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Ram v. Michaud

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 21, 2016

MOORTHY S. RAM, Plaintiff,
v.
D. MICHAUD, et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: MOTION TO DISMISS

Mark G. Mastroianni United States District Judge

Plaintiff, Moorthy S. Ram, proceeding pro se, brings this action against several employees at the Federal Medical Center, Devens (“FMC Devens”), a facility operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), alleging violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with his termination from a work assignment while he was an inmate at FMC Devens in 2014. Specifically, he asserts that he was fired from his clerk position in the Facilities Shop due to his race and/or national origin. He seeks $500 in compensatory damages for the amount of wages he would have earned during the remainder of his time at FMC Devens had he continued to work as a clerk in the Facilities Shop. Plaintiff also seeks $100, 000 in punitive damages and injunctive relief in the form of an order compelling the BOP to adopt uniform procedures for the hiring and firing of prisoners at the Facilities Shop at FMC Devens.

Defendants, J. Grondolsky, Warden of FMC Devens; J. Cox., Manager of the Facilities Shop at FMC Devens, and Facilities Shop employees E. Santiago and D. Michaud, have moved for dismissal or summary judgment, asserting Plaintiff failed (1) to exhaust his administrative remedies pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 110 Stat. 1321-71, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e et seq.; (2) to effect proper service of process; (3) to meet the requirements for a Bivens claim; and (4) to allege any physical injury. As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se the court’s analysis focuses on the substantive sufficiency of Plaintiff’s claims. See Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 10 (1980) (holding that the complaint of a pro se prisoner should be dismissed only if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.”); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed.’”).

II. Legal Basis for Claims

Plaintiff framed his claim as one brought pursuant to 42 U.S. § 1983. However, § 1983 allows suits against state entities and employees and is inapplicable to claims against federal entities and officials. A plaintiff can bring a suit against federal employees for constitutional violations, but only pursuant to the line of cases beginning with Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971); see also Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14, 18, 100 S.Ct. 1468, 1471, 64 L.Ed.2d 15 (1980) (“Bivens established that the victims of a constitutional violation by a federal agent have a right to recover damages against the official in federal court despite the absence of any statute conferring such a right.”). As Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court construes his claim as one made pursuant to Bivens.

III. Legal Standard

A party moving to dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) has the burden of demonstrating that the complaint lacks “sufficient factual matter” to state a claim for relief that is actionable as a matter of law and “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)); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content which allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Though “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice, ” once a plaintiff has put forth “well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal at 679. To succeed on a motion to dismiss, the moving party must show the other party’s assertions fall short of establishing at least one “element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.” Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc. v. Feliciano de Melecio, 406 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2005) (internal citation omitted).

IV. Background[1]

Plaintiff, a non-white, naturalized citizen, [2] was an inmate at FMC Devens from July of 2013 until early 2015. Defendant Santiago, the secretary in the Facilities Shop at FMC Devens (“Facilities”), hired Plaintiff to work as a clerk preparing inmate payroll. Plaintiff began work as a clerk in the Facilities Shop in May of 2014 and he received about $100 per month in compensation. During the time that he worked as a clerk, Plaintiff received positive evaluations of his work. While working, Plaintiff would write notes about the weather or sports on a white board in front of his desk. Defendant Michaud was the foreman of the electrical shop within the Facilities Shop and was not a direct supervisor of Plaintiff. At times, Defendant Michaud became upset with Plaintiff when Plaintiff wrote notes on the board regarding the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. On many occasions Defendant Michaud asked Plaintiff to erase something from the white board. Plaintiff found Defendant Michaud’s conduct upsetting and asked Defendant Santiago to transfer him to a different job at FMC Devens. Defendant Santiago refused to transfer Plaintiff at that time, telling him not to worry about Defendant Michaud because Plaintiff worked only for her. Plaintiff believes he was the only foreign-born individual working in the Facilities Shop at that time.

On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff received a punishment in connection with an interaction unconnected to his employment. The punishment caused Plaintiff to be reassigned to a Segregated Housing Unit (“SHU”) for ten days and to have his email privileges suspended for thirty days after the date he returned from the SHU. The day after Plaintiff’s ten-day stay in the SHU ended, Plaintiff reported to the Facilities Shop for work at 7 am, as he would have done prior to his time in the SHU. That morning, Defendant Santiago, who was normally cheerful was “morose and rude” to Plaintiff. She asked Plaintiff to wait outside her office for an hour. Approximately an hour later, Defendant Michaud came out of Defendant Santiago’s office and informed Plaintiff that he had been fired. Plaintiff asked why he was being fired and Defendant Michaud refused to provide any reason. At 8:30 am, Plaintiff left Facilities without speaking with Defendant Santiago or Defendant Cox, the Manager of Facilities. Plaintiff was able to speak with Defendant Cox later that day. When Plaintiff asked Defendant Cox why he had been fired, Defendant Cox answered that Plaintiff did not work for him and he, Cox, had nothing to do with the firing. On multiple occasions, Plaintiff asked for an explanation from Defendant Santiago, but he never received a response. The firing was very upsetting and humiliating to Plaintiff. He was subsequently assigned window washing duties for which he was paid $5.25 per month and was assigned to shovel snow; it is unclear what, if any, compensation he received for shoveling.

Plaintiff identified three white individuals who were able to resume working in the Facilities Shop following infractions for which part of their punishments included stays in the SHU. Plaintiff identified the individual areas within the Facilities Shop where each of these individuals was employed, but did not identify the specific jobs they held or offer any basis for concluding that they held positions similar to the one held by Plaintiff. Two of the three had stays in the SHU that were significantly longer than Plaintiff’s ten-day stay. Based on the experiences of these three individuals, Plaintiff asserts the decision to terminate him was based on his race and/or national origin. He asserts a claim for $500 in lost wages and he seeks $100, 000 in “punitive damages.”

In October of 2014, Plaintiff filed a tort claim related to his termination with the BOP regional office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received no response. Plaintiff’s complaint is silent as to whether Plaintiff properly exhausted any administrative procedures that could have provided relief. Defendants assert the BOP has a grievance procedure and that even though Plaintiff had successfully navigated the process to file other grievances, he never filed a grievance regarding his termination. In his opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges he took the initial steps to file a grievance but could not complete the process because an FMC Devens employee, who is not named as a defendant in this suit, refused to provide him with the proper form on which to make his grievance.

Plaintiff filed this suit on February 23, 2015. On April 13, 2015, Magistrate Judge Robertson denied Plaintiff’s motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis based on Plaintiff’s failure to supply required documentation regarding his financial situation. (Dkt. No. 6.) Judge Robertson’s order allowed Plaintiff the opportunity to provide the missing documentation and renew his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Instead, Plaintiff elected to pay the filing fee, which he did on May 5, 2015.

On May 18, 2015, Plaintiff filed six Proof of Service forms accompanied by Certified Mail Receipts indicating he had mailed a summons to J. Grondalsky, Warden at FMC Devens (Dkt. No. 15); the Springfield, MA U.S. Attorney’s Office (Dkt. No. 16); the U.S. Attorney General (Dkt. No. 17); E. Santiago, Plaintiff’s supervisor at the Facilities Shop (Dkt. No. 18); D. Michaud, foreman of the electrical shop within the Facilities Shop (Dkt. No. 19); and J. Cox, manager of the ...


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