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Lindh v. Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

January 14, 2015

YAHYA (JOHN) LINDH, on his own behalf and on behalf of those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, in his official capacity. Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION

JANE MAGNUS-STINSON, District Judge.

Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Yahya (John) Lindh's Motion to Certify Class. [Filing No. 6.] Mr. Lindh is a prisoner in the Communications Management Unit ("CMU") of the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Institution. [Filing No. 1 at 1.] He brings a claim against Defendant pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), seeking injunctive relief from Defendant's policy that "Islamic inmates may not hem or wear their pants above the ankle." [Filing No. 1 at 1.] Mr. Lindh seeks to represent a class defined as "all male Muslim prisoners confined within the Bureau of Prisons." [Filing No. 1 at 2.] Alternatively, he proposes a narrowed class that includes all male Muslim prisoners confined within the Bureau of Prisons who identify, or will identify, themselves as being required by their religious beliefs to wear their pants above the ankle. [Filing No. 26 at 6.] Defendant opposes class certification. [Filing No. 16.] For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Mr. Lindh's Motion to Certify Class. [Filing No. 6.]

I.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

It is the plaintiff's burden to prove that the class should be certified. Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 513 (7th Cir. 2006). The Court "may certify a class of plaintiffs if the putative class satisfies all four requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a)-numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation-and any one of the conditions of Rule 23(b)." Id. The plaintiff also must show that the class is "indeed identifiable as a class." Id.

The primary question when ruling on class certification is "whether plaintiff is asserting a claim which, assuming its merit, will satisfy the requirements of Rule 23." Szabo v. Bridgeport Machs., Inc., 249 F.3d 672, 675 (7th Cir. 2001). But Rule 23 "does not set forth a mere pleading standard." Parko v. Shell Oil Co., 739 F.3d 1083, 1085 (7th Cir. 2014), reh'g denied. "Rather, when factual disputes bear on issues vital to certification... the court must receive evidence and resolve the disputes before deciding whether to certify the case." Id. ; see also Szabo, 249 F.3d at 676 (when deciding whether to certify a class, the Court must "make whatever factual and legal inquiries are necessary under Rule 23" to resolve contested issues).

Mr. Lindh seeks to certify a class and obtain injunctive relief in this action pursuant to Rule 23(b)(2). [Filing No. 7 at 2.] Members of a Rule 23(b)(2) class do not receive notice and cannot opt out. Rahman v. Chertoff, 530 F.3d 622, 626 (7th Cir. 2008). A class may be certified under that section "only if the party opposing the class acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class." Id. at 627.

II.

BACKGROUND

Mr. Lindh is a prisoner housed in the CMU of the Terre Haute federal prison. [Filing No. 1 at 1; Filing No. 15 at 1 (admitting allegation).] It is the policy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") that inmates may not hem or wear their pants above the ankle. [Filing No. 1 at 1; Filing No. 15 at 1 (admitting that "it is the policy of the [BOP] that inmates may not hem or wear their pants above the ankle").] Mr. Lindh is Muslim and alleges that "it is a clear tenant of Islam that Muslim men are prohibited from wearing pants below their ankles." [Filing No. 1 at 1; Filing No. 15 at 1 (denying this allegation).] Mr. Lindh has been disciplined for wearing his pants above his ankles. [Filing No. 1 at 4; Filing No. 15 at 4 (admitting allegation).] Mr. Lindh has exhausted his administrative remedies without Defendant altering the policy at issue. [Filing No. 1 at 4; Filing No. 15 at 4 (admitting allegation).]

In May 2014, Mr. Lindh filed a putative class action against Defendant. [Filing No. 1.] He contends that Defendant's policy of not allowing him to wear his pants above the ankle imposes a substantial and unjustified burden on his religious exercise, violating RFRA. [Filing No. 1 at 1 (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000bb-1).] He seeks injunctive relief from the challenged policy on behalf of himself and the putative class members. [Filing No. 1 at 1.] Mr. Lindh proposes a class defined as "all male Muslim prisoners confined within the Bureau of Prisons." [Filing No. 1 at 2.] He now requests that the Court certify his proposed class, [Filing No. 6], which Defendant opposes, [Filing No. 16].

III.

DISCUSSION

In addition to the class certification prerequisites specifically enumerated in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, it is the plaintiff's burden to prove "that the class is indeed identifiable as a class." Oshana, 472 F.3d at 513. The Court will address that requirement first, and ...


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