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McCormack v. Reinke

United States District Court, D. Idaho

July 2, 2014



EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 49). Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument. D. Idaho L. R. 7.1.


Plaintiff filed his Complaint (Dkt. 3) on January 13, 2012. Plaintiff alleges that in August 2011, IDOC official notified Southern Idaho Correction Institution (SICI) prisoners that the sweat lodge located on prison grounds for Native American religious ceremonies would be searched, dismantled and rebuilt and would be unavailable during this process (McCormack Aff., at 4-5.) According to Plaintiff, on August 24, 2011, the sweat lodge was then "disgracefully torn down without any concern towards the Natives and their religion at SICI." (Dkt. 3, p. 18.) Plaintiff alleges that he and other prisoners were retaliated against after they formally complained when they uncovered IDOC officials had violated terms of an earlier settlement agreement relating to supplying wood to be used in the sweat lodge. (McCormack Aff., Dkt. 3-1, at 2; Complaint, Dkt. 3, at 17-18.) Plaintiff asserts that prison officials retaliated by opening a false investigation to determine whether he and other prisoners were members of a "Security Threat Group" (STG). Plaintiff was then transferred from SICI to a medium custody facility and placed in segregation pending the completion of the investigation, though no disciplinary charges were brought against him for STG activity. ( Id. )

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff claims that (1) IDOC Defendants unconstitutionally retaliated against him for complaining about official misconduct, and that (2) Defendants violated his right to exercise his religion (a) under the First Amendment's free exercise clause and (b) under the provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000cc, et seq.

On April 27, 2012, the Court reviewed Plaintiff's complaint and filed an Initial Review Order (Dkt. 12) allowing Plaintiff to proceed on his claims.


Defendants move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims on the following grounds: (1) sovereign and qualified immunity bar all monetary claims; (2) claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are moot since Plaintiff has been released from custody; (3) there is no evidence to support Plaintiff's retaliation and free exercise claims; and (4) failure to prosecute under Rule 41(b). Defendants filed their motion on December 26, 2013. It has been pending over six months and Plaintiff has not filed a response, nor anything else in the case, except for a Notice of Change of Address on February 10, 2014. (Dkt. 51.) In light of the procedural posture of the case, the Court will consider whether it is should be dismissed for failure to prosecute under Rule 41(b).

1. Standard of Law

District courts have inherent power to control their dockets and may impose sanctions, including dismissal, in the exercise of that discretion. Hamilton Copper & Steel Corp. v. Primary Steel, Inc., 898 F.2d 1428, 1429 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). Dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) is available where a party has failed to prosecute his case or failed to obey an order of the court. Because dismissal is a harsh penalty, it should be imposed as a sanction only in extreme circumstances. Thompson v. Housing Authority of City of Los Angeles, 782 F.2d 829, 831 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 829 (1986).

In Thompson, the Court explained:

We have repeatedly upheld the imposition of the sanction of dismissal for failure to comply with pretrial procedures mandated by local rules and court orders. Buss v. Western Airlines, 738 F.2d 1053 (9th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1192 , 105 S.Ct. 968 (1985); Chism v. Nat'l Heritage Life Ins. Co., 637 F.2d 1328 (9th Cir. 1981); Transamerica Corp. v. Transamerica Bancgrowth Corp., 627 F.2d 963 (9th Cir. 1980). However, because dismissal is such a severe remedy, we have allowed its imposition in these circumstances only after requiring the district court to weigh several factors: (1) the public's interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to the defendants; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions. Ash v. Cvetkov, 739 F.2d 493, 496 (9th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1007 , 105 S.Ct. 1368 (1985); Mir v. Fosburg, 706 F.2d 916, 918 (9th Cir. 1983).

Id. at ...

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