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Tavares v. Gelb

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 2, 2016




         This is an action by a former Massachusetts state prisoner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Daniel Tavares has sued various prison officials in their individual and official capacities for violating and conspiring to violate his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during his incarceration at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center. The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

         Tavares has been convicted of murdering four people, including his own mother. This case arises out of the treatment Tavares allegedly received while incarcerated at Souza Baranowski from August 2013 to January 2016.

         In the early 1990s, Tavares began serving a 17-to-20 year sentence for manslaughter. In the summer of 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, apparently by mistake, released him from prison. Tavares then fled the state and committed two additional murders in Washington state. In 2013, while serving two consecutive life sentences in Washington state prison for those murders, Tavares was transferred to Souza Baranowski to await trial for a fourth murder that had occurred in 1988. Tavares remained in segregated detention from the time he arrived in Massachusetts until he was transferred back to Washington state in January 2016. He now contends that the defendants placed him in segregated detention in retaliation for the “political firestorm” caused by his release and the subsequent murders.

         Tavares alleges that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, that he was denied due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that defendants conspired to deprive him of these rights. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are presented as stated in the complaint and documents that are uncontested or referred to in the complaint.

         As of early 2007, Daniel Tavares was incarcerated in a Massachusetts state prison, having served more than fifteen years on a seventeen-to-twenty year manslaughter sentence for killing his mother. See Slater v. Clarke, 700 F.3d 1200, 1202 (9th Cir. 2012). His tenure in prison to that point had not been without incident. As the Slater court noted:

While in prison in Massachusetts, Tavares joined a white supremacist gang, assaulted and threatened staff and inmates, and made threats against the life of then-Governor Mitt Romney and then-Attorney General Thomas Reilly. Just prior to Tavares's release date, he was arraigned for two incidents involving violent assaults on prison staff.

700 F.3d at 1202.

         On June 14, 2007, Tavares was transferred to the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum security Massachusetts state prison, to await trial on various charges arising out of a violent assault on prison staff in 2006. (Compl. ¶ 17). In July 2007, Tavares was released, apparently mistakenly, on his own recognizance while the assault charges were pending. (Id. ¶ 18).

         After his release, Tavares fled to Washington state. (Id. ¶ 19). In November 2007, he murdered a newlywed couple, Beverly and Brian Mauck. (Id.). He was arrested and ultimately convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in Washington and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus fifteen years. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 19).

         Six years after the Washington murders, Tavares was transferred back to Massachusetts to await trial on a first-degree murder charge arising out of the murder of a fourth victim, Gayle Botelho, that had occurred in 1988. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11). Tavares arrived at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center on August 27, 2013. (Id. ¶ 10).

         Immediately upon arriving at Souza Baranowski, Tavares was placed into a segregated unit. (Id. ¶ 12). The next day, Tavares was given a classification hearing to review his eligibility for segregation. (Ex. G). At the hearing, he was told that due to the “nature and notoriety of [his] case, past [Department of Corrections] negative prior adjustments [as an inmate] and [his] level A security rating [he] was going to be housed in segregation.” (Id.).

         After 90 days, Tavares was given a classification report stating that he was being held in a segregated unit due to “the nature of past, current and pending offenses, his negative prior adjustments as a MA inmate and his Level A security rating.” (Compl. ¶ 12, Ex. A). Every ninety days thereafter, his status was reviewed, and he was issued a new classification report. (Compl. ¶ 13-14). According to the complaint, the reviews were only 90 seconds long and took place at his cell door. (Id.). Each time, he was given the same reasons: the nature of his crimes, his history while incarcerated, and his Level A security rating. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14, Ex. A).

         In addition, each month Tavares received a notification of administrative segregation status that indicated the reason for his segregated status. (Id. ¶ 15). The notification Tavares received on September 5, 2013, indicated that he was being held in segregation “[p]ending [i]nvestigation awaiting trial - high profile.” (Ex. B-1). The October 2013 notification indicated that he was being held in segregation “[p]ending [i]nvestigation” and “[t]o maintain the secure and orderly running of the institution.” (Ex. B-2).

         Tavares appealed his classification, without success. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-15). According to the complaint, he contested his status every week with defendants Gelb, Vidal, Silva, and Rodrigues. (Id. ¶24). He also sent a letter to defendant O'Brien contesting his detention in the SMU. (Id. ¶25). Despite these protests, he remained in segregation until he was transferred back to Washington state on January 15, 2016. (Pl. Opp. to MTD at 1).

         In the meantime, in December 2015, Tavares was convicted in the Massachusetts Superior Court for the Botelho murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. At the time of his transfer back to Washington, he had been housed in a segregated unit for nearly two and a half years.

         The segregated unit in which Tavares was held is classified as a Special Management Unit (“SMU”). (Ex. A). The complaint alleges that although he was held in an SMU, he was “basically housed as a [Departmental Segregation Unit or “DSU”] prisoner but [was] not afforded . . . privileges like DSU prisoners receive.” (Compl. ¶ 23). It alleges that while held in the SMU, he was allowed one hour of solitary outdoor recreation time each day in “a steel cage, ” during which he was required to wear leg irons and waist chains. (Id; Ex. G). It further alleges that his confinement in a segregated unit caused a deterioration in his mental state and caused him to lose more than forty pounds because he was denied access to commissary goods. (Compl. ¶ 22).

         The complaint alleges that Tavares was housed in segregation “for retaliation and nothing more” because of the “political firestorm” caused by the murders he committed while he was a fugitive in Washington. (Compl. ¶¶ 20-21). It alleges that other inmates who were classified with the same security-risk status were not held in segregation. (Id. ¶ 21). It further alleges that inmates housed in disciplinary units were afforded greater privileges than he was, including visitation, television time, and greater access to the commissary. (Ex. G at 4).

         The complaint also alleges that during his segregated confinement, Tavares spoke with and sent letters to defendants, but received no relief. (Compl. ¶¶ 24-25). On September 26, 2013, he filed an inmate grievance form challenging his segregated status. (Id. ¶ 26). The grievance was denied on November 6, 2013. (Id.) ...

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