over half the year.

(ECF No. 1-1 at PageID.45.) “Esbats, ” on the other hand, are “lunar holidays observing the phases of the moon which are representations of the Goddess I her three aspects of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Each lunar phase directly correlates with an energy of one of the three aspects of the Goddess.” (Id.) Michigan Department of Corrections Policy Directive 05.03.150 provides that “group services [are] only authorized for eight annual Sabbats, as identified by the CFA Special Activity Coordinator; no other group religious services or activities are authorized.” (ECF No. 31-1 at PageID.308.)

         Plaintiff requested additional group meetings for the thirteen lunar Esbats, and his request was denied. After exhausting his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the current suit alleging that Defendants (1) violated his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion by denying basic tenets of his faith; (2) violated the Fourteenth Amendment by imposing special rules on a single group of individuals based solely on their religious affiliation without being reasonably related to a penological interest; and (3) violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by imposing substantial burdens on religion without any governmental interest. For relief, Plaintiff requested a declaratory judgment stating that Defendants violated the Constitution, a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering Defendants to provide equal treatment to the Wicca religion by giving equal opportunities afforded to all MDOC recognized religious faiths, and to provide the Lunar Holidays known as Esbats, and compensatory damages of $1, 000.00 per equal protection violation, and punitive damages of $10, 000.00 against each Defendant.

         Defendants moved for summary judgment. Magistrate Judge Greeley issued a Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 29) recommending that Defendants' motion be granted in part, dismissing Plaintiff's claims (1) for monetary damages under RLUIPA; (2) of an equal protection violation; (3) for weekly group Wicca meetings; and (4) as to correctional facility yard and housing rules. The magistrate judge also recommended that the motion be denied as to Plaintiff's claim for thirteen group services per year under RLUIPA and the First Amendment. (Id. at PageID.284.)

         Plaintiff (ECF No. 31) and Defendants (ECF No. 30) filed objections. Upon receiving objections to a report and recommendation, the district judge “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), After conducting a de novo review of the R & R, Plaintiff's Objection, Defendant's Objection, and the pertinent portions of the record, the Court concludes that the R & R should be adopted with modification.

         Plaintiff's Objections

         Sabbats and Esbats

         Plaintiff's first objection is to the characterization of the complaint. The complaint requests an injunction ordering Defendants to “[p]rovide the opportunity to practice the faith in its entirety as recognized by the majority of traditions of the faith specifically, the Lunar Holidays known as ‘Esbats.'” (ECF No. 1 at PageID.9.) The magistrate judge recommended that “Defendants' motion should be denied as to Plaintiff's claim that Wiccans should be provided thirteen group services per year instead of eight, under the RLUIPA and the First Amendment.” (ECF No. 29 at PageID.284.) Plaintiff objects and notes that he is requesting thirteen Esbat group meetings in addition to the eight Sabbat meetings already approved by the MDOC, meaning that the total number of group meetings would be 21. (ECF No. 31 at PageID.293.) The Court agrees with this reading of the complaint. This objection is sustained.

         Equal Protection

         The magistrate judge concluded that the Equal Protection claim should fail because “Plaintiff has not shown that religious groups that have weekly meetings are similarly situated to Wicca with regard to the number of prisoners that practice that particular religion or in the service requirements or traditions of those religions.” (ECF No. 29 at PageID.283.) To state an Equal Protection claim, a prisoner plaintiff must “show that 'similarly situated classes of inmates are treated differently, and that this difference in treatment bears no rational relation to any legitimate penal interest.'” Barhite v. Caruso, 377 F.App'x 508, 511 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips v. Norris, 320 F.3d 844, 848 (8th Cir.2003)). Plaintiff's objection essentially restates what was entailed in the complaint, arguing that Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment by “imposing special rules on him based solely on his religious affiliation without being reasonably related to a penological interest” through MDOC Policy Directive 05.03.150. (ECF No. 31 at PageID293-94.)

         Plaintiff's objection suffers from the same defect as his original claim: it does not identify a similarly situated class of inmates that is being treated differently. The record shows that various sects of Abrahamic religions are afforded time for weekly group meetings. (ECF No. 1-1 at PageID.38.) But, as the R & R points out, Wiccans differ from these faiths in that they tie their religious observation and gatherings to seasonal events and moon phases, rather than a weekly holy day. The relief requested under RLUIPA addresses this issue, and Plaintiff does not even explicitly object to a lack of a weekly meeting. This objection is overruled.

         Monetary ...

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