Muslim's Urine Test Refusal May Support Suit
(CN) - Prison officials must face claims that they disciplined a Muslim inmate who refused water to provide a urine sample because he was fasting for Ramadan, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
Darryl Holland was incarcerated at Wende Correctional Facility in upstate New York from 1999 until 2005. In November 2003, prison officials suspected Holland was using drugs and ordered him to provide a urine sample within a three-hour window.
Prisoners are typically given water to help produce urine, but Holland refused because he was fasting for Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours.
Guards denied Holland's request to give the sample after sundown and placed him in "keeplock," a form of punishment where the inmate is confined to his cell.
The penalty imposed on Holland was 90 days of keeplock and 90 days of lost privileges, such as use of phone and television. He served 77 days of the punishment before the superintendent reversed the decision.
Holland seeks damages for retaliation and violations of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
U.S. District Judge Michael Telesca granted the prison officials summary judgment, however, finding that Holland failed to prove the officials prevented his free exercise of religion.
Finding that "being requested to drink a small amount of water" to comply with a urine sample less significant than having meals served at the wrong time during Ramadan, Telesca saw no constitutional violation.
Telesca also found Holland's claims for monetary damages were barred by qualified immunity and dismissed his claims for retaliation.
A three-judge panel with the 2nd Circuit partially reversed last week, however, saying Holland may have a First Amendment claim for damages.
Ordering Holland to drink water for a urine test during Ramadam placed "a substantial burden" on his religious freedom, according to the ruling.
"On appeal, we conclude that the choice either to provide a urine sample by drinking water during his fast or to face disciplinary action placed a substantial burden on Holland's religious exercise," Judge Debra Ann Livingston wrote for the court. "Accordingly, we vacate the district court's judgment insofar as it concerns Holland's claim for damages under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and remand for further consideration of this claim. We affirm the remainder of the judgment, albeit largely on alternate grounds."
Because fasting at Ramadan is a core tenet of the Muslim faith, there can be "no debate" that ordering Holland to drink water would violate his free exercise of rights, according to the ruling. The lower court's reasoning that Holland could "make up" a premature drink of water by adding another day on to his fast "finds no support in our case law," Livingston wrote.
"While Appellees permitted Holland a choice between prematurely breaking his fast or facing confinement in keeplock, that choice - as has been clearly established by our precedent for decades - placed a substantial burden on the free exercise of his religion," she concluded.
Though Holland's free-exercise claim will get another chance, the court affirmed judgment against his RLUIPA claim, his 14th Amendment claim, his First Amendment retaliation claim and his injunction demand.