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Nance v. Miser (2017)

June 29, 2017

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Horvitz & Levy teamed with the University of California, Irvine School of Law to obtain a reversal of the dismissal of Keith Nance’s lawsuit.  Mr. Nance, an Arizona state Muslim prisoner, sued the prison in federal court under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), challenging two prison regulations he claimed unlawfully burdened his exercise of religion.  One regulation barred him from buying scented oils for use during Friday prayers; the other limited the length of his beard to one inch.

The district court granted Arizona’s summary judgment motion, ruling Mr. Nance had not established the regulations substantially burdened his exercise of religion.  Because of the ruling, the district court did not reach the issue whether Arizona had demonstrated that the regulations were the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.  Mr. Nance appealed and the Ninth Circuit appointed Horvitz & Levy and the UC Irvine School of Law as pro bono counsel to represent Mr. Nance on appeal.

The Ninth Circuit reversed.  As to the scented oil regulation, the court not only held the district court’s ruling to be erroneous, but it also directed entry of judgment for Mr. Nance, even though he had not moved for summary judgment in the district court.  The Ninth Circuit ordered further proceedings as to the beard-length regulation, concluding that whether the regulation was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest was “not as clear” as with the scented oil regulation.

Horvitz & Levy attorney David Ettinger supervised two UC Irvine law students.

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