Friday, November 23, 2012
Ninth Circuit Upholds Muslim Inmate’s Right to Sue
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Muslim inmate who was denied a conjugal visit with his wife is free to pursue a claim under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The panel rejected prison officials’ argument that Madero L. Pouncil’s claim was time-barred. While Pouncil did not sue after being denied visiting rights with his first wife, the limitations began to run again after he divorced her and married for the second time, U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett wrote for the court.
Bennett, from the Northern District of Iowa, sat by designation.
Pouncil is serving a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at Mule Creek State Prison. In 1999, while incarcerated, Pouncil married his first wife, and in 2002, he requested a conjugal visit with her.
Prison officials denied Pouncil’s request, based on a regulation which prohibits conjugal visits for prisoners serving sentences of life without parole.
Pouncil filed a grievance, claiming that the regulation made it impossible for him to fulfill his religious duty as a Muslim to consummate his marriage and have sexual relations with his wife. The grievance, too, was denied.
Pouncil and his first wife thereafter divorced and Pouncil remarried in July of 2007. A year later, he requested a conjugal visit with his new wife, a request that was denied on Aug. 1, 2008, as were all of Pouncil’s subsequent administrative appeals.
In April 2009, Pouncil filed suit against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, claiming that he had been denied his constitutional right to practice his religion and that “denying [him] the right to perform his religious duties to his wife or potential wife is to deny him his right to be married as a Muslim” under RLUIPA.
The department argued that the claim accrued in 2002 when Pouncil first filed a grievance about his right to conjugal visits. The plaintiff said the claim was timely because it accrued only after prison officials denied his request for a conjugal visit with his new wife in 2008.
The magistrate judge who originally heard the case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California sided with the department, reasoning that Pouncil knew from his experience in 2002 that he would not be allowed conjugal visitation. As the regulation hadn’t changed, it applied to Pouncil without regard to whom he was married, the magistrate said.
But District Judge Lawrence Karlton disagreed and said the suit could proceed.
The panel affirmed the ruling, concluding that the 2008 denial of Pouncil’s request for a conjugal visit was “a discrete act,” in accordance with National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101 (2002). Bennett said Pouncil’s claims “do not rely on any acts that occurred before the statute of limitations period to establish a violation of his right to free exercise of religion or his rights under RLUIPA.”
Judges Consuelo M. Callahan and Carlos T. Bea concurred in the opinion.
The case is Pouncil v. Tilton, 10-16881.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company