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St. Claire v. Cuyler

decided: November 6, 1980.

ST. CLAIRE, FRANK "X", APPELLANT
v.
CUYLER, JULIUS, INDIVIDUALLY; WALKER, INDIVIDUALLY; D.C. WAMPOLE, INDIVIDUALLY; MARTIN DRAGOVICH, INDIVIDUALLY; R. H. SPAID, INDIVIDUALLY; JAMES THRASH (TURNER), INDIVIDUALLY; JOHN BURROUGHS, INDIVIDUALLY; ST. CLAIRE, FRANK "X" V. CUYLER, JULIUS, INDIVIDUALLY; WALKER, INDIVIDUALLY; D.C. WAMPOLE, INDIVIDUALLY; MARTIN DRAGOVICH, INDIVIDUALLY; R. H. SPAID, INDIVIDUALLY; JAMES THRASH (TURNER), INDIVIDUALLY; JOHN BURROUGHS, INDIVIDUALLY, JULIUS CUYLER, WILLIAM WALKER, DENNIS WAMPOLE, MARTIN DRAGOVICH, ROBERT SPAID, JAMES THRASH AND JOHN BURROUGHS, APPELLANTS



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 78-4134)

Before Aldisert, Rosenn and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

Opinion OF THE COURT

The question for decision in this appeal by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defendants from the district court judgment after a non-jury trial is whether the court erred in determining that certain practices at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, Pennsylvania, violated an inmate's first amendment rights under the free exercise clause. We conclude that there was error and reverse.

I.

This litigation arises out of three discrete incidents at the Graterford prison. In the first incident, prison officials punished Frank "X" St. Claire, an inmate, for failing to obey an order not to enter the prison dining room wearing a kufi, a religious head covering. In another, they refused to permit him to pass through the main corridor security gate wearing a turban made from a bed sheet. In the third incident, they refused to provide a guard to escort him from a segregated housing unit to religious services attended by inmates in the prison's general population. St. Claire brought a civil action under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asking for declaratory, injunctive, and damage relief for alleged infringements of his first and fourteenth amendment rights of free exercise of religion. Subject matter jurisdiction was based on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201, and 2202. The district court found constitutional violations in each of the three incidents and granted declaratory and injunctive relief, but it denied the claim for compensatory damages.*fn1 St. Claire v. Cuyler, 481 F. Supp. 732 (E.D.Pa.1979).

II.

Our recitation of the relevant historical facts generally follows that of the district court. In 1968 St. Claire joined the religious group known as the Nation of Islam, and in 1973 he changed his affiliation to the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam. He is presently a practicing Muslim and believes in the "five pillars of Islam": that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger; that he should observe prayer at least five times a day; that he should pay zakat (alms to charity); that he should fast during the holy month of Ramadan; and that he should make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during his life if financially and physically able.

He also believes that he should, whenever and wherever possible, and especially while praying, wear a kufi, which is a small round hat and which to St. Claire indicates piety, humility, neatness, and devotion. Wearing the kufi is not mandatory, but it is traditional, and he believes it brings him closer to his God. It is also an insignia of the Ahmadiyya movement. In addition, his religion mandates attendance as often as possible but at least once a month at the Friday congregational prayer service known as Jumuah. St. Claire and other Muslims believe that congregational prayer provides twenty times more blessings than individual prayer.

St. Claire alleges that on three specific occasions, occurring in December, 1976, and in July and September, 1977, his free exercise rights were infringed. From December, 1976, through September, 1977, appellee resided at times in a general population unit, in a segregated unit called B gallery, and in the Behavioral Adjustment Unit (BAU), now known as the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). Although both B gallery and RHU are segregated units, inmates on B gallery have more privileges than those in RHU. They are allowed out of their cells for breakfast, lunch, dinner, yard recreation, and showers, while inmates in RHU are allowed out of their cells only once a day.

On December 10, 1976, appellee entered the B gallery dining room at mealtime wearing his kufi, in violation of a prison rule prohibiting hats in the dining areas. Officer Walker ordered appellee to remove the kufi, and St. Claire protested that it had religious significance for him and that he wished to continue to wear it. The events that followed are disputed. Appellee testified that although he was distressed and angered, since he believed his religious rights to have been infringed, he removed the kufi and replaced it as he was leaving the area. Officer Burroughs testified that St. Claire went through the "chow line," got his food, and returned to his seat, all without removing his hat, and that after he was seated St. Claire again disobeyed an order to remove his hat. Both parties agree that Burroughs told St. Claire that he was guilty of a "misconduct" for wearing the kufi and refusing to obey an order. As a result of the misconduct, appellee was immediately returned to the BAU to serve the remainder of a term there for a previous infraction that was to have expired December 17, and for which he had been released early. Following a December 13 hearing on the misconduct, appellee was ordered confined in the BAU until December 17 and given ninety days probation, expiring on March 13, 1977.

The second incident occurred on September 14, 1977, when appellee had an appointment to meet with the Parole Board. Attending the Parole Board hearing required St. Claire to proceed beyond the security gate in the main corridor, where, according to Superintendent Cuyler, prisoners are not allowed to wear "civilian clothes."*fn2 In proceeding to the meeting, St. Claire wore a turban made from a bedsheet wrapped around his head. A turban is another form of religious head covering similar in purpose to the kufi, and for St. Claire and other Muslims it has religious significance. Officer Wampole refused to permit appellee to proceed beyond the security gate to the treatment area in order to attend the Parole Board hearing unless he removed his turban. For religious reasons St. Claire refused, and he did not meet with the Board.

The third incident occurred on July 20, 1977, when appellee was confined to B gallery. On that date appellee made a formal written request for permission to attend Jumuah services. Superintendent Cuyler denied the request and advised St. Claire that he would be allowed to attend religious services only after his release from segregation. As a matter of policy, allegedly never varied, inmates confined to B gallery or RHU are not permitted to attend religious services. There is ...


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