Religious Liberty Clinic Leads Inmate Appeal at Ninth Circuit

Religious Liberty Clinic Leads Inmate Appeal at Ninth Circuit 2

Religious Liberty Clinic (RLC) students have filed an opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of an Arizona inmate who lost his prison job for abstaining from work on a religious holiday. The Court had asked the RLC to handle the appeal based on its growing reputation in the field and to address a cutting-edge issue arising from the general rule that inmates must exhaust internal prison remedies before they can file a lawsuit in court.

The dispute arose when the inmate told his supervisor that working on an upcoming sacred holiday would violate his conscience. Insisting the inmate work that day anyway, the official reportedly told him “we don’t do that s**t here.” The client sued pro se (i.e., without a lawyer), alleging violations of his First Amendment and related statutory rights. The trial court dismissed the case on exhaustion grounds, and the appeal followed.

In their brief, RLC students Elizabeth Callahan (JD ’18), Kevin Eaton (JD ’17), and Caleb Griscom (JD ’18) challenge the dismissal, relying on the Supreme Court’s intervening decision in Ross v. Blake (2016). The student lawyers argue that, in light of Ross, their client had in fact exhausted internal remedies by disputing his mistreatment through a multi-level disciplinary appeal process. The state contends he should have done more.

Oral argument is set for early next year, when another student team will present their client’s case to the Court and build on the foundation set by this month’s opening brief.