Case: Willis v. Indiana Dept. of Correction

1:09-cv-00815 | U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana

Filed Date: July 1, 2009

Closed Date: 2019

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

On July 1, 2009, an Orthodox Jewish prisoner incarcerated in the Indiana Department of Corrections filed this class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The plaintiff sued the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, sought injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief, claiming violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment…

On July 1, 2009, an Orthodox Jewish prisoner incarcerated in the Indiana Department of Corrections filed this class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The plaintiff sued the Indiana Department of Corrections (DOC) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiff, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, sought injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief, claiming violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion as a result of the Indiana DOC’s denial of kosher meals to prisoners whose religion requires them to keep kosher.

The named plaintiff in this case had his kosher diet card suspended according to a policy that imposed a thirty-day suspension of a prisoner’s diet card if he did not use it at least seventy-five percent of the time. The named plaintiff, who claimed he did not receive notice of the policy, did not present his religious diet card at breakfast because the breakfast provided at the time was not kosher and he had received permission to remain in his cell during breakfast. Because he therefore only used his diet card at sixty-two percent of meals, the chaplain suspended the plaintiff’s card. During the suspension period, the plaintiff could not receive a kosher diet and was forced to eat the regular food.

Subsequently, the DOC discontinued the use of pre-packaged kosher meals altogether, determining that kosher diets were no longer to be provided to any prisoners, including those whose religion requires them to keep kosher. Instead, prisoners requesting a kosher diet were provided vegetarian meals that were not kosher. On August 18, 2009, the plaintiff amended his complaint, originally an individual claim regarding the suspension, to also challenge the system-wide termination of kosher diets on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated individuals. On December 7, 2009, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted the plaintiff’s motion for class certification. The court defined the certified class as: All prisoners confined within the Indiana Department of Correction, including the New Castle Correctional Facility, who have identified, or who will identify, themselves to the Indiana Department of Correction as requiring a kosher diet in order to properly exercise their religious beliefs and who have requested such a diet, or would request it if such a diet was available.

For the next year, the parties engaged in discovery. On July 19, 2010, both parties filed for summary judgment. On November 1, 2010, Judge Magnus-Stinson declared that the termination of the class’s kosher diets violated RLUIPA and granted summary judgment on the issue in favor of the plaintiffs. 753 F. Supp. 2d 768. She also granted the named plaintiff’s individual claim for declaratory relief that the application of the 75-percent policy to him violated his First-Amendment rights and his rights under RLUIPA. Judge Magnus-Stinson granted the named plaintiff’s individual claim for nominal damages against the chaplain who suspended his diet card but denied the claim against the DOC’s Director of Religious Services who implemented the 75-percent policy. On November 22, 2010, the plaintiff submitted a proposal for a permanent injunction in accordance with the court’s declaratory judgment.

On December 8, 2010, Judge Magnus-Stinson entered a final judgment and injunction in the case. The permanent injunction required the Indiana DOC to supply a kosher meal option for all meals served within any of their facilities and to provide certified kosher meals to all prisoners who request such meals in writing for sincerely held religious reasons. On January 6, 2011, the defendants filed a notice of appeal in the Seventh Circuit and a motion to stay the enforcement of the injunction pending appeal. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest arguing that the court should deny the defendants’ motion to stay. On January 25, 2011, Judge Magnus-Stinson denied the motion to stay the injunction except as it pertained to nominal damages against the DOC chaplain. The defendants then voluntarily dismissed their appeal.

Almost immediately following the injunction, the court started receiving pro se motions by class members seeking to intervene to enforce the injunction. On January 22, 2015, Magistrate Judge Debra McVicker Lynch granted the motions of two people, represented by the ACLU of Indiana, confined within the DOC to intervene as named plaintiffs to pursue contempt remedies against the DOC.

On May 14, 2015, the intervening plaintiffs filed an amended motion for contempt. The intervening plaintiffs alleged that the DOC terminated one of the plaintiff’s kosher diet plan without warning in 2014 because he purchased certain items he believed were kosher from the commissary. The other formally applied for a kosher diet plan in 2013 and was denied, despite stating a clear need in his application, because the DOC found that the vegetarian meal did not contain any food that he stated his diet prohibited. The plaintiffs argued that these denials, and similar denials to many other class members, represented a failure to substantially comply with the judgment. The two intervening plaintiffs requested that the court find the DOC in contempt and order the DOC to create a new system for determining sincerity with regard to the receipt of kosher diets.

The parties subsequently entered into a private settlement agreement. The confidential settlement agreement put in place substantive requirements to remedy the problems that had arisen regarding the approval and monitoring of kosher diets. Following notice to the class and a fairness hearing on July 27, 2016, the court approved the settlement agreement, and the pending contempt action was dismissed. The agreement remained in effect for three years.

Since the dismissal of the contempt action, the court acknowledged receiving letters in 2017 from incarcerated individuals alleging ongoing issues with kosher meals, but Judge Magnus-Stinson did not reopen the case. The case closed on July 27, 2019.

Summary Authors

Sarah McDonald (2/21/2018)

Richa Bijlani (11/24/2019)

People

For PACER's information on parties and their attorneys, see: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4864569/parties/witmer-v-commissioner-indiana-department-of-correction/


Judge(s)

Lynch, Debra McVicker (Indiana)

Magnus-Stinson, Jane Elizabeth (Indiana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Falk, Kenneth J. (Indiana)

Mygatt, Timothy D (District of Columbia)

Songer, Michael J. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Arthur, David A. (Indiana)

Judge(s)

Lynch, Debra McVicker (Indiana)

Magnus-Stinson, Jane Elizabeth (Indiana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Falk, Kenneth J. (Indiana)

Mygatt, Timothy D (District of Columbia)

Songer, Michael J. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Arthur, David A. (Indiana)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

1:09-cv-00815

Docket [PACER]

Witmer v. Indiana Dept. of Correction

April 25, 2017

April 25, 2017

Docket
1

1:09-cv-00815

Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Nominal Damages

July 1, 2009

July 1, 2009

Complaint
17

1:09-cv-00815

Second Amended Complaint - Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief and Individual Claim for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief and Nominal Damages

Aug. 18, 2009

Aug. 18, 2009

Complaint
101

1:09-cv-00815

Order and Opinion

753 F.Supp.2d 768

Nov. 1, 2010

Nov. 1, 2010

Order/Opinion
126

1:09-cv-00815

Statement of Interest of the United States

Jan. 14, 2011

Jan. 14, 2011

Pleading / Motion / Brief
129

1:09-cv-00815

Order

Jan. 25, 2011

Jan. 25, 2011

Order/Opinion
272

1:09-cv-00815

Amended Verified Petition for Contempt

Willis v. Indiana Department of Correction

May 14, 2015

May 14, 2015

Pleading / Motion / Brief
303

1:09-cv-00815

Order Finding Private Settlement Agreement to be Fair, Reasonable and Adequate Pursuant to Rule 23(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Willis v. Indiana Department of Correction

July 27, 2016

July 27, 2016

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/4864569/witmer-v-commissioner-indiana-department-of-correction/

Last updated June 6, 2022, 3:13 a.m.

ECF Number Description Date Link Date / Link
103

ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKTS. 80; 83.) For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. 80.] The motion is granted with respect to Count I. As to Count II, the Court finds that the DOC violated Mr. Willis's First Amendment and RLUIPA rights. The Court grants his claim for nominal damages against Chaplain Hodges and denies his claim as against Dr. Hall. The Court further GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. [Dkt. 83.] As to Count I, summary judgment is denied. As to Count II, the Court grants summary judgment with respect to Mr. Willis's claim against Dr. Hall and denies summary jud gment with respect to his claim against DOC and Chaplain Hodges. Mr. Willis, on behalf of himself and the class, requests injunctive relief in accordance with this Court's declaratory judgment. DOC does not dispute that insofar as the class as a whole, and Mr. Willis individually, are entitled to declaratory relief, they are likewise entitled to injunctive relief. However, at this point, neither party has presented cogent argument as to whether injunction should issue, nor illustrated wh at the scope of any injunction should be. The Court will conduct a hearing on the scope of injunctive relief to take place on November 30, 2010 at 1:30 pm in Room 307 at US Courthouse, 46 East Ohio Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. Each side will have 20 minutes for oral argument. The parties are encouraged to meet and confer, with the assistance of the Magistrate Judge if requested, to attempt to agree on the terms of an injunction. If the parties cannot agree, they must each file a proposed form of injunction by November 23, 2010. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 11/1/2010. Copies sent per Distribution List and Keith Davenport-Bey via U.S. mail. (LBK) Modified on 11/2/2010 (LBK).

Nov. 1, 2010

Nov. 1, 2010

RECAP
261

ORDER denying 260 Motion to Intervene - This matter remains a class action with an adequate class representative and competent class counsel, through whom Mr. Williams-Bey must seek relief before any petition to intervene will be addressed on th e merits. Through the motion, Mr. Williams-Bey has not demonstrated that his interests are not being adequately represented either by the existing named plaintiff or by class counsel, or that class counsel has consented to the filing of the motion; and Accordingly, the motion to intervene and to seek contempt remedies that is currently pending, [Filing No. 260], is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Signed by Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on 8/12/2014. (copy to Joseph Williams-Bey via US Mail) (JKS)

Aug. 12, 2014

Aug. 12, 2014

RECAP

Case Details

State / Territory: Indiana

Case Type(s):

Prison Conditions

Special Collection(s):

DOJ Civil Rights Division Statements of Interest

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 1, 2009

Closing Date: 2019

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

All prisoners confined within the Indiana Department of Correction, including the New Castle Correctional Facility, who have identified, or who will identify, themselves to the Indiana Department of Correction as requiring a kosher diet in order to properly exercise their religious beliefs and who have requested such a diet, or would request it if such a diet was available.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Indiana Department of Corrections, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Religious Freedom Rest. Act/Religious Land Use and Inst. Persons Act (RFRA/RLUIPA)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Free Exercise Clause

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 2016 - 2019

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Monitoring

Recordkeeping

Issues

General:

Food service / nutrition / hydration

Religious programs / policies

Discrimination-basis:

Religion discrimination