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Muldoon v. Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 7, 2017

EMMETT S. MULDOON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Emmett Muldoon (“Muldoon”) filed this lawsuit against Defendants Department of Correction (“MDOC”), Carol Higgins O'Brien (also spelled as Higgins-O'Brien in some pleadings), Sean Medeiros, Barbara Baker and William Mongelli (collectively the “Defendants”), alleging violations under the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, Articles IX and XIV of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”), Mass. Gen. L. c. 12, § 11I, Mass. Gen. L. c. 127 §§ 32, 87, Mass. Gen. L. c. 214 § 1B and Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (“HIPAA”). D. 26-1 at 1-2. Defendants moved to dismiss. D. 40. For the reasons discussed, the Court ALLOWS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' motion to dismiss, D. 40.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court will grant a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the complaint fails to plead sufficient facts that “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give the 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)). “Exhibits attached to the complaint are properly considered part of the pleading ‘for all purposes, ' including Rule 12(b)(6).” Pare v. Northborough Capital Partners, LLC, 133 F.Supp.3d 334, 336 (D. Mass. 2015) (quoting Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar, Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008)).

         When a plaintiff files a complaint pro se, the Court applies a liberal reading and holds pro se litigants to a less stringent pleading standard than that applied to lawyers. Kruskall v. Sallie Mae Serv., Inc., No. 15-cv-11780, 2016 WL 1056973, at *1 (D. Mass. Mar. 14, 2016) (citing Green v. Com. of Mass., 108 F.R.D. 217, 218 (D. Mass. 1985)). A pro se plaintiff, however, must still comply with procedural and substantive law and “dismissal remains appropriate . . . when the complaint fails to even suggest an actionable claim.” Overton v. Torruella, 183 F.Supp.2d 295, 303 (D. Mass. 2001).

         III. Factual Background

         Muldoon is an inmate at NCI-Norfolk. D. 26-1 ¶¶ 2, 7. Muldoon's complaint centers on three sets of alleged violations. First, Muldoon asserts that Defendants have delayed his outgoing legal and non-legal mail. Muldoon states that on or about May 28, 2014 and on or about June 17, 2014, he attempted to mail legal documents without stamps to the Dedham Superior Court and the Norfolk County District Attorney, but that these documents were improperly returned to him. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Muldoon further alleges that on or about December 24, 2014, he attempted to mail a non- legal letter without stamps, but that this letter was not mailed and instead returned to him. Id. ¶ 16. Muldoon also contends that he attempted to mail legal documents to the Dedham Superior Court and Norfolk County District Attorney without stamps on or about January 15, 2015, but that these documents were returned to him. Id. ¶ 20. Each time mail was returned to Muldoon, it was accompanied by forms that stated that Muldoon was not considered indigent. Id. ¶¶ 9-10, 16, 20; D. 26-2 at 8-10, 19-21, 38-40. In response to these delays in getting his legal and non-legal mail delivered, Muldoon filed formal grievances, D. 26-1 ¶¶ 11, 17-19, 24, and spoke with MDOC officials Sean Medeiros (“Medeiros”) and Barbara Baker (“Baker”) regarding these incidents, id. ¶¶ 12, 17, 21-23.

         Muldoon also pleads facts related to incidents centered on the opening and inspecting of his incoming mail. Muldoon first asserts that DOC officials opened medical documents sent by Lemuel Shattuck Hospital outside of Muldoon's presence in November 2014. Id. ¶ 15. Muldoon alleges that similar incidents in which his incoming medical correspondence was opened outside of his presence occurred in February 2015, May 2015 and July 2015. Id. ¶¶ 26, 31, 33, 36. Muldoon states that he filed grievances related to some of these incidents. Id. ¶¶ 27, 29, 32, 34-35.

         Finally, Muldoon seeks redress for incidents arising from his interactions with law librarian, William Mongelli (“Mongelli”). On April 3, 2013, Muldoon alleges that he requested copies of documents to support a motion to withdraw his guilty plea which included letters from his attorney, medical and psychiatric records and documents related to his social security proceedings. Id. ¶¶ 8, 38. When making his request, Muldoon explained to Mongelli that he did not want to leave his documents with an unsupervised inmate clerk, but Mongelli denied Muldoon's request to be present during the copying of his documents. Id. ¶ 38. Muldoon's initial grievance and appeal about this incident were denied. Id. ¶ 39. As a result, Muldoon did not get his Rule 30(b) motion copied until February 2014. Id. ¶ 40.

         IV. Procedural History

         Muldoon instituted this action on November 12, 2015. D. 1. The Defendants have now filed a motion to dismiss[1] for failure to state a claim, D. 40.[2]

         V. Discussion

         A. 42 US.C. § 1983 Claims Against MDOC and Individual Defendants in Their Official Capacities (Counts I, II and III)

         To lodge an adequate § 1983 claim, Muldoon must allege that a “person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . ., subject[ed], or cause[d] [him] to be subjected, . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To do so, Muldoon must demonstrate (1) that the conduct complained of transpired under the color of state law; and (2) as a result, he suffered a deprivation of his rights. Klunder v. Brown Univ., 778 F.3d 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2015) (citing Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2011)).

         Defendants first contend that Muldoon fails to state a claim under his multiple § 1983 claims as to MDOC because a state agency does not qualify as a “person” under this statute. D. 42 at 10. States and their agencies are not subject to § 1983 liability because these entities are not “person[s]” under this statute. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); McNeil v. Massachusetts, No. 14-cv-14370-DJC, 2014 WL 7404561, at *3 (D. Mass. Dec. 30, 2014) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 66). MDOC is an agency of the Commonwealth, Sepulveda v. UMass Corr. Health, Care, No. 14-cv-12776-ADB, 2016 WL 475168, at *15 (D. Mass. Feb. 5, 2016), and thus is not subject to § 1983 liability for this reason. To the extent that any of Muldoon's § 1983 claims in Counts I, II and III are brought against MDOC, the Court grants dismissal.

         Defendants next contend that the individual defendants who have been sued in their official capacities are not “persons” pursuant to § 1983, and claims for monetary damages against these individuals should be dismissed. D. 42 at 10. Muldoon's prayer for relief seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Carol Higgins O'Brien (“Higgins O'Brien”), Medeiros and Baker in their official capacities in Counts I, II and III under § 1983. D. 26-1 at 18. Claims for damages against defendants in their official capacity are not cognizable under § 1983 because these defendants are not “persons” under the statute. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 & n.10; Greene v. Cabral, No. 12-cv-11685-DPW, 2015 WL 4270173, at *4 n.2 (D. Mass. July 13, 2015) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 71); McNeil, 2014 WL 7404561, at *3 (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 65-66); Villanueva v. Franklin Cty. Sheriff's Office, 849 F.Supp.2d 186, 190 (D. Mass. 2012) (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 71; Johnson v. Rodriguez, 943 F.2d 104, 108 (1st Cir. 1991)). As to defendants in their official capacity, the Court grants dismissal with respect to Muldoon's § 1983 claims for monetary damages.

         Muldoon, however, also asserts claims for injunctive relief against defendants in their official capacity such that these defendants. D. 26-1 at 19-20; see also D. 55 at 2-3 (explaining that Muldoon sought injunctive relief against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros and Baker). While a plaintiff cannot bring a § 1983 claim for damages against a state official in their official capacity, see supra, a plaintiff is allowed to seek injunctive relief against these same officials pursuant to § 1983. See O'Neil v. Baker, 210 F.3d 41, 47 (1st Cir. 2000) (citing Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 7.5, at 389 (2d ed. 1994)); Greene, 2015 WL 4270173, at *4 n.2 (citing Will, 491 U.S. at 71 n.10).

         Thus, the Court dismisses Counts I, II and III against MDOC in full and dismisses Counts I, II and III against the individual defendants in their official capacity as to Muldoon's prayer for relief for damages. The § 1983 claims raised in Counts I and III that remain are (1) those claims against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros and Baker in their personal capacities and (2) claims for injunctive relief against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros and Baker in their official capacities. The § 1983 claims in Count II that remain are (1) those claims against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros, Baker and Mongelli in their personal capacities and (2) claims for injunctive relief against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros and Baker in their official capacities.

         B. MCRA Claims Against MDOC and Individual Defendants (Counts I, III)

         In Counts I and III, Muldoon asserts state civil rights claims under Mass. Gen. L. c. 12, § 11I, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (“MCRA”). D. 26-1 ¶¶ 42-47, 51-54; see McClure v. Town of E. Brookfield, No. 972004B, 1999 WL 1323628, at *2 (Mass. Super. Mar. 11, 1999). “To establish a claim under the [MCRA], the plaintiffs must prove that (1) their exercise or enjoyment of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of either the United States or of the Commonwealth, (2) have been interfered with, or attempted to be interfered with, and (3) that the interference or attempted interference was by threats, intimidation or coercion.” Do Corp. v. Town of Stoughton, No. 13-cv-11726-DJC, 2013 WL 6383035, at *12 (D. Mass. Dec. 6, 2013) (quoting Swanset Dev. Corp. v. City of Taunton, 423 Mass. 390, 395 (1996)) (alteration in original).

         Defendants assert that these counts should be dismissed as to MDOC and the defendants in their official capacity because the MCRA does not provide for claims against either state agencies or individuals sued in their official capacity. D. 42 at 10-11. First, Muldoon cannot raise an MCRA claim against MDOC. Neither the state nor its agencies are considered “persons” within the meaning of the MCRA. Latimore v. Suffolk Cty. House of Corrs., No. 14-cv-13378-MBB, 2015 WL 7737327, at *6 (D. Mass. Dec. 1, 2015) (citing Maraj v. Massachusetts, 836 F.Supp.2d 17, 30 (D. Mass. 2011)); Greene, 2015 WL 4270173, at *10 (citing Kelley v. LaForce, 288 F.3d 1, 11 n.9 (1st Cir. 2002)). MDOC is part of the Commonwealth, Sepulveda, 2016 WL 475168, at *15, and is not a “person” within the meaning of the MCRA. Muldoon also cannot maintain an MCRA cause of action against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros and Baker in their official capacities, D. 26-1 at 18, because these defendants do not qualify as “persons” under the MCRA. Greene, 2015 WL 4270173, at *10 (citing Kelley, 288 at 11 n.9). The Court dismisses these claims.

         To the extent that Muldoon can otherwise assert MCRA claims against Higgins O'Brien, Medeiros, Baker and Mongelli in their personal capacities, those claims fail too. As discussed above, under the MCRA, “[a]n interference with a secured right is only a violation of the Act if it is accomplished through threats, intimidation, or coercion.” Kennie v. Nat. Res. Dep't of Dennis, 451 Mass. 754, 763 (2008) (citing Freeman v. Planning Bd. of W. Boylston, 419 Mass. 548, 565-66, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 931 (1995)). Pleading a legal violation alone does not by itself provide the necessary allegations to show that this violation occurred via threats, intimidation or coercion. Barbosa v. Conlon, 962 F.Supp.2d 316, 331-32 (D. Mass. 2013) (collecting cases). “A threat is ‘the intentional exertion of pressure to make another fearful or apprehensive of injury or harm.'” Ayasli v. Armstrong, 56 Mass.App.Ct. 740, 750 (2002) (quoting Planned Parenthood League of Mass., Inc. v. Blake, 417 Mass. 467, 474, cert. denied, 513 U.S. 868 (1994)). Intimidation equates to putting someone “in fear for the purpose of compelling or deterring” his or her conduct. Id. “[C]oercion is ‘the application . . . of such force, either physical or moral, as to constrain him to do [something] against his will . . . .'” Id. at 750-51 (quoting Deas v. Dempsey, 403 Mass. 468, 471 (1988)). Moreover, the requisite threats, intimidation and coercion need to be separate from the alleged constitutional violation. Parks v. Town of Leicester, No. 10-cv-30120-FDS, 2011 WL 864823, at *5 (D. Mass. Mar. 9, 2011) (citing Sarvis v. Bos. Safe Deposit and Trust Co., 47 Mass.App.Ct. 86, 93 (1999)).

         Muldoon has not met the threshold requirements for bringing an MCRA claim. First, Muldoon does not provide any allegations that any of the individual defendants used or threatened physical force, or physically intimidated him. See Blake, 417 Mass. at 475-76 (affirming judgment because defendants “prevent[ed] others physically from entering, leaving, or using medical facilities to obtain abortions to which they were . . . entitled”); Haufler v. Zotos, 446 Mass. 489, 506-07 (2006) (determining that defendant's conduct that included running toward an individual with a rake in hand, shouting epithets and forcing a worker accompanied by a law enforcement officer off of property constituted threats and intimidation).

         Muldoon also does not allege any coercion cognizable under the MCRA. First, there are no claims of intimidation or coercion by Higgins O'Brien. D. 26-1. Second, the complaint provides only two allegations that arguably are of this nature as to Baker and Medeiros. Muldoon alleges that when he tried to discuss his complaints about delays in mailing his legal documents, Baker “aggressively stated to him; ‘Your [sic] not indigent.” D. 26-1 ¶ 22. In addition, Muldoon asserts Medeiros told Muldoon that all of the inmates needed to manage their money better. D. 26-1 ¶ 23. “[T]he exception for claims based on non-physical coercion remains a narrow one.” Meuser v. Fed. Express Corp., 564 F.3d 507, 519 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Meuser v. Fed. ExpressCorp., 524 F.Supp.2d 142, 148 (D. Mass. 2007)). The statements here do not rise to ...


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