United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM (DOC. NOS. 54 AND 69)
LEO T. SOROKIN, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Jawainus Perry, is an inmate in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Correction ("DOC"). He has sued nine DOC officials and employees, bringing claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his rights to due process and equal protection, and pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") alleging discrimination based on mental impairments. See generally Doc. No. 51. The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint. See Doc. Nos. 54, 70. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motions are ALLOWED in part and DENIED in part.
Perry alleges that, after serving nearly seven years of a life sentence, he was removed from the general prison population in December 2010 and placed in a Special Management Unit ("SMU") at the Souza Baranowski Correction Center ("SBCC") on "awaiting action status" pending an investigation into whether he was a member of a "security threat group" ("STG"). Doc. No. 51 ¶¶ 18-20. He claims this step was taken not based on a suspicion of recent gangrelated activity nor any other disciplinary infraction, but due to a belief that his original criminal conviction arose from gang activity. Id. ¶¶ 1, 20, 37. According to Perry, this belief was incorrect, a fact which both he and his attorneys repeatedly attempted to demonstrate to various prison officials, including the individual defendants. Id. ¶¶ 26, 36-47. Those protestations went unheeded, though, and Perry remained in segregation - where he was alone in a prison cell for twenty-three hours each day, with strict limitations placed on recreation time, visits with friends and family, and property and canteen privileges - for a total of 611 days, first at SBCC and later at MCI-Cedar Junction. Id. ¶¶ 1, 19, 35, 81-97.
That time was interrupted by a six-month transfer to an out-of-state facility, despite the fact that the direct appeal of Perry's criminal conviction was pending in Massachusetts before the Supreme Judicial Court ("SJC"). Id. ¶¶ 29-30, 70-72, 143. His placement in the SMU also apparently coincided with a denial of certain mental health medication Perry alleges he requires - medication he claims became especially critical given the restrictive environment he endured during his long placement in segregation. Id. ¶¶ 123-42. Perry was returned to the general population in February 2013 and remains there today, but he claims the denial of his medications continues. Id. ¶¶ 35, 196. He seeks a series of declarations and other forms of prospective relief related to his experience, as well as money damages. Id. at Prayer for Relief (a)-(k).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The court "must take the allegations in the complaint as true and must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993). "[F]actual allegations" must be separated from "conclusory statements in order to analyze whether the former, if taken as true, set forth a plausible, not merely a conceivable, case for relief." Juarez v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 708 F.3d 269, 276 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotations omitted). This "highly deferential" standard of review "does not mean, however, that a court must (or should) accept every allegation made by the complainant, no matter how conclusory or generalized." United States v. AVX Corp., 962 F.2d 108, 115 (1st Cir. 1992). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate when the pleadings fail to set forth "factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory." Berner v. Delahanty, 129 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 1997) (quoting Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 515 (1st Cir. 1988)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
"[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A court's assessment of the pleadings is "context-specific, " requiring "the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679; accord Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 268 (1st Cir. 2009). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). Where, on the other hand, plaintiffs allege facts sufficient to "nudge their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, " dismissal is not warranted. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
The defendants seek dismissal of Perry's complaint in its entirety, citing a litany of reasons. The Court will address the viability of Perry's claims in the order they appear in his complaint.
In Count I, Perry brings a § 1983 claim for two violations of his due process rights. The first is what appears to be the heart of this case: a claim that Perry was unlawfully confined in non-disciplinary segregation for an unreasonable time without adequate process and for no legitimate purpose. See Doc. No. 51 ¶ 186. To state a due process claim such as this one, a plaintiff must allege state action 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). Perry plainly has alleged sufficient facts to make such a showing, particularly at this early stage in the proceedings.
Assuming the allegations in the complaint to be true and drawing all inferences in Perry's favor, he has described the following scenario. After serving nearly seven years of his sentence without involvement in any STG, Perry suddenly was placed in segregation based on an incorrect belief that his criminal charges - which arose nearly a decade earlier - were linked to gang activity. Although he had not been advised of this concern previously, he was told after his transfer to the SMU that it was too late to dispute the allegation. Numerous attempts by Perry and lawyers acting on his behalf to demonstrate his charges were not gang-related fell on deaf ears, and Perry languished in what was essentially solitary confinement for years, during which time he was deprived of his property, contact with family, access to legal materials, and necessary mental health medications.
The defendants might be correct that various of these facts, if viewed individually, would not constitute a constitutional violation. Viewed together, however, the Court has no trouble concluding that Perry has described the sort of "atypical and significant hardship" that warrants discovery related to his first due process claim. See Tyree, 2010 WL 145882, at *12-13 (concluding plaintiffs describing similar segregation conditions had sufficiently alleged a deprivation of a liberty interest where the average plaintiff's "indefinite" assignment to segregation was "a striking 270 days"); see also Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 223-24 (2005) (finding a liberty interest in avoiding placement in state supermax prison based on a set of conditions, including limitations on human contact, twenty-three-hour-a-day confinement to a cell, and placement in such conditions for an indefinite duration, which "taken together... impose an atypical and significant hardship within the correctional context"). Accordingly, the defendants' motions to dismiss are DENIED with respect to this portion of Count I, insofar as the claim is brought against the individual defendants and seeks money damages. To the extent Perry seeks declarations and injunctions, he has no standing to pursue such prospective relief due to the fact that he is no longer in segregation. Since Perry may not seek money damages from public officials except in their individual capacities, see Wilson, 889 F.2d at 1197, his due process claim is DISMISSED as to the defendants in their official capacities.
Count I also contains a second due process claim, this one alleging denial of access to the courts. See Doc. No. 51 ¶ 187. To proceed with such a claim, a plaintiff must allege that the specific deprivations of which he complains caused him an actual, independent injury. See Sowell v. Vose, 941 F.2d 32, 34-35 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (requiring "actual injury" unless an "absolute denial of access to all legal materials, ... a law library[, ] or ...