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Horacek v. Heyns

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

March 31, 2017

Daniel Horacek, #218347, Plaintiff,
v.
Daniel Heyns et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Paul L. Maloney, United States District Judge

         In September 2013, Plaintiff Daniel Horacek filed this pro se civil rights action for violations of the First, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, along with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

         On June 9, 2016, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 97), and on December 15, 2016, Magistrate Judge Timothy Greeley issued a report recommending that Defendants' motion be granted in part and denied in part. (ECF No. 114 at Page.637-38.)

         More particularly, the Magistrate Judge recommended that all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their individual capacities be dismissed and Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim against Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed, but Plaintiff's RLUIPA, First Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment claims against Defendants in their official capacities should remain. (Id. at PageID.638.)

         Both parties have filed objections to the Report and Recommendation, and the Court will address each in turn on de novo review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b).

         As an initial matter, the Court will note that several arguments contained in Defendants' objections-four of them over seven or so pages-do not suffice, or barely suffice, to warrant review. See Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986) (“[T]he district court need not provide de novo review where the objections are ‘[f]rivolous, conclusive or general.'”). “Although exceptional circumstances may warrant departure from the waiver rule in the interests of justice, Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (1985), no exceptional circumstances exist in this case.” Engle v. Ohio Dep't of Rehab. and Corr., 59 F.App'x 763, 764 (6th Cir. 2003).

         a. Defendants' First Objection

         Defendants first argue that its Food Service Program is not subject to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) because that particular program does not receive funding from the federal government. This argument requires the Court to engage in statutory interpretation of the relevant sections.

         The protection of religious exercise of institutionalized persons “applies in any case in which . . . the substantial burden is imposed in a program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1). “Program or activity” is defined broadly to mean “all of the operations of any entity as described in paragraph (1) or (2) of section 2000d-4a of this title.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-5(6) (emphasis added).[1] In turn, “ ‘program or activity' and the term ‘program' mean all of the operations of . . . a department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or of a local government . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-4a(1)(A) (emphasis added).

         Distilling these cross-references, the scope of the Act provides: the protection of religious exercise of institutionalized persons “applies in any case in which . . . the substantial burden is imposed in [all of the operations of . . . a department . . . of a State . . . .].” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1) incorporating by reference 42 U.S.C. §2000d-4a(1)(A).

         Read one way literally, the definition would seem to apply only where the burden occurs in “all” of the operations of a state department at once. That broad reading is not the correct one, as the State surely would admit. But neither is the State's reading correct-it rests on a narrow definition of a singular “program or activity” within a department, in spite of the fact that “program or activity” is defined broadly as “all of the operations” of the covered entity. 42 U.S.C. § 2000d-4a(1)(A) (emphasis added).

         It's clear to this Court that “all of the operations of any entity” most naturally encompasses “any operation” of a defined entity that “receives Federal financial assistance” in the context of the section regarding the scope of the Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1). In other words, the Act “applies in any case in which . . . the substantial burden is imposed in [any] operation[] of . . . a department . . . of a State . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1) incorporating by reference as modified 42 U.S.C. §2000d-4a(1)(A).

         While a generic reading of “program or activity” in 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1) seems to narrow the definition to a particular “program or activity, ” the statutory definitions reflect that “program or activity” encompasses “all of the operations” of a covered entity.

         Defendants admit they “are unaware of any caselaw supporting or rejecting their argument.” (ECF No. 120 at PageID.668.) That is indeed a red flag. Surely if the State's argument had any merit, various programs within bureaucratic departments of States would have escaped liability somewhere in federal court before.

         The Court's definition is also in accord with one of the primary rules of construction in the RLUIPA: “This chapter shall be construed in favor of broad protection of religious exercise, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms ...


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