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Hamilton v. Lammi

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 30, 2016

NICK LAMMI; CHAD MESOJEDEC, Rehabilitation Therapist Director; RICHARD O'CONNOR, Interim Security Manager; CHRISTINE SELLS, Religious Services Volunteer; and SANDY BRYANT, Religious Services Volunteer, sued in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          David Hamilton, Michael D. Perseke, Shawn Jamison, and Kaine Braun, plaintiffs, pro se.



          Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs David Hamilton, Michael D. Perseke, Shawn Jamison, and Kaine Braun are civil detainees in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”). Plaintiffs allege that they practice Asatru, “a polytheistic religion that originated in Northern Europe several centuries ago.” Krieger v. Brown, 496 F. App'x 322, 323 (4th Cir. 2012). Plaintiffs brought this civil-rights action against several MSOP officials, alleging, in essence, that those officials have unlawfully failed to accommodate plaintiffs' practice of Asatru.

         On May 31, 2016, this Court accepted the recommendation of Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois and dismissed most of plaintiffs' claims for various substantive and procedural reasons, leaving only plaintiffs' claim for injunctive relief under § 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. ECF No. 19. Defendants then moved to dismiss the RLUIPA claim. ECF No. 21. Plaintiffs filed nothing in response to defendants' motion.

         Judge Brisbois recommends that defendants' motion be granted and that plaintiffs' RLUIPA claim be dismissed for two reasons. First, Judge Brisbois finds that plaintiffs have failed to plausibly plead a violation of RLUIPA under Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Second, Judge Brisbois finds that some of the restrictions challenged by plaintiffs are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest, and thus lawful under RLUIPA.

         Perseke and Jamison filed an objection to the R&R, identifying various reasons why they believe that Judge Brisbois's analysis is mistaken. ECF No. 35. (Perseke and Jamison also say that Braun joins in their objection, although he was unable to sign it because he has been transferred to a different facility. ECF No. 35 at 1-2.) For his part, Hamilton filed a copy of Judge Brisbois's R&R, which Hamilton apparently regards as an objection to that R&R. ECF No. 30.

         The Court overrules plaintiffs' objections. As an initial matter, plaintiffs filed nothing in opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss. “A party cannot, in his objections to an R&R, raise arguments that were not clearly presented to the magistrate judge.” Hammann v. 1-800, Inc., 455 F.Supp.2d 942, 947-48 (D. Minn. 2006) (citing Madol v. Dan Nelson Auto. Grp., 372 F.3d 997, 1000 (8th Cir. 2004)); see also Ridenour v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharms., Inc., 679 F.3d 1062, 1067 (8th Cir. 2012) (“The district court properly refused to consider Ridenour's argument that longer statute of limitations periods applied to his claims because this argument was not presented first to the magistrate judge.”) Plaintiffs cannot bypass the referral process by refusing to litigate in front of the magistrate judge and instead presenting their arguments for the first time to the district judge.

         Even if the Court were to address the merits of plaintiffs' arguments, the Court would overrule their objections and adopt the R&R insofar as it recommends that the RLUIPA claim be dismissed because it was inadequately pleaded. Under Iqbal and Twombly, a plaintiff's claim must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Here, plaintiffs' remaining claim is asserted under § 3(a) of RLUIPA, which provides:

No 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 demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person-
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). Thus, to adequately plead a claim under RLUIPA, plaintiffs would have to plead sufficient facts to make plausible their claim that defendants imposed a substantial burden on plaintiffs' exercise of Asatru. The burden would then shift to defendants to plead (and eventually prove) their affirmative defense that any substantial burden imposed on plaintiffs' religious exercise was the least restrictive means available to further a compelling governmental interest.

         The Court agrees with Judge Brisbois that plaintiffs have failed to include enough facts in their complaint to allow the Court to find that they have pleaded a plausible claim under RLUIPA. Many of the alleged violations are described in an entirely conclusory way. For example, plaintiffs allege that defendants violated RLUIPA by “denial of proper religious items” and by “denying them access to religious literature . . . .” ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 10, 11. But the complaint does not identify what “religious items” or “religious literature” was requested, who made each request, to whom each request was made, or when each request was made. Nor does the complaint identify who rejected each request, or to what extent, or when, or for what reason. And most importantly, the complaint does not describe ...

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