A Muslim inmate who was placed in solitary confinement conditions for more than two months after refusing to drink water during the Ramadan fast to provide a urine sample has had his First Amendment claim reinstated.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Darryl Holland’s First Amendment right to free exercise of religion was “substantially burdened” by prison officials who punished him for his refusal to drink water during the daylight hours of Ramadan.

Judges Dennis Jacobs (See Profile), Jose Cabranes (See Profile) and Debra Ann Livingston (See Profile) reinstated Holland’s lawsuit and remanded his claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. §1983 to Western District Judge Michael Telesca (See Profile) in Holland v. Goord, 13-2694-pr.

Holland converted to Islam while serving a term at the Wende Correctional Facility from 1999 to 2005.

On Nov. 20, 2003, a captain at Wende obtained information Holland was using drugs and directed a correctional officer to obtain a urine sample under New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) Directive 4937, which requires inmates to provide a sample within three hours of being told to do so.

Directive 4937 also states inmates can be given up to eight ounces of water per hour to assist in urine production.

But Holland said he was forbidden during the daylight hours of the month-long Ramadan fast from ingesting water or food. He offered to drink water and provide a sample after sunset.

When he was refused this option and was unable to provide a sample, the corrections officer issued a misbehavior report and, as punishment, Holland spent the next 77 days in “keeplock”—whereby he was confined to his cell, deprived of participation in normal prison routine and denied contact with other inmates.

He filed suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 alleging deprivation of First Amendment due process rights and claiming a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) 42 U.S.C. 2000 cc et seq.

After eight years of litigation, Telesca in 2013 granted summary judgment on all counts for prison officials, finding their conduct placed only a de minimis burden on Holland’s First Amendment right to religious exercise.

The Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of all the claims but one—the free exercise claim—saying “we conclude that the choice either to provide a urine sample by drinking water during his fast or to face disciplinary action place a substantial burden on Holland’s religious exercise.”

Writing for the court, Livingston said the circuit has yet to decide under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause whether a person has to make a threshold showing that conduct “substantially burdens” his religious beliefs, but it need not do so here, because “our precedent squarely dictates that Holland’s religious exercise was unconstitutionally burdened.”

In one case, for example, the circuit held in Ford v. McGinnis, 352 F.3d 582 (2d Cir. 2003), that a Muslim inmate’s free exercise rights would be substantially burdened if he was denied his request for a meal to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr feast.

The Ford court, Livingston said, held that inmates “have a ‘clearly established’ right ‘to a diet consistent with their religious scruples’,” and that right was implicated in Holland’s case.

“The difference between the denial of a meal and the imposition of a drink is of no constitutional significance,” Livingston said. “By contrast, the district court’s conclusion that the order to provide a urine sample placed only a ‘de minims’ burden on Holland’s free exercise because he could ‘make up’ a premature drink of water with ‘one extra day of fasting’ … finds no support in our case law.”

And while the court has “suggested that some inconveniences are so trivial that they are most properly ignored,” McEachin v. McGuiness, 357 F.3d 197 (2d Cir. 2004), she said “the uncontroverted evidence submitted by Holland that breaking his fast prior to subset would have been a ‘grave sin’—regardless whether atonement was possible—prevented such a conclusion in this case.”

Directive 4937 was amended in 2012 to allow for inmates to have sample requests rescheduled for another part of the day, and Telesca had held in the alternative that the right to an exception from the original Directive 4937 had not been clearly established at the time of Holland’s 2003 fast so the defendants were shielded by qualified immunity.

But Livingston said the lower court did not address other aspects of the immunity claim, including “whether a reasonable officer might have believed the challenged order was lawful in light of the legitimate penological interest supporting Directive 4937, as it existed at the time.”

The circuit instructed the lower court to consider this issue and others on remand as it assesses the extent to which Holland seeks damages for his free exercise claim.

Jeffrey Wadsworth, partner, and Candace Curran, associate, at Harter Secrest and Emery in Rochester represented Holland pro bono.

Assistant Solicitors General Kate Nepvu and Andrew Bing represented the government.