Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Worcester
Argued October 5, 2015.
Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on September 30, 2010.
The case was heard by Cornelius J. Moriarty, II, J.
The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.
Richard C. McFarland for the defendants.
Jarrett M. Scarpaci for the plaintiffs.
The following submitted briefs for amici curiae.
Maggie Ellen Filler for Prisoners' Legal Services.
Joel West Williams, of Pennsylvania, & Gabriel S. Galanda, of Washington, for Huy.
Yale Yechiel N. Robinson, pro se.
Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Botsford, Duffly, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.
[41 N.E.3d 3] Duffly, J.
Randall Trapp and Robert Ferreira, who are adherents of Native American religious practices, are both incarcerated at Department of Correction (DOC) facilities. In 2010, Trapp and Ferreira filed an amended complaint in the Superior Court contending, among other things, that the DOC's closure of the purification lodge at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § § 2000cc-1 et seq. (2012) (RLUIPA); art. 2 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; and a settlement agreement reached in 2003 to resolve a prior lawsuit brought by Trapp against the DOC. The complaint named Gary Roden, Commissioner of Correction, and two DOC employees at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk) as defendants. After a jury-waived trial in July, 2012, a Superior Court judge concluded that the closure of the lodge at SBCC violated the plaintiffs' rights under all three asserted theories, and entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the plaintiffs on those claims. The DOC appealed, and we transferred the case to this court on
our own motion. We conclude that the closure of the lodge at SBCC violates RLUIPA and the settlement agreement. Accordingly, we do not reach the constitutional question.
The dispute at the crux of this case dates back two decades. In 1995, Trapp and four other inmates (Ferreira was not among them) filed a complaint in the Superior Court asserting that the DOC had violated their rights to exercise their religion. After extensive litigation over a number of years, in 2003 the parties entered into a settlement agreement that required the DOC to construct a lodge at SBCC and another facility not at issue in this appeal. Under the terms of the agreement, the named plaintiffs and others who participate in Native American religious practices were promised the right to participate in ceremonies that were to be conducted at the lodges once each month. The settlement agreement contained protocols setting forth the manner in which the lodges were to be constructed and the ceremonies conducted, all based on the traditions of the Wampanoag Tribe. Further, the settlement agreement provided that the protocols could be altered if necessary [41 N.E.3d 4] as security needs dictated, but that such changes were to be made in consultation with the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs.
Under the protocols set forth in the settlement agreement, a lodge is constructed of sixteen saplings arranged in a circle and then bent and joined together to form a dome, which is covered by blankets or canvas. A pit is dug in the ground in the middle of a lodge, to make space for rocks that are placed in it after they have been heated by a wood fire outside the lodge. During a ceremony, water is poured onto the heated rocks to create the steam and heat necessary for the ceremony. The settlement agreement required the lodges to be constructed within a secured perimeter inaccessible to the general inmate population.
The DOC built a lodge at SBCC in 2004. Within six months, however, it halted all ceremonies at the SBCC lodge, citing health concerns that resulted from smoke filtering into the main building from the wood fires used to heat the rocks. According to the DOC, the SBCC facility has a closed ventilation ...