Ricky Martin is the pastor of Triumph Church in Clanton. He also serves as a volunteer chaplain in Alabama prisons. Through his prison ministry, Pastor Martin met many sex-offenders who needed a place to live in order to be released from prison. After learning that sex-offenders are the only type of prisoner that must secure an approved address before release, he allowed recently released sex-offenders to live in trailers behind his Church for the past three years. Pastor Martin seeks to minister to these individuals and to show them the power of accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. He believes that sex-offenders are treated as some of the lowest members of society, and that they need the support and care of his Church to get on their feet to become contributing members of society again. Over that period of time, approximately 60 offenders, up to 12 or 14 at a time, lived in the camp.
The local District Attorney and then Alabama House Representative Kurt Wallace did not like the fact that a number of registered offenders were living in close proximity of each other and drafted legislation designed to put the camp out of business. Ala. Code § 45-11-82 was enacted and penalizes any landlord or lease-holder who is housing more than one adult sex offender unless the sex offender is related to the landlord or lease-holder, or the tenants of a property are related by blood or marriage. It went into effect on July 1, 2014.
On June 30, 2014, Pastor Martin was served with a notice by the District Attorney’s office that an action would be brought against him if he did not evict the offenders. Pastor Martin did so to comply with the law and to avoid its penalties. The law declares that housing two or more offenders is a nuisance and provides a penalty against the landowner of between $500 and $5000 for each civil action brought by the District Attorney.
We claim that the challenged provision violates Pastor Martin’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C § 2000cc, and his right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We further claim that the law also constitutes a Bill of Attainder under Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, and it violates Pastor Martin’s Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The State filed a motion to dismiss. The court denied the motion, holding that the complaint stated a First Amendment claim, a Bill attainder claim, and a due process claim. Martin v. Houston, 176 F.Supp.3d 1286 (M.D. Ala. 2016). The court wanted additional briefs on jurisdiction over the RLUIPA claim and ultimately decided that it had jurisdiction. Martin v. Houston, 196 F.Supp.3d 1258 (M.D. Ala. 2016). Thus the case was to go forward on all claims.
Shortly after the RLUIPA decision, the district attorney convinced legislators to introduce a bill in the August 2016 special session repealing Ala. Code § 45-11-82. It raced through the Senate, was passed by the House, and signed by the Governor. The State has moved to dismiss and we have filed our opposition claiming that the District Attorney orchestrated the repeal in order to deprive the Court of jurisdiction. Not unexpectedly, the Court found that the case was now moot because of the repeal and though critical of the District Attorney, found that it lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the case without prejudice. Martin v. Houston, --- F.Supp.3d ---- 2016 WL 7426563 (M.D. Ala. Dec. 23, 2016)