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New Filing: Sossamon v. Texas

Yesterday Howe & Russell and Akin Gump, in conjunction with the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, filed this cert. petition, raising a question regarding the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

The statute requires states to justify any substantial burden on the religious exercise of inmates in federally funded correctional facilities as furthering a compelling interest by the least restrictive means possible.  The statute further provides an express right of action against a “government” — which is defined to include state and local government entities, their officials, and individuals acting under color of state law — for “appropriate relief.”  

The Fifth Circuit accepted that in light of prior Supreme Court precedent, “appropriate relief” would ordinarily include damages, but held that the Eleventh Amendment precluded giving the statute that construction with respect to suits against states.  It further held that the Spending Clause prohibits Congress from subjecting state officials to personal liability under the statute because the officials were not themselves federal funding recipients.

The petition thus asks the Court to resolve a circuit split over whether state defendants may be subject to suit for damages under RLUIPA.

Stanford students Samatha Bateman, Anthony Dick, and Bev Moore worked on the petition.