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Stavenjord v. Schmidt

Supreme Court of Alaska

March 20, 2015

PAUL T. STAVENJORD, Appellant,
v.
JOSEPH SCHMIDT, CRAIG TURNBULL, and MIKE ENSCH, Appellees

Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Mark Rindner, Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-10-11932 CI.

Paul T. Stavenjord, Pro se, Wasilla, Appellant.

John K. Bodick, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Winfree, Stowers, Maassen, and Bolger, Justices.

OPINION

Page 827

BOLGER, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Paul Stavenjord, a Buddhist inmate, asked to receive a Kosher diet and to be permitted to purchase a prayer shawl. Prison officials at the Alaska Department of Corrections (the Department) denied his requests. Stavenjord filed a complaint alleging violations of

Page 828

the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and various constitutional provisions. But the superior court granted the Department's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Stavenjord had failed to demonstrate (1) that a Kosher diet and prayer shawl were necessary for the practice of his religion; (2) that he was sincere in his requests for religious accommodation; and (3) that the Department's lack of accommodations substantially burdened the practice of his religion. Under our summary judgment standard, however, the initial burden falls on the moving party -- the Department. Furthermore, religious necessity is not an element of RLUIPA. Because summary judgment was granted by placing the initial burden on the non-moving party and by focusing on Stavenjord's failure to make an evidentiary showing not required under RLUIPA, we reverse and remand.

II. FACTS

Paul Stavenjord is an inmate currently residing at the Goose Creek Correctional Center in Wasilla. In his verified complaint, Stavenjord asserted that he is a Buddhist monk ordained by the Tenshin Ryushin-Ji Buddhist Temple, a qualified teacher of Buddhism with thirty years of experience studying the Hinayana, Mahayana, Vajrayana, and Zen sects, and a " Prison Ministries Advisor" of the Tenshin Ryushin-Ji Temple.

A. The Kosher Diet

In August 2010 Stavenjord submitted a request for a vegan diet to the kitchen manager at Spring Creek Correctional Center (Spring Creek) in Seward, where he was then incarcerated. The request was granted, and Stavenjord remained on a vegan diet for two ...


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