Walker V. Beard

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 06-18-2015
  • Case #: 12-17460
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tashima for the Court; Circuit Judges Wallace and McKeown, and Chief Judge Thomas
  • Full Text Opinion

A court may hold that there was a failure to state a claim where the state, under the RLUIPA, shows they used the least restrictive alternative.

Dennis Walker, an inmate in California state prison, is a practicing Aryan Christian Odinist. Odinism requires a religious ceremony in the presence of only Aryan individuals. Walker was assigned to a cell with a non- Aryan, whereupon Walker requested to be moved to a new cell. His request was denied, and his claim was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Walker now appeals a district court decision refusing to exempt him from the Integrated Housing policy. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reviewed whether the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) allowed Walker any relief to his predicament. Walker sought damages and injunctive relief under RLUIPA, and the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The panel held that Walker’s religious practices were burdened by the state, however, the state used the least restrictive means to further a government interest—the Equal Protection Clause. The panel found that complying with the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution was a compelling government interest, and because Walker only requested a new cell assignment, and no other alternatives, that the state denying Walker’s cell request was the least restrictive alternative. With regard to Walker’s First Amendment claim, prisoners are limited by institutional objectives, and a prisoner’s claim will fail if the state shows that the challenged action is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. The panel reasoned that the state’s interest in reducing potentially racially discriminatory housing was great. Exempting Odanists from integrated celling, but not other races or religions, would create unnecessarily jailhouse tension, and that there were no other offered alternatives to meet Walker’s request, while also mitigating legal liability. The panel ruled that Walker failed to state a claim under the First Amendment and RLUIPA. AFFIRMED

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