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Blast v. Fischer

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 23, 2014

SYNTHIA CHINA BLAST, 97-A-0308, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIAN FISCHER, Commissioner, et al., Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

H. KENNETH SCHROEDER, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the assignment of this case to the undersigned to conduct all further proceedings, including the entry of final judgment. Dkt. #50.

Currently before the Court are plaintiff's motions to reopen this matter and hold the New York State Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"), [1] in civil contempt of this Court's Order of Stipulated Settlement. Dkt. ## 110, 112, 113 & 133. For the following reasons, the motions are granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a transgender male-to-female inmate at the Wende Correctional Facility ("Wende"), commenced this action pro se, alleging that DOCS was depriving her of the opportunity to practice the Santeria religion, in violation of her constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 ("RLUIPA"). Dkt. #11.

The parties submitted a stipulation of settlement and order of dismissal (Dkt. #71), which the Court "SO ORDERED" on October 23, 2009. Dkt. #72. The stipulation of settlement provided, inter alia, that defendants would

issue Blast a religious permit for the items agreed to by the parties, deliverable upon Blast's execution of this agreement. Blast acknowledges that the items set forth in the religious permit are sufficient for Blast to freely and adequately practice Blast's religion.

Dkt. #71, ¶ 2. As relevant to the instant dispute, the religious permit issued by DOCS granted plaintiff permission to "possess up to six bottles (each one ounce or less)" of ritual and prayer oils" in plaintiff's cell. Dkt. #83, p.11.

A Memorandum from D.S.P. Crowley to the Package Room Staff at Wende, dated June 13, 2011, provides that plaintiff may order Santeria oils from Wisdom Products and/or Indio Products and explains that:

The Santeria prayer oils they sell come in one (1) oz. or less glass bottles. The Santeria ritual oils come in 2 oz plastic bottles. He will be allowed to have a total of six bottles of the oils, each two ounces or less, in his cell at a time. He may not have any oils in bottles larger than two ounces and squirt tops will not be permitted. He will be required to turn in an empty bottle in order to receive a new bottle.
The prayer oils which are approved for his purchase are on the attached copy of the Wisdom Products Catalog, page 72. Upon arrival, the oils mut go to Chaplain Snyder who is responsible for delivering them to Inmate Blast and doing a one for one exchange, if required.

Dkt. #114, p.7.

On April 2, 2012, plaintiff withdrew her motion to hold defendants in contempt of the settlement following issuance of an amended religious permit, which, as relevant to the instant dispute, provided as follows:

Ritual and prayer oils. You may possess up to six bottles (each two ounces or less) in your cell. You may purchase up to six bottles of oil per month from approved commercial vendors. The Chaplain can maintain up to 32 ounces of oil for you, to refill the plastic or glass bottles in your cell, which hold one or two ounces. You have worked out an exchange process with the staff at Wende CF, allowing you to exchange bottles of oil. You are currently using plastic or glass bottles of oil in either a one or ...

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