482 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 2007), 06-2038, Spratt v. Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections

Docket Nº:06-2038.
Citation:482 F.3d 33
Party Name:Wesley SPRATT, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; A.T. WALL, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:April 06, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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482 F.3d 33 (1st Cir. 2007)

Wesley SPRATT, Plaintiff, Appellant,


RHODE ISLAND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; A.T. WALL, Director, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, Defendants, Appellees.

No. 06-2038.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit.

April 6, 2007

Heard Feb. 7, 2007.

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Lynette Labinger, with whom Roney & Labinger LLP Cooperating Counsel, Rhode Island Affiliate, American Civil Liberties Union, was on brief, for appellant.

Patricia A. Coyne-Fague, Chief Legal Counsel, Rhode Island Department of Corrections, was on brief, for appellee.

Before TORRUELLA, LYNCH, and LIPEZ, Circuit Judges.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

Wesley Spratt ("Spratt") is a prisoner in the Adult Correctional Institution ("ACI") in Rhode Island. After prison officials prohibited Spratt from preaching to his fellow inmates, he filed suit against the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and its director, A.T. Wall (collectively,

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"RIDOC") under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq. ("RLUIPA"). The district court granted summary judgment to RIDOC. After careful consideration, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

Spratt is a prisoner in the maximum security unit and is serving a life sentence for murder. See State v. Spratt, 742 A.2d 1194 (R.I.1999). In 1995, Spratt underwent a religious awakening, and began attending Christian services at the ACI. Impressed with his commitment and devotion, the prison chaplains began allowing Spratt to preach 1 to inmates during weekly services. In 2000, Spratt was ordained as a minister by the Universal Life Church. From 1995 until 2003, no prison official interfered with Spratt's religious activities. 2 Spratt's preaching during this seven year period did not lead to any apparent disciplinary problems at the ACI.

In 2003, then-Warden Whitman was replaced by Warden Weeden, who remains the warden of the ACI. On October 15, 2003, Spratt was told by a correctional officer that he was no longer allowed to preach in the chapel. When Spratt approached Warden Weeden about the matter, he was told that preaching by prisoners was not allowed under prison regulations. Spratt formalized his complaint in writing, and Warden Weeden responded that inmate preaching was prohibited by RIDOC Policy # 26.01-2DOC, which states that all religious services are scheduled, supervised, and directed by institutional chaplains. 3 Weeden also informed Spratt that if he was found to be preaching, he would be subject to disciplinary action. Spratt then filed a complaint with A.T. Wall, director of RIDOC, stating the aforementioned facts, and asking that Wall allow him to preach. Wall responded in a letter dated December 15, 2003, which states:

Mr. Spratt, you do have the right to practice your religion under the constitution subject to reasonable restrictions. Because you are not an acknowledged member of the clergy, you do not have the right to proselytize or preach to the inmate population. Therefore, your request for my intervention is denied.

Spratt proceeded to file a pro se complaint against Wall and RIDOC in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, asking for relief under the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(C) ("RFRA"). 4 Spratt's complaint

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stated that the prison policy prohibiting inmate preaching did not satisfy the "least restrictive means" test in RFRA, and asked for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages of $40.29 (the cost of legal paper and copies). RIDOC filed an answer stating that they lacked sufficient information to admit or deny Spratt's allegations, but asserted various affirmative defenses. Spratt moved for summary judgment, attaching various letters from prison clergy attesting to his skill as a preacher, his minister's certificate, and the aforementioned correspondence between himself and prison officials. RIDOC responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment, asking that the claims against Wall in his individual capacity be dismissed, 5 and arguing that RIDOC had satisfied the requirements of RLUIPA because (a) Spratt's religious exercise was not substantially burdened and (b) even if it was burdened, RIDOC had a compelling state interest which was accomplished by the least restrictive means. RIDOC attached to their motion for summary judgment a "statement of undisputed facts," which acknowledged that "no material facts are in dispute in this matter."

The case was referred to a magistrate judge, who filed a report and recommendation granting RIDOC summary judgment on Spratt's First and Fourteenth Amendment claims, 6 and staying the RLUIPA claim pending the Supreme Court's resolution of Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 722-24, 125 S.Ct. 2113, 161 L.Ed.2d 1020 (2005), which considered various constitutional challenges to RLUIPA.

After Cutter rejected the constitutional challenges to RLUIPA, the magistrate judge ordered the parties to submit additional briefing as to whether RLUIPA was applicable to RIDOC, and as to the merits of Spratt's RLUIPA claim. RIDOC submitted a supplemental memorandum acknowledging that it was subject to RLUIPA because it accepted federal funding, and attached an affidavit from Jake Gadsden, Assistant Director of Operations for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. The affidavit briefly reviews Gadsden's professional experience, and states that inmates may not lead religious services in RIDOC facilities. Gadsden explains in the affidavit that inmate preaching could be dangerous because "placing an inmate in a position of actual or perceived leadership before an inmate group threatens security, as it provides the perceived inmate leader with influence within the administration." Gadsden further states in the affidavit that "there is no less restrictive manner to accommodate Spratt's desire to preach to an inmate congregation, other than an outright ban," because even an inmate preaching under RIDOC supervision would be perceived as having influence. Finally, the affidavit states that Gadsden was familiar with a program in the Texas Correctional System which he identified as the "trustee" program, in which inmates were given certain leadership roles. Gadsden states that Texas abolished the program because the

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inmate leaders abused their positions to garner favors from fellow inmates.

Spratt filed an affidavit in response, which states that he acknowledges Gadsden's "noteworthy" credentials, but that Gadsden's conclusions are "exaggerat[ion] and speculation." Spratt also stated in a memorandum of law that he would willingly submit to further RIDOC supervision of his preaching activities. He also suggested that RIDOC could retain their policy against inmate preaching but grant limited exemptions when enforcement of the policy would result in a violation of RLUIPA. Spratt noted that RIDOC allows inmates to congregate and talk freely about non-religious topics during recreational time, and that this had not been found to pose a threat to prison security.

The magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation granting RIDOC summary judgment on Spratt's RLUIPA claim. The report found that Spratt had satisfied the first two elements of the RLUIPA test: that preaching was part of Spratt's religious exercise and that the religious exercise had been substantially burdened by the RIDOC prohibition. However, the magistrate judge concluded that RIDOC had established that inmate security was a compelling state interest, and that the total ban on inmate preaching was the least restrictive means by which to accomplish that goal.

Spratt objected to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and the issue was referred to a district judge. The court held a hearing on the objection on April 6, 2006. At the hearing on Spratt's objection, Spratt was represented by counsel from the ACLU of Rhode Island. During the hearing, the court initially seemed skeptical of RIDOC's claim that the Gadsden affidavit was sufficient to overcome summary judgment, stating, "What evidence do I have? See, that's the problem here. What evidence is in the record that says it's got to be a total ban. There's just no other solution. I'm looking at this very high burden and very little evidence." Nevertheless, the court adopted and affirmed the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, noting that "while the issue is somewhat of a close call, the Magistrate Judge's [report and recommendation] on balance represents both a fair and reasonable interpretation of the RLUIPA claim."

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Iverson v. City of Boston, 452 F.3d 94, 98 (1st Cir.2006). Summary judgment is appropriate only if there are no material disputes of fact, and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.


RLUIPA was enacted in 2000 as a response to the Supreme Court's decision in City of Boerne v. Flores, which partially struck down the previously enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the grounds that it exceeded Congress' power to regulate the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. 521 U.S. 507, 529-36, 117 S.Ct. 2157, 138 L.Ed.2d 624 (1997) (holding that RFRA may not be applied to purely state, as opposed to federal, action). Whereas RFRA had applied to all action by "Government," RLUIPA is substantially narrower in scope, and the portion of that statute at issue in this case applies only to "a program or activity [in an institution] that receives Federal financial assistance." 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(b)(1). Substantively, RLUIPA provides that

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No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined to an...

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