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Tasse v. Spencer

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 29, 2014



RYA W. ZOBEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jeffrey P. Tasse has sued defendants Luis S. Spencer, the Commissioner of Corrections, Gary Roden, the Superintendent of Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk ("MCI-Norfolk"), and Cynthia M. Sumner, Deputy Superintendent of Treatment at MCI-Norfolk, for violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Massachusetts law. He seeks damages and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Defendants have moved for dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

I. Facts

The facts are taken from the complaint as well as the disciplinary report incorporated by reference therein. See Parker v. Hurley , 514 F.3d 87, 90 n. 1 (1st Cir. 2008) ("Normally, documents not included in the original pleading cannot be considered on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion... but courts have made narrow exceptions for documents... sufficiently referred to in the complaint.")[2]

Mr. Tasse is incarcerated at the MCI-Norfolk. Prior to November 14, 2012, he was housed in a single cell in a general population unit. Comp. at ¶ 1. On that date, he received a disciplinary report for inappropriate contact with another inmate and was transferred to a Special Management Unit ("SMU") during the pendency of the disciplinary proceeding. The report was eventually closed administratively, and on December 4, 2012, Mr. Tasse was transferred to the "restrictive confinement unit" where he was double-bunked. Id . ¶ 9, 10. He has remained double-bunked since then, although single cells have been available. Id . ¶ 1.

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Dismissal is appropriate when the allegations in the complaint, taken in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, fail to state a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Bell Atlantic v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Although a pro se plaintiff's pleadings are held to less stringent standards than formal ones drafted by lawyers, a court will not conjure unpleaded facts to state an actionable claim. Restucci v. Clarke , 669 F.Supp.2d 150, 154-55 (D. Mass. 2009); see Twombly , 550 U.S. at 558, 562.

III. Fourteenth Amendment Due Process

To plead a violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights, plaintiff has to allege that government action constituted an interference with a protected liberty or property interest and had been the product of inadequate procedure. U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Restucci , 669 F.Supp.2d at 157 (citing Kentucky Dept. of Corr. v. Thompson , 490 U.S. 454, 460 (1989)). A prisoner's liberty interest is only "freedom from restraint which... imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner , 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). Simply because an inmate prefers one condition of confinement to another does not make the continuation of the preferred condition a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Dominique v. Weld , 73 F.3d 1156, 1160 (1st Cir. 1996).

Mr. Tasse alleges that removing him from a single cell and failing to subsequently reassign him to the same violates his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. There is, however, no constitutionally protected right to a single cell. Restucci , 669 F.Supp.2d at 157 (citing Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 542 (1979), and Rhodes v. Chapman , 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). As in Restucci, any "subjective feelings of deprivation that [plaintiff] may experience when moving from a single-bunk cell to a double-bunked cell are not dispositive." Id. at 158. Because plaintiff does not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in having a single cell, no alleged procedural defects on the part of the defendants can give rise to a violation of his due process rights. See Thompson , 490 U.S. at 460. The due process claim is therefore dismissed.[3]

IV. Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that persons who are similarly situated be treated alike. City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc. , 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). Conclusory allegations that challenged conduct was based on an impermissible distinction are insufficient to state an equal protection claim; a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). Mr. Tasse does allege that he was removed from his single cell on account of his sexual orientation, but he does not state any facts to support this claim beyond "threadbare recitals of [the] cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. at 663. As a result, the equal protection claim fails as a matter of law. See id.

To the extent plaintiff's equal protection claim is predicated on a "class of one" analysis, Comp. ¶ 1, the defendants need only have acted with some rational basis for the difference in treatment. Vill. of Willowbrook v. Olech , 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). Defendants' reasonable understanding that plaintiff had engaged in prior acts of unauthorized sexual contact and their desire to "keep an eye on him" serve as a rational basis for the defendants' behavior. Comp. ¶ 14, 15; see Turner v. Safley , 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987) ("a prison regulation... is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests"); Josselyn v. Dennehy , 333 F.Appx. 581, 584 (1st Cir. 2009) (prison security is a legitimate governmental interest permitting ban on sexually explicit materials in prisons); accord Morales v. Pallito, 2:13 CV 271, 2014 WL 1758163 (D. Vt. Apr. ...

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