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Robinson v. Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 6, 2016

ERIK T. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
MASSACHUSETTS DEPARTMENT OF UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court (1) DENIES plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel [ECF No. 46]; (2) DENIES plaintiff's motion to strike the DUA defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 39]; and (3) ALLOWS the DUA defendants' motion to dismiss and defendant Scout MVY's motion to dismiss [ECF Nos. 37, 42].

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Erik Robinson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”), alleging that his right to due process was violated during the adjudication of his claim with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for unemployment benefits. He names as defendants the chief counsel of the Department of Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”), David Guberman, DUA hearing officers Lillian Plaza and Elizabeth Cloutier, and his former employer Scout MVY Management LLC (“Scout MVY”).

         On June 3, 2015, the Court issued an order [ECF No. 7] directing the plaintiff to show good cause why the case should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff filed a responsive memorandum on July 13, 2015 [ECF No. 16]. Following various amendments to the complaint, in July 2016, the DUA defendants and defendant Scout MVY both moved to dismiss [ECF Nos. 37, 42].

         The amended complaint [ECF No. 15] contains the following allegations, which are taken as true for the purpose of the motions to dismiss. Rodriguez-Ramos v. Hernandez-Gregorat, 685 F.3d 34, 40 (1st Cir. 2012). Plaintiff Robinson was employed by Scout MVY, a company that operates and/or owns various hotels. As an employee of Scout MVY, the plaintiff worked at the Harbor View and Kelly House hotels in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard. In November 2012, a senior manager told the plaintiff that his employment would be terminated in January 2013 due to a seasonal downturn in business and corporate changes. Because Robinson had no indication of future employment with Scout MVY and because he was being harassed for incurring overtime, he left his job in late December 2012 and went Park City, Utah to search for other employment.

         After an unsuccessful job search in Park City, in March 2013 Robinson filed an interstate unemployment claim with the DUA through the Utah Department of Workforce Services. The DUA determined that Robinson was not eligible for unemployment compensation because he left his position voluntarily, without good cause attributable to the employer. The plaintiff's administrative appeals were unsuccessful.

         Robinson then sought judicial review of the DUA's decision in the Edgartown District Court. The DUA was represented by David Guberman. Scout MVY, although named as a co-defendant, did not respond to the complaint. The state district court entered judgment in favor of the DUA. Thereafter, the plaintiff provided the court with documentation indicating that, in conjunction with hearings in the case, Guberman had stayed at Scout MVY's two hotels in Edgartown. When he stayed at the Kelly House Hotel, Guberman received a discount and possibly a free meal. When he stayed at the Harbor House Hotel, many significantly less expensive hotel options were available. Robinson alleged that Guberman's stays at the Scout MVY hotels evidenced a pre-existing corrupt relationship between the DUA and Scout MVY which had tainted the administrative proceedings. Upon motion of the DUA, the state court impounded the plaintiff's filing concerning Guberman's stay at the Kelly House Hotel and struck the filing concerning Guberman's stay at the Harbor House Hotel.

         Although not mentioned by the plaintiff in the amended complaint, Robinson filed an appeal of the order upholding the DUA's determination. Robinson v. Dir. of Dep't of Unemployment Assistance, 2014-P-1307 (Mass. App. Ct.).[1] On October 27, 2014, after the state appeals court had denied Robinson's request for indigent status, he failed to pay the appeal fee, and the appeals court ordered that the entry of appeal on the court's docket be vacated. Id.

         In the instant case, Robinson alleges that he was denied due process because he never received a hearing from an impartial decision maker. He claims that the DUA is biased towards employers and against claimants, as manifested in his case by the DUA's failure to allow him adequate discovery during the administrative proceedings and Guberman's relationship with Scout MVY. Robinson also claims that judicial review of the administrative decision did not cure the bias because M.G.L. ch. 30A, § 14, the state statute dictating the standard of judicial review of administrative agency decisions, requires courts to give too much deference to the agency.

         The plaintiff seeks a declaration that the defendants' conduct violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. He also asks for the unemployment benefits he claims he should have received, as well as punitive damages.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion for Appointment of Counsel

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), this Court has the discretion to appoint counsel for a party proceeding in forma pauperis, but is not required to do so. In order to justify the appointment of counsel, a litigant must demonstrate “exceptional circumstances.” Cookish v. Cunningham, 787 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1986). To determine whether such exceptional circumstances are present, “a court must examine the total situation, focusing, inter alia, on the merits of the case, the complexity of the legal issues, and the litigant's ability to represent himself.” DesRosiers v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 24 (1st Cir. 1991). Here, the plaintiff's claims are ultimately without merit, as discussed in ...


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