RLUIPA, the Spending Clause, and Sovereign Immunity

Today a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important ruling interpreting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  Van Wyhe v. Reisch, Case No. 08-1409 (8th Cir. Sept 10, 2009) (here).

Below is the Clerk's unofficial summary:

[PUBLISHED] [Hansen, Author, with Murphy and Riley, Circuit Judges]
Prisoner case - prisoner civil rights. Court had jurisdiction to consider the legal issues of whether Section 3 of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) is constitutional under Congress' Spending Clause authority and whether the state of South Dakota had waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity from monetary damages by accepting funds under the Act; court also had jurisdiction to consider the merits of plaintiffs' RLUIPA and First Amendment claims regarding provision of a succah, a tape player and study time to the extent the issues turned on issues of law; 
[The panel held]: RLUIPA is a constitutional exercise of Congress' Spending Powers; state did not waive its immunity from suit for monetary damages by accepting funds under the conditions set forth in Section 3 of the RLUIPA; as a result, the district court's denial of summary judgment as to the prison officials in plaintiff's Van Whye's suit is reversed, and the case is remanded with directions to enter judgment in their favor on the RLUIPA official-capacity claims; similarly, the prison officials are entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff Sisney's official-capacity RLUIPA claims for money damages; on the three claims for injunctive relief brought by plaintiff Sisney (use of a succah and tape player and for additional study time), defendants were entitled to summary judgment because plaintiff failed to show the officials' decisions on these issues substantially burdened his religious exercise; First Amendment claims failed with respect to the group study time and the tape player, but the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the court's refusal to grant the jail officials' motion for summary judgment on the succah issue because there were material questions of fact in dispute, and the issue could not be considered in this interlocutory appeal; retaliation issues would not be considered on interlocutory appeal because of the existence of genuine fact disputes.

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