Cavin v. Michigan Department of Corrections, No. 18-1346 (6th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Michigan prisons allow Wiccan inmates to worship as a group for eight major holidays (Sabbats). Wiccans celebrate other holidays (Esbats) 12-13 times a year. Wiccans are not permitted to congregate on Esbats and permits Wiccan inmates to use candles and incense only in the prison’s chapel. Cavin asked the Department of Corrections to allow him and other Wiccans to celebrate Esbats together. Officials denied his request. He filed suit, requesting injunctive relief under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc-1(a), and sought damages. At summary judgment, the court ruled that Eleventh Amendment immunity barred the damages claims against the Department of Corrections; that Chaplain Leach deserved qualified immunity; and that only Cavin’s RLUIPA claim for religious accommodation could proceed. After a bench trial, the court rejected Cavin’s RLUIPA claim for injunctive relief, concluding that the prison’s regulations implicate but do not burden Cavin’s exercise of religion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of qualified immunity and the denial of appointed counsel but vacated with respect to injunctive relief under RLUIPA, remanding for a determination of whether the Department’s policy survives scrutiny under RLUIPA. A policy substantially burdens religious exercise when it bars an inmate from worshipping with others and from using ritualistic items.