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Katopodis v. Elias

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 6, 2016

GREGORY JOHN KATOPODIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NELSON ELIAS and DARREN BROWN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS

          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

         This is a civil rights action brought by a former federal prison inmate. On November 13, 2015, Gregory Katopodis filed a pro se complaint asserting personal injury and civil rights claims against defendants Nelson Elias and Darren Brown, who are correctional officers.

         The complaint alleges various constitutional violations based on plaintiff’s placement in isolation while incarcerated at Federal Medical Center Devens in March and April 2012. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the claims are barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations and that he has failed to perfect service on the defendants. For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

         I. Background

         Gregory Katopodis is a former inmate of Federal Medical Center Devens in Ayers, Massachusetts. Defendants Nelson Elias and Darren Brown were correctional officers at FMC Devens.

         Katopodis contends that defendants violated his constitutional rights by “arresting [him] without cause and incarcerating him in isolation in the Special Housing Unit commonly known as the ‘SHU’ or ‘hole, ’” and holding him there for 28 days in retaliation for a letter he attempted to send to Senator Jeff Sessions. Compl. ¶ 7. The complaint further alleges that while in isolation, Katopodis was denied proper medical care, not allowed to contact his attorney, and was “housed in . . . an approximately six by ten foot cell with continuous bright overhead lighting 24 hours a day [with] no window to the outside, a toilet that would not flush, and a sink that dripped continuously.” Id. On completion of his time in the SHU, Katopodis alleges that defendants intentionally arranged for his transfer to federal prison at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on Good Friday, “spitefully and intentionally denying [him] access to religious services to allow plaintiff his Catholic obligation to fulfill his Easter duty.” Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. The complaint alleges that Katopodis suffers as a result from “symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and severe sleep disruption.” Id. ¶ 8.

         II. Procedural History

         On November 13, 2015, Katopodis filed a pro se complaint asserting personal injury and civil rights claims under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), against defendants Elias and Brown. The complaint alleges violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Defendants responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss, contending that plaintiff’s claims are barred by the three-year statute of limitations applicable to Bivens claims and that he has failed to perfect service on the defendants.

         At a hearing on the motion to dismiss, plaintiff asserted for the first time that the complaint was timely because, among other reasons, he was entitled to equitable tolling of his claim based on mental disability. Following the hearing, the Court issued an order to show cause instructing plaintiff to supplement the record with evidence sufficient to establish a prima facie case that his condition met the standard for equitable tolling based on mental disability.[1]

         III. Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss, the court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Ruiz v. Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp., 496 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Rogan v. Menino, 175 F.3d 75, 77 (1st Cir. 1999)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a claim that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (citations omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Dismissal is appropriate if plaintiff's well-pleaded facts do not “possess enough heft to show that plaintiff is entitled to relief.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008) (quotations and original alterations omitted). A document filed by a pro se party “is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”).

         IV. Analysis

         The government contends that plaintiff’s claims are barred by the statue of limitations. “[C]ourts generally [apply] state statutes of limitations to Bivens actions notwithstanding the fact that such actions lie only against federal officers.” Rossiter v. Potter, 357 F.3d 26, 34 n.7 (1st Cir. 2004). In Massachusetts, both civil rights and tort actions are subject to a three-year limitations period. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 260, §§ 2A, 5B. Plaintiff’s Bivens claims are therefore subject to the same limitations period. Barrett ex rel. Estate of Barrett v. United States, 462 F.3d 28, 38 (1st Cir. 2006).[2]

         A. Claim Accrual

         “[T]he question of when a cause of action accrues in a civil rights case is a matter of federal law.” Nieves v. McSweeney,241 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2001). “Under federal law, the statute of limitations [period] on a Bivens claim begins to run when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the existence and cause of the injury which is the basis of his action.” Barrett, 462 F.3d at 38-39 (quoting Van Tu v. Koster, 364 F.3d 1196, 1199 (10th Cir. 2004); cf. Donahue v. United States, 634 F.3d 615, 623 (1st Cir. 2011) (Under the “discovery rule, ” a Federal Tort Claims Act claim accrues when the plaintiff “knows or reasonably should have known the factual basis for his claim; that is, the existence of his injury and its cause.”). For accrual to be delayed, “the factual basis for the cause of action must have been inherently unknowable [that is, ...


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