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Murphy v. Mo. Dep't. of Corrections: 1983 | PRISIONS CIVIL RIGHTS - no plain error in jury instructions on Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act

United States Court of Appeals
No. 06-1603
Michael Dunham Murphy, **
Appellant, **
v. * Appeal from the United States
* District Court for the
Missouri Department of Corrections, * Western District of Missouri.
Winfrey Dickerson, Dora B. Schriro, *
Elijah Nagbe, Steve Long, Michael *
Kemna, Larry Crawford, Lawrence *
Morganfield, David Man Sin GH, *
Appellees. *
Submitted: May 14, 2007
Filed: November 8, 2007
Before LOKEN, Chief Judge, JOHN R. GIBSON, and WOLLMAN, Circuit Judges.
WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.
This case is once again before us. See Murphy v. Mo. Dept of Corr., 372 F.3d
979 (8th Cir. 2004) (Murphy I). In Murphy I, we reversed and remanded for further
proceedings the district courts grant of summary judgment in favor of the appellees
on Michael Dunham Murphys First Amendment free speech claim, brought pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. 1983, and his claim brought pursuant to the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq. Id. at 985-89.
1The Honorable Gary Fenner, United States District Judge for the Western
District of Missouri.
On remand, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the appellees on both claims. The
district court1 denied Murphys motion for a new trial, from which Murphy now
appeals. We affirm.
The factual and procedural background of this case is detailed in Murphy I, and
we recount and supplement the relevant background as follows. Murphy is
incarcerated at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Missouri. He is a
practicing member of the Christian Separatist Church Society (CSC), a religious group
that allows only Caucasians to be members and which believes that Caucasians are
uniquely blessed by God and must separate themselves from all non-Caucasians.
After the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) denied his request for CSC
group worship services, Murphy brought this pro se action against the appellees,
alleging that their denial of his request violated the Establishment Clause, the Equal
Protection Clause, RLUIPA, and his right to the free exercise of religion. Murphy
also alleged that the appellees violated his right to free speech when, pursuant to the
MDOCs censorship policy, prison officials refused to provide him with Issue #36 of
The Way, a CSC publication that Murphy had received in the mail. As indicated
above, we reversed the district courts grant of summary judgment only on Murphys
RLUIPA and First Amendment free speech claims.
Murphy raises a number of issues on appeal, which we will address in turn.
2Murphys inquiry to the district court whether the instructions that we
submitted have been considered and denied did not constitute an objection to the jury
instructions that were given.
3RLUIPA, in relevant part, provides:
No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious
exercise of a person residing in or confined to an institution . . . unless
the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
governmental interest.
A. Jury Instructions
Although he alleges that he preserved for appeal his arguments concerning the
jury instructions, the record reveals that Murphy, who proceeded pro se at trial and up
until oral argument before this court, made no objections to the jury instructions at
trial, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 51.2 See Dupre v. Fru-Con Engg Inc., 112 F.3d
329, 333 (8th Cir. 1997). We therefore review the contested jury instructions for plain
error only, under which we will reverse only in the exceptional case where the error
has seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial
proceedings. Daggitt v. United Food & Commercial Workers Intl Union, Local
304A, 245 F.3d 981, 985 (8th Cir. 2001) (quoting Figge Auto Co. v. Taylor, 325 F.2d
899, 907 (8th Cir. 1964)).
i. Instruction 14 (RLUIPA Claim)
Murphy contends that portions of jury instruction 14, which set forth what
Murphy was required to prove to prevail on his claim that the denial of CSC group
services constituted a violation of RLUIPA, were erroneous.3 Specifically, Murphy
42 U.S.C. 2000cc-1(a) (2003).
4Instruction 14 states:
Your verdict must be for the plaintiff on his religious exercise claim
against the defendants if all of the following elements have been proved
by the greater weight of the evidence:
First, Plaintiff requested racially-segregated group services for the
Christian Separatist Church; and
Second, Defendants denied racially-segregated group services for
the Christian Separatist Church; and
Third, Racially-segregated group services are a sincerely held
tenet or belief central or fundamental to Christian Separatist Church
doctrine; and
Fourth, Plaintiffs right to freely exercise his sincerely held
religious beliefs is substantially burdened by the denial of raciallysegregated
group services for the Christian Separatist Church.
A substantial burden must be more than just an inconvenience.
A substantial burden is instead government conduct that pressures the
plaintiff to commit an act forbidden by his religion or prevents him from
engaging in conduct mandated by his faith.
However, your verdict must be for the defendants if any of the
above elements has not been proved by the greater weight of the
evidence or if the defendants are entitled to a verdict under Instruction
No. 15.
5The jurys note stated, Should we rule in favor of the defendant if (Item 1)
Plaintiff requested racially-segregated services is not true? This does not seem
asserts that the first element of the instruction, which required that the jury find that
the Plaintiff requested racially-segregated group services for the Christian Separatist
Church in order to return a verdict in his favor, precluded him from prevailing on this
claim because he had never requested that the group services be racially segregated.4
He points to a note sent by the jury indicating that it did not believe that he had
requested such services.5 In response to the note, the district court stated, As
6The district court also stated in its reply to the jurys note that, Plaintiff must
prove all of the elements as submitted in Instruction No. 14 to prevail on his religious
exercise claim.
7In Murphy I, we explained that, to constitute a substantial burden, the
government actions
must significantly inhibit or constrain conduct or expression that
manifests some central tenet of a [persons] individual [religious] beliefs;
must meaningfully curtail a [persons] ability to express adherence to his
or her faith; or must deny a [person] reasonable opportunities to engage
in those activities that are fundamental to a [persons] religion.
submitted to you plaintiffs request in this case is for racially-segregated group
services for the Christian Separatist Church.6 Murphy contends that this response
prevented the jury from performing its function as an independent factfinder.
The district courts response was not prejudicial to Murphy, for it relieved him
of the need to establish an element that he was required to prove in order to prevail on
his RLUIPA claim under the theory and evidence upon which the case was submitted.
Murphy also asserts that the third element of instruction 14, which required him
to prove that [r]acially-segregated services are a sincerely held tenet or belief central
or fundamental to Christian Separatist Church doctrine, was erroneous. He contends
that RLUIPA does not require that the burdened religious exercise be a sincerely held
tenet or belief central or fundamental to CSC doctrine. See 42 U.S.C. 2000cc-
5(7)(A) (The term religious exercise includes any exercise of religion, whether or
not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.). Whether or not
RLUIPAs definition includes such a requirement, we have held that it is necessary
to show that the existence of a sincerely held tenet or belief that is central or
fundamental to an individuals religion is a prerequisite to a substantially burdened
claim under RLUIPA.7 Again, because Murphy did not object to this instruction, we
Murphy I, 372 F.3d at 988 (alteration in original) (quotations omitted). We
additionally implied that the religious belief must be sincerely held. Id.
8As support for his contention, Murphy points to a note submitted to the district
court by the jury which stated, Are we only to determine whether free speech was
denied of Mr. Murphy by the listed defendants only, and not by the MDOC as
defined as representatives of and/or supervisors of these defendants? In other words,
there are departmental responsibilities. Mr. Murphy may not have named the correct
individuals. The district court responded, You can only consider Mr. Murphys free
speach (sic) claim against the listed defendants not against MDOC. You must
follow the instructions and verdict forms as given.
review for plain error only. Given our holding in Murphy I, the district court did not
plainly err, if indeed it erred at all, in giving the challenged instruction.
ii. Instructions concerning Murphys Free Speech Claim
Murphy contends that the district court also erred in not giving a supervisory
liability instruction on his free speech claim. He argues that if such an instruction had
been given, the MDOC would have been included in the list of defendants on the
verdict form on the free speech claim and the jury would have returned a verdict
against the MDOC on this claim.8 He also asserts that a supervisory liability
instruction would have permitted the jury to find other defendants liable. Murphy did
not propose such an instruction, however, nor did he object to the instructions as given
at trial. Murphys proposed instructions regarding his free speech claim addressed
only direct liability, and the supervisory instruction Murphy did proffer related only
to his RLUIPA claim. Accordingly, the lack of such instruction did not constitute
plain error. See United States v. Yellow Hawk, 276 F.3d 953, 956 (8th Cir. 2002)
(finding no plain error when the district court did not instruct the jury on a defense
that was not addressed by counsel and the proposed instructions were not objected to
at trial).
Murphy also asserts that his free speech claim should have been treated as a
RLUIPA claim rather than as a claim arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and that the
instructions should have reflected this fact. In Murphy I, we treated Murphys free
speech claim as one arising solely under 1983 and remanded the case for further
proceedings consistent with our opinion. At trial, Murphy expressed no objections to
this formulation, and his proposed jury instructions set forth a free speech claim
separate from his RLUIPA claim. In addition, he raised no objection to the
instructions as given to the jury. Accordingly, the district court did not commit plain
error when it treated his free speech claim as a claim arising under 1983.
B. Motion for New Trial
We review the denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. Jones
v. TEK Industries, Inc., 319 F.3d 355, 358 (8th Cir. 2003). The grant of a motion for
a new trial is appropriate only if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence and
. . . allowing it to stand would result in a miscarriage of justice. Id. (quotations
As support for his argument that the verdict is against the weight of the
evidence, Murphy points only to the above referenced notes submitted by the jury,
asserting that they indicate that the jury would have returned a verdict in his favor had
the instructions not precluded it from doing so. In light of our holding that the
instructions did not constitute reversible error, the district court did not abuse its
discretion in denying the motion for a new trial.
C. Exclusion of Evidence
Murphy raises two evidentiary issues, both of which are without merit. First,
he asserts that he had intended to present the affidavits of other inmates to show that
others were interested in CSC services, but did not do so because the district court had
sustained an objection to a question Murphy had asked a witness regarding the interest
other inmates had in CSC services. Because Murphy did not attempt to introduce this
evidence at trial, he cannot now assert that its absence constitutes prejudicial error.
Second, he contends that the district court erred when, prior to trial, it concluded that
the testimony of one of Murphys proposed witnesses would not be relevant and
precluded her from testifying. Murphy failed to make an offer of proof regarding the
witnesss proposed testimony, however, and thus did not preserve the issue for our
review. Dupre, 112 F.3d at 336 (One of the most fundamental principles in the law
of evidence is that in order to challenge a trial courts exclusion of evidence, an
attorney must preserve the issue for appeal by making an offer of proof. (quotations
D. Motion for Reconsideration
Murphy contends that the district court erred in denying his motion for
reconsideration of our prior determination in Murphy I, brought pursuant to Fed. R.
Civ. P. 60(b). We review a district courts denial of relief under Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)
only for abuse of discretion. Arnold v. Wood, 238 F.3d 992, 998 (8th Cir. 2001).
Specifically, Murphy alleges that his motion should be granted pursuant to Rule
60(b)(3) and Rule 60(b)(6). To prevail on a motion under Rule 60(b)(3), the movant
must show, with clear and convincing evidence, that the opposing party engaged in
a fraud or misrepresentation that prevented the movant from fully and fairly
presenting its case. United States v. Metro. St. Louis Sewer Dist., 440 F.3d 930, 935
(8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Harley v. Zoesch, 413 F.3d 866, 870 (8th Cir. 2005)). Relief
is available under Rule 60(b)(6) only where exceptional circumstances have denied
the moving party a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim and have prevented
the moving party from receiving adequate redress. Zoesch, 413 F.3d at 871.
Murphys central argument regarding his motion for reconsideration is that the
record now contains evidence showing that racial separatism is a tenet of two other
religious groups that are allowed to conduct services in the correctional center and that
if this evidence had been before us in Murphy I, we would not have affirmed the grant
of summary judgment on Murphys equal protection claim. He asserts that relief is
available to him under Rule 60(b)(3) because this evidence contradicts the affidavit
submitted by one of the defendants, thereby rendering the affidavit fraudulent. While
this evidence does contradict the affidavit, it alone does not constitute clear evidence
of fraudulent conduct on the defendants part. In addition, Murphy does not show
how the affidavit, even if fraudulent, prevented him from fairly presenting his case.
As to Murphys request for relief under Rule 60(b)(6), he does not point to any
exceptional circumstances that would have prevented him from obtaining a fair
opportunity to litigate his claim or receiving an adequate redress. Accordingly, the
district court did not err in denying the motion for reconsideration.
We have considered and find to be without merit Murphys arguments
pertaining to the district courts denial of his discovery motions and its order
regarding Murphys post-trial communication with the jurors.
The judgment is affirmed.


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