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Portley-El v. Department of Corrections.

2022 COA 86. No. 20CA1992. Colorado Department of Corrections—Prisoner’s Commitment Name—Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act—Mootness—Voluntary Cessation Exception.

July 28, 2022

Portley-El is an inmate at the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC has a policy requiring inmates to use their “commitment name” on all prison documents (the naming policy). The commitment name is the name on the mittimus when the inmate is committed to the DOC. Portley-El’s commitment name is Patrick Portley. Shortly after his incarceration, Portley-El converted to the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) faith. In accordance with his religious beliefs, Portley-El began to use a “religious” name, created by adding the suffix “El” to his former last name. He did not legally change his name. Subsequently, prison officials denied him services for failing to comply with the naming policy. Portley-El sued the DOC and various prison employees, alleging, among other things, that the naming policy violates his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). While the litigation was pending, the DOC voluntarily stopped enforcing the naming policy against Portley-El and moved for summary judgment on the ground that Portley-El’s RLUIPA claim was moot. The trial court granted the motion and entered judgment in favor of the DOC.

On appeal, Portley-El argued that under the “voluntary cessation” exception to mootness, the RLUIPA claim is not moot because the DOC has not demonstrated the requisite unlikelihood that the naming policy will be reinstated. A claim is moot when the relief sought, if granted, would have no practical legal effect on an actual existing controversy. Voluntary cessation may moot a claim where (1) there is no reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will recur, and (2) interim relief has completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation. Based on the record, it is unclear whether the DOC will resume enforcement of the naming policy, and it has pursued the right to maintain the policy throughout this litigation, including in this appeal. Further, the naming policy is still in effect; the DOC has not amended the relevant administrative regulation. Accordingly, the claim is not moot.

The DOC argued that even if the RLUIPA claim is not moot, affirmance is still proper because it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the claim. However, disputed issues of fact preclude summary judgment in favor of the DOC.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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