Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Something's not kosher. That's what the plaintiff in Yerushalyim v. United States Department of Corrections thought. He brought an action against the United States Department of Corrections complaining that he was deprived of kosher food during his 49-hour incarceration in November 2000. Unfortunately for Mr. Yerushalayim, there is no such agency as the United States Department of Corrections. The prisons are run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The District Court dismissed his action on the ground that federal agencies are immune from suit for such claims and even if Mr. Yerushalyim has intended to sue the Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau was immune from suit. Mr. Yerushalayim moved for relief from the order, requesting leave to change the caption to name the Bureau as the sole party in place of the non-existent Department of Corrections. He did not seek leave to add as parties the individual federal officials who were allegedly responsible for the violation of his rights. The motion was denied as untimely.

Yerushalayim did not give up. He appealed from both orders and sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis, but did not mention the issue of amending his complaint to name the relevant federal officials. The Court granted the motion and appointed counsel to brief the issue of the denial of his kosher meals, but dismissed as frivolous his appeal from the order denying his mtoion for relief from the judgment.

By the time counsel was appointed, the 3-year statute of limitations had passed on his constitutional claims. If Yerushalayim were to amend his complaint, it would be untimely unless it could relate back. However, since Yerushalayim had been put on notice by the Court's original order that he had named the wrong parties, the amendment would not relate back to the initial pleading. Hence, he was time barred.

Yerushalayim had one other arrow in his quiver. He had sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The Court, however, held that the Act does not create a cause of action the federal government or its correctional facilities, and, hence, Yerushalayim had no claim under the Act.

The decision in the case can be found here.

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