United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 26)
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Rachel Kurtz ("Plaintiff") alleges that she was
injured on August 5, 2014 when an employee of the Kripalu
Center for Yoga & Health, Inc. ("Defendant" or
"Kripalu") took a chair from her as she carried it
above her head. Plaintiff has sued Defendant to recover
damages that she suffered due to Defendant's and its
employee's alleged negligence (Dkt. No. 1). Defendant has
moved for summary judgment claiming: (1) neither it nor its
employee was negligent; (2) Plaintiff released it from
liability for her injuries; and (3) to the extent it is
liable for Plaintiff's injuries, it is protected by the
charitable immunity statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, §
85K (Dkt. No. 26). For the reasons that follow, to the extent
Defendant's motion seeks summary judgment as to its
liability for negligence, it is denied. Nonetheless, if
Defendant is found liable for Plaintiff's injuries, it
qualifies for charitable immunity.
Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
is a Pennsylvania nonprofit charitable organization that was
incorporated in 1966 as the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania
(Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 1, 3; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶
1, 3). In 1967, the Internal Revenue Service
("IRS") determined that the Yoga Society of
Pennsylvania was "exempt from Federal income tax under
section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code" (Dkt.
No. 26-15 at 18-19; Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 6; Dkt. No. 30
¶ 6). The Yoga Society of Pennsylvania's
purpose at the time of its incorporation and at the time of
its application to the IRS for tax exempt status was to
"'advance the principles, teachings and methods of
the science and philosophy of yoga in order the promote the
physical well-being and spiritual enlightenment of its
members in order to promote the content of the universal
brotherhood of man'" (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 8; Dkt.
No. 30 ¶ 8).
has been licensed and authorized to do business in the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts since July 8, 1981 (Dkt. No.
26-17 ¶¶ 1, 2; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 1, 2).
Defendant moved its physical presence from Pennsylvania to
Massachusetts in 1983 (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 30
¶ 4). In 2007, Defendant changed its name from the Yoga
Society of Pennsylvania to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and
Health and amended its purpose clause (Dkt. No. 26-17
¶¶ 4, 9; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 4, 9). Its
principal place of business is located at 57 Interlaken Road,
Stockbridge, Massachusetts where it conducted all of its
business activities in 2014 (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 5; Dkt.
No. 30 ¶ 5).
operated the following educational and training schools: the
School of Yoga, which trained yoga teachers; the School of
Ayurveda, which trained Ayurveda health counselors; the
School of Integrated Yoga Therapy, which trained yoga
therapists; and the School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership,
which was established in 2018 to train outdoor guides (Dkt.
No. 26-17 ¶¶ 11, 12; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 11,
12). The courses in the School of Yoga and the School of
Ayurveda were open to the members of the public who were not
pursuing certification in those disciplines (Dkt. No. 26-17
¶ 15; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 15).
programs and services that were offered through
Defendant's Retreat and Renewal, Luminary, and Healing
Arts Departments were also open to the general public (Dkt.
No. 26-17 ¶¶ 16, 24; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 16,
24). The Retreat and Renewal Department featured personalized
retreat programs, which included accommodations, meals,
workshops, outdoor activities, yoga, and the use of
Kripalu's amenities (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 17, 20;
Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 17, 20). The Luminary
Department's programs were mostly seminars, which
supported Kripalu's mission and benefitted yoga
instructors (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 17, 18; Dkt. No. 30
¶¶ 17, 18). The Healing Arts Department offered
body and lifestyle consultations, including massages,
facials, and other services (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 17,
21; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 17, 21). A portion of the income
from the Healing Arts Department's services and
activities were unrelated to Defendant's tax-exempt
purpose (Dkt. No. 26-15 at 35, 39, 40; Dkt. No. 30 ¶
August 5, 2014
had been a guest at Kripalu approximately eight times prior
to July 2014 (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 30; Dkt. No. 30 ¶
30). In July 2014, she was accepted to attend Kripalu's
School of Yoga's 200-hour training course to become a
certified yoga instructor (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 25,
27, 28; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 25, 27, 28). The
certification course was held from July 27 to August 22, 2014
(Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 26; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 26). Plaintiff
stayed at Kripalu while she attended the classes, which were
held from 6:00 A.M. until 6:00 P.M. with a break for lunch
(Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 27, 28; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶
27, 28). Plaintiff was allowed to participate in
Kripalu's other programs and events during her lunch
break and after 6:00 P.M. (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 29; Dkt. No.
30 ¶ 29).
August 5, 2017, Plaintiff attended morning yoga (Dkt. No.
26-17 ¶ 33; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 33). The class was held
in a large room with chairs available for the students'
use (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 34; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 34).
Plaintiff took a metal-frame, stackable chair and sat on it
during the lesson (Dkt. No. 26-9 at 18; Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶
35; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 35).
had used stackable chairs during activities at Kripalu
"[m]any times" before August 5, 2014 and had
returned them without incident or complaint (Dkt. No. 26-9 at
18; Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 38; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 38). She had
either stacked the chair herself or a Kripalu staff member
took the chair from her and stacked it (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶
39; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 39).
conclusion of the morning yoga session on August 5, 2014,
Plaintiff set about putting her chair away in order to assist
in clearing the room for the dance yoga class that was
scheduled to be held at noon (Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶¶ 33,
35, 36; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 33, 35, 36). Plaintiff
lifted the chair over her head by holding the legs and
maintained that position as she carried the chair to the side
of the room where two members of Kripalu's staff were
stacking the chairs (Dkt. No. 26-9 at 19; Dkt. No. 26-17
¶ 45; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 45). According to
Plaintiff's deposition testimony, without warning, Mr.
Cook, a staff member, suddenly grabbed the chair that she was
holding above her head (Dkt. No. 26-9 at 19; Dkt. No. 26-17
¶¶ 46, 47; Dkt. No. 30 ¶¶ 46, 47). The
chair swung and struck Plaintiff's head (Dkt. No. 26-9 at
19; Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 46; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 46).
Plaintiff alleges that she suffered a concussion as a result
(Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶ 51; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 51).
Guest Participation Agreement and Release
27, 2014, before Plaintiff participated in the training
program for which she had registered, she signed
Kripalu's Guest Participation Agreement and Release
("Release") (Dkt. No. 26-13; Dkt. No. 26-17 ¶
32; Dkt. No. 30 ¶ 32). In pertinent part, the Release
Guest Activities and Need to Self-Monitor
As a guest, I have the opportunity to take part in a range of
activities designed to enhance my health and well-being. This
includes activities specific to the program I am taking, as
well as general activities outside my program, offered to all
These general activities include yoga and dance classes;
exercise and conditioning classes; strength training; massage
and bodywork; share circles and other personal growth
experiences; relaxation and meditation instruction; lectures
on various topics that often include a participatory
component; outdoor recreation and fitness pursuits, such as
bicycling, hiking, kayaking, and winter sports; and other
activities not mentioned here.
Whether specific or general, I recognize that activities of
this nature involve an element of physical, emotional, and
psychological risk. I understand each person's level of
physical and psychological fitness is different, and that
some activities may not be appropriate for me given my
individual capacities. I accept the need to monitor my own
participation, knowing that each activity, and each exercise
within any given activity, is optional. It is fine for me to
sit an activity or exercise out, or let my instructor know
that I am choosing not to participate, or otherwise ask for
help. . . .
Release of Liability
After being informed of the above risks and responsibilities,
I generally release Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health,
together with its instructors and other representatives, from
all claims, causes of action, medical expenses, and other
costs related to my guest participation, whether they arise
at Kripalu, or from my later use of information or
instruction at home. . . .
(Dkt. No. 26-13).
Standard of Review
judgment is proper where 'the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together
with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.'" Carroll v.
Xerox Corp., 294 F.3d 231, 236 (1st Cir. 2002) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "A factual dispute is
'genuine' if 'it may reasonably be resolved in
favor of either party' and, therefore, requires the
finder of fact to make 'a choice between the parties'
differing versions of the truth at trial.'"
DePoutot v. Raffaelly, 424 F.3d 112, 117 (1st Cir.
2005) (quoting Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d
46, 48 (1st Cir. 1990)). "[A] fact is 'material'
'if its existence or nonexistence has the potential to
change the outcome of the suit.'" Jarvis v.
Village Gun Shop, Inc., 805 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2015)
(quoting Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern,
605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010)).
ruling on summary judgment, the court "view[s] 'the
entire record in the light most hospitable to the party
opposing summary judgment, indulging all reasonable
inferences in that party's favor.'"
Euromotion, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 136 F.3d
866, 869 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Griggs-Ryan v.
Smith,904 F.2d 112, 115 (1st Cir. 1990)). "A party
seeking summary judgment is responsible for identifying those
portions of the record, 'which it believes demonstrate
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.'"
Massacani v. Kelly Servs., Inc., Civil Action No.
3:16-cv-30069-KAR, 2018 WL 443448, at *1 (D. Mass. Jan. 16,
2018) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986)). The movant can meet this burden
"either by offering evidence to disprove an element of
the plaintiff's case or by demonstrating an 'absence
of evidence to support the non-moving party's
case.'" Rakes v. United States, 352
F.Supp.2d 47, 52 (D. Mass. 2005) (quoting Celotex,
477 U.S. at 325). If the moving party meets its burden,
"'the nonmoving party must come forward with facts
that show a genuine issue for trial.'" Sensing
v. Outback Steakhouse of Fla., LLC, 575 F.3d 145, 152
(1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Carroll, 294 F.3d at 236).
"'[T]he nonmoving party "may not rest upon mere
allegations or denials of [the movant's] pleading, but
must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue of material fact as to each issue upon which [s]he
would bear the ultimate burden of proof at ...