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Wright v. Lassiter

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

April 17, 2019

ANTHONY WRIGHT, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
KENNETH E. LASSITER; CARLTON B. JOYNER; BETTY BROWN; R. SPEER; TERRI C. STRATTON, Defendants - Appellees, and VAN MCCULLOUGH; B. VINES, Defendants. AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NORTH CAROLINA LEGAL FOUNDATION; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, Amici Supporting Appellant.

          Argued: January 29, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. James C. Dever III, District Judge. (5:13-ct-03245-D)

         ARGUED:

          MICHELE LUECKING-SUNMAN, NORTH CAROLINA PRISONER LEGAL SERVICES, INC., RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, FOR APPELLANT.

          RYAN Y. PARK, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, FOR APPELLEES.

         ON BRIEF:

          DANIEL K. SIEGEL, TAITTIONA MILES, NORTH CAROLINA PRISONER LEGAL SERVICES, INC., RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, FOR APPELLANT.

          JOSHUA H. STEIN, ATTORNEY GENERAL, MATTHEW W. SAWCHAK, SOLICITOR GENERAL, YVONNE RICCI, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA, FOR APPELLEES.

          IRENA COMO, CHRISTOPHER BROOK, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NORTH CAROLINA LEGAL FOUNDATION, RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA; DANIEL MACH, HEATHER L. WEAVER, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION FOUNDATION, WASHINGTON, D.C., FOR AMICI CURIAE.

          Before KING, DIAZ, and RICHARDSON, Circuit Judges.

          RICHARDSON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Anthony Wright, serving a life sentence for murder in North Carolina, adheres to the Ba Beta Kristiyan sect of Rastafarianism. He requested permission to celebrate four annual Rastafarian "holy days" through communal feasts that include goat, fish, rice, plantains, and wine, as well as three annual "holidays" through communal gatherings that do not include feasts. He claims that the Defendants, North Carolina prison officials, imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise by refusing his request. He brings his claims under both the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., and the First Amendment. After a bench trial, the district court found for the Defendants.

         We affirm, though for a different reason than the ones given by the district court. Wright's claims suffer from a causation problem. He must prove that the Defendants' policies caused a substantial burden on his exercise of religion. That is, he must show that, but for the Defendants' policies, a community of Rastafarian inmates would gather to celebrate these seven holidays and holy days. But Wright has not identified any Rastafarian inmate in the North Carolina prison system who would attend his proposed gatherings. And he now concedes that his beliefs about how to celebrate these holidays are idiosyncratic to Ba Beta Kristiyan and that there are no other North Carolina inmates who belong to that sect. Thus, he has failed to show that ...


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