United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Staples, pro se Plaintiff.
Bell-Munger, Esq., Assistant Attorney General, counsel for
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. THORSON United States Magistrate Judge.
se Plaintiff Joshua Staples alleges that Defendants
violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his
religion when they suspended Native American religious
services at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault,
Minnesota (“MCF-Faribault”). (Doc. No. 1.) Now
before the Court are two motions filed by Plaintiff
requesting temporary or preliminary injunctive relief. (Doc.
Nos. 3, 8.) Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated,
however, so his request for injunctive relief is moot.
Therefore, this Court recommends that Plaintiff's motions
provides group religious programming or activities for
offenders practicing Native American faiths. (Doc. No. 21,
Affidavit of Martin Dahlen (“Dahlen Aff.”) ¶
3.) This programming includes a sweat lodge ceremony, a pipe
and smudge ceremony, and a drum ceremony, which are typically
scheduled to occur on different days during the week or
within a month. (Doc. No. 24, Affidavit of Anthony Mustazza
(“Mustazza Aff.”) ¶ 5.) MCF-Faribault has
an outdoor programming area for Native American religious
programming. (Id.) The pipe and smudge ceremony and
sweat lodge ceremony generally occur outdoors in this area,
and the drum ceremony generally occurs indoors.
went into lockdown status from August 28 to August 29, 2018,
after staff obtained information about a threatened assault
on the staff. (Doc. No. 25, Affidavit of Laura Westphal
(“Westphal Aff.”) ¶ 6.) During lockdowns,
offender movements are limited, regular offender activities
can be temporarily discontinued, and the facility is
essentially in a heightened security status. (Id.
¶ 6, Ex. B.) Native American group religious programming
was also suspended, and the suspension was explained in a
memorandum dated August 31, 2018. (Id. ¶¶
5-7, Ex. C.) The suspension extended to Native American group
religious activities--drumming, pipe and smudge, and sweat
lodge ceremonies--with an exception for an activity for an
offender with a death in the family. (Id. ¶ 6;
Mustazza Aff. ¶ 6.) MCF-Faribault ended the suspension
and reinstated group Native American religious programming in
early October 2018. (Westphal Aff. ¶ 8; Dahlen Aff.
American programming was suspended again on February 1, 2019,
due to security issues involving offender assaults and
possible threats, including an offender assault occurring in
the sweat lodge. (Dahlen Aff. ¶¶ 5-8, Ex. A;
Mustazza Aff. ¶ 6.) A memorandum from staff explained
the suspension, which involved the drum, pipe and smudge, and
sweat lodge ceremonies, with the exception for offenders with
a death in the family. (Dahlen Aff. ¶ 7, Ex. A; Mustazza
Aff. ¶ 6.) MCF-Faribault reviewed the programming and
decided to change the preregistration process and to have
smaller religious group activities. (Dahlen Aff. ¶ 8;
Mustazza Aff. ¶ 9.) The Native American religious group
programming resumed on or around March 18, 2019, and the
first sweat lodge ceremony after the suspension occurred on
or about April 7, 2019. (Dahlen Aff. ¶ 9; Mustazza Aff.
to DOC policy, religious groups in DOC prisons may also
request and be provided with an annual religious meal.
(Westphal Aff. ¶ 9; Mustazza Aff. ¶¶ 3, 10.)
The DOC's Central Office issued a memorandum dated
November 6, 2017, which explained some changes to the annual
religious meal practices. (Mustazza Aff. ¶ 10, Ex. C.)
While annual religious meals are still provided to religious
groups, the menu became more standardized across the DOC
facilities. (Id.) The memorandum described
budgetary, uniformity, and equity-related concerns and
issues. (Id.) At MCF-Faribault, the Native American
religious group's annual religious meal in 2018 was
scheduled to occur around June 2018, but the group canceled
or postponed the meal shortly before the scheduled date.
(Mustazza Aff. ¶ 11.) The meal was not rescheduled, and
Chaplain Mustazza has not received a request to schedule a
2019 religious meal. (Id.)
April 30, 2019, Plaintiff was released from MCF-Faribault and
placed on supervision. (Westphal Aff. ¶ 10.)
preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy that
may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff
is entitled to such relief.” Winter v. Nat'l
Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). When
deciding whether to issue a preliminary injunction, courts
consider four factors: (1) the threat of irreparable harm to
the movant; (2) the balance of harm the injunction would have
on the movant and the opposing party; (3) the probability
that movant will succeed on the merits; and (4) the public
interest. MPAY Inc. v. Erie Custom Computer Applications,
Inc., Civ. No. 19-704 (PAM/BRT), 2019 WL 2099843, at *3
(D. Minn. May 14, 2019) (citing Dataphase Sys., Inc. v.
CL Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 113 (8th Cir. 1981)). No.
factor is dispositive, but “the absence of a likelihood
of success on the merits strongly suggests that preliminary
injunctive relief should be denied.” Barrett v.
Claycomb, 705 F.3d 315, 320 (8th Cir. 2013).
general, a pending claim for injunctive relief becomes moot
when the challenged conduct ceases and there is no reasonable
expectation that the wrong will be repeated.” Mo.
Pro. and Advocacy Servs., Inc. v. Carnahan, 499 F.3d
803, 811 (8th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff is no longer subject to
the restrictions regarding Native American religious services
that were in place while he was incarcerated at MCF-Faribault
because Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at MCF-Faribault.
See, e.g., Zajrael v. Harmon, 677 F.3d 353,
355 (8th Cir. 2012) (holding that claim for injunctive relief
to improve prison conditions became moot once the offender
was transferred to another facility); Hickman v.
Missouri, 144 F.3d 1141, 1142 (8th Cir. 1998) (finding
that a claim to change prison conditions is moot when the
plaintiff is released from prison). Therefore, Plaintiff is
not entitled to injunctive relief because his claims are
possible exception to the mootness doctrine is the
“capable of repetition yet evading review”
exception. This exception applies if “(1) the
challenged action is in its duration too short to be fully
litigated prior to cessation or expiration; and (2) there is
a reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will
be subject to the same action again.” Smith v.
Hundley, 190 F.3d 852, 855 (8th Cir. 1999). Plaintiff
was released on supervision, and he could conceivably return
to prison if he violates the conditions of his release, but
such an event is too speculative to find a reasonable
expectation Plaintiff will again be subject any restrictions
on Native American ...