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Gaetani v. Hadley

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 12, 2016



MARK G. MASTROIANNI United States District Judge

I. Introduction

Craig Gaetani (“Plaintiff”) brings this case against Massachusetts Trial Court Officers David Hadley and Susan McMahon (“Defendants”). The case arises out of an incident during which Defendants are alleged to have seized and injured Plaintiff while he was attempting to enter a courtroom at the Berkshire District Court. The court previously ruled on Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s original complaint, dismissing certain claims without prejudice and allowing others to go forward. (Dkt. No. 28, Mem. & Order (“Original M&O”).)

Plaintiff’s amended complaint brings five counts. (Dkt. No. 40, Am. Compl.) Counts III and V survived the prior motion to dismiss. Count III is a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, and Count V alleges common law assault and battery. Counts I, II, and IV are supplemented versions of claims that were previously dismissed without prejudice. Count I is a § 1983 claim for violation of Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech, Count II is a § 1983 claim for violation of Plaintiff’s right to petition the government, and Count IV is a claim under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12 §§ 11H and 11I (“MCRA”), that Defendants interfered with Plaintiff’s constitutional rights by threat, intimidation, or coercion. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the entire amended complaint (see Dkt. No. 41), although they concede that their motion to dismiss Counts III and V is only made in order to preserve their rights on appeal. For the reasons set forth below, the court allows Defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts I and II, but denies Defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts III, IV, and V.

II.Standard of Review

To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations in the complaint must “nudge[] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads 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, 678 (2009). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief” is a context-specific task that requires “the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

Courts are not required to accept as true allegations in a complaint that are legal conclusions. Id. at 678. However, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679. Therefore, in assessing a claim’s plausibility, the court must construe the complaint in the plaintiff’s favor, accept all non-conclusory allegations as true, and draw any reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See San Gerónimo Caribe Project, Inc. v. Acevedo-Vilá, 687 F.3d 465, 471 (1st Cir. 2012).

III. Facts and Discussion

The Original M&O describes the facts alleged in Plaintiff’s original complaint. (See Dkt. Nos. 1, 28.) The court need not reiterate the facts at length, but will briefly summarize them here. Plaintiff attended the civil session of the Berkshire District Court to pursue a claim against a party who was in jail at the time. After receiving instruction from the judge and leaving the courtroom, Plaintiff attempted to go back into the courtroom to seek clarification on the judge’s order. As Plaintiff neared the courtroom, Defendants detained him. Mr. Hadley twisted Plaintiff’s right arm up behind his back, tearing his rotator cuff and tendons, while Ms. McMahon held Plaintiff by his left arm. As a result of Defendants’ actions, Plaintiff suffered serious physical injury and was prevented from completing what he set out to do in the courtroom. Plaintiff’s amended complaint sets forth additional facts, most of which are specifically relevant to particular claims. As such, the court will address the newly alleged facts as needed in evaluating the amended claims in Counts I, II, and IV.

A. Count I - Freedom of Speech

Count I is a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of Plaintiff’s right to freedom of speech. The court dismissed Count I in its original form without prejudice for having insufficient factual support. Plaintiff’s amended complaint states he was entering the courtroom to speak to the judge, if the judge was on the bench, in order to clarify the judge’s order. If the judge was not on the bench, Plaintiff was planning to ask a court officer or clerk to see if the judge would clarify his order. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff was behaving normally and did not encounter anyone while walking toward the courtroom, and he was not causing a disturbance or violating any court rule at the time he entered the courtroom. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 18.) Plaintiff was halfway into the courtroom when Defendants, without any warning or other interaction, accosted him. (Id. ¶¶ 19-21.) Thus, Defendants “prevented the Plaintiff from engaging in speech with court officers, judicial officials and the judge.” (Id. ¶ 33.)

The court construed Count I in its original form to be a First Amendment retaliation claim, which requires Plaintiff to show he engaged in constitutionally protected conduct, he was subjected to an adverse action by Defendants, and “the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse action.” D.B. ex rel. Elizabeth B. v. Esposito, 675 F.3d 26, 43 (1st Cir. 2012). According to the Original M&O, Plaintiff’s original complaint did not “put forth sufficient information to permit the inference that Defendants were even aware of Plaintiff’s interactions with the court, the clerk’s office, or his plan to readdress the matter with the Judge, ” thereby failing to meet the “substantial or motivating factor” prong of the retaliation standard. (Original M&O at 7.) While Plaintiff’s amended complaint asserts that he intended to exercise his right to free speech by communication with the court and alleges that Defendants’ conduct prevented him from doing so, he still does not allege additional facts permitting an inference that Defendants were aware of his plan to communicate with the judge. Therefore, when viewed through the lens of a retaliation claim, the amended version of Count I must still fail.[1]

Plaintiff has also restyled Count I to be for a more general deprivation of freedom of speech, instead of retaliation, but this does not ultimately change the outcome. The precise nature of the restyled cause of action is somewhat difficult to ascertain. In his opposition to Defendants’ motion to dismiss, Plaintiff attempts to characterize this as an instance of “prior restraint” of protected speech, which carries a heavy presumption of unconstitutionality. (Dkt. No. 46, Pl.’s Mem. Opp. Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Mem.”), at 5-6.) According to the Supreme Court, “[t]he term prior restraint is used to describe administrative and judicial orders forbidding certain communications when issued in advance of the time that such communications are to occur.” Alexander v. United States, 509 U.S. 544, 550 (1993) (internal marks and citation omitted). Commentators have noted that, “[i]n practice, most prior restraints involve either an administrative rule requiring some form of license or permit before one may engage in expression, or a judicial order directing an individual not to engage in expression, on pain of contempt.” 2 Rodney A. Smolla, Smolla and Nimmer on Freedom of Speech § 15:1 (2015) (internal notes omitted). These conceptions of prior restraint are focused on judicial orders and governmental regulations, and Plaintiff’s claim does not fit into these rubrics. “Only a rare prior restraint acts in a direct physical sense to prevent speech.” Id. While such rare cases certainly exist, Plaintiff’s amended complaint fails to allege facts showing that Defendants were aware of his intentions to speak with a courtroom official, so he has not plausibly alleged that they were acting to prevent speech. As such, the amended complaint does not contain factual allegations sufficient to permit an inference that Defendants imposed a prior restraint on Plaintiff’s speech.[2]The fact that Defendants took actions that led to Plaintiff being unable to speak to a courtroom official, which is all that can reasonably be inferred from the amended complaint, is insufficient to state a claim.

Plaintiff has not pointed to any cases in which physical force, without some sort of knowledge of the intended First Amendment activity, resulted in a finding of a prior restraint. Instead, Plaintiff analogizes from a number of cases that ultimately prove inapposite. Plaintiff first cites to Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 83 (1st Cir. 2011), a case in which defendant police officers were found to have violated the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights when they prevented the plaintiff from videotaping them in a public space. In Glik, the First Circuit found that it would have been clear to the defendants that the plaintiff was engaging in conduct protected by the First Amendment, and the plaintiff was doing so in a public park, which is a traditional public forum. Id. at 82-84. In this case, as discussed above, Plaintiff fails to allege that Defendants were even aware of his intentions to speak with a courtroom official. Moreover, the incident in this case took place in a courtroom, which is a nonpublic forum to which the ...

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