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Blasko v. Doerpholz

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 30, 2017

ROBERT BLASKO, JR., Plaintiff,
WAYNE DOERPHOLZ, et al., Defendants.


          MARK G. MASTROIANNI United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, Robert Blasko, filed a nine-count complaint against Defendants Wayne Doerpholz, Andrew Orr, the Municipal Light Board for the Town of South Hadley (the “Light Board”), and the South Hadley Electric Light Department (“SHELD”). Doerpholz, Orr, and the Light Board have filed separate motions to dismiss certain state and federal claims brought against them by Plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 18, and 24). Those motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”).

         In her R&R, Judge Robertson recommends this court deny Doerpholz's motion in its entirety, deny Orr's motion with respect to Plaintiff's claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and grant it as to Plaintiff's claims under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws c. 12, §§ 11H, 11I (“MCRA”) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”), and grant the Light Board's motion in its entirety. Plaintiff and Orr filed objections to the R&R. Orr and the Light Board replied to Plaintiff's objections. Following de novo review, the court will adopt the R&R in its entirety.

         II. Standard

         A. Report and Recommendation

         A District Court may refer dispositive motions to a Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Any party adversely affected by the recommendation issued may file written objections within fourteen days of being served with the Report and Recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). A party that files a timely objection is entitled to a de novo determination of those portions of the report, specified proposed findings, or recommendations, to which a specific objection is made. Id.; see M. v. Falmouth School Dept., 847 F.3d. 19, 25 (2017). Arguments or available evidence not raised before the Magistrate Judge are deemed waived. See Guzmán-Ruíz v. Hernández-Colón, 406 F.3d 31, 36 (1st Cir. 2005). In conducting its review, the court is free to “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636 (a)(b)(1); see Templeman v. Chris Craft Corp., 770 F.2d 245, 247 (1st Cir. 1985).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 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 from which the court can reasonably infer the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Dismissal is warranted only where “the factual allegations in the complaint are too meager, vague, or conclusory to remove the possibility of relief from the realm of mere conjecture.” S.E.C. v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436, 442 (1st Cir. 2010). When assessing the adequacy of the factual allegations, the court must “accept as true all well-pled facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in [Plaintiff's] favor.” Evergreen Partnering Group, Inc. v. Pactiv Corp., 720 F.3d 33, 36 (1st Cir. 2013). “It is not for the court to decide, at the pleading stage, which inferences are more plausible than other competing inferences, since those questions are properly left to the factfinder.” Id. at 45.

         III. Discussion

         The court has considered the entirety of the R&R de novo. The court agrees with the portions of Judge Robertson's analysis to which none of the parties have objected. Rather than repeat that reasoning here, the court addresses only those recommendations to which the parties have objected. Orr objects to the recommendation to deny his motion to dismiss with respect to Plaintiff's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff objects to the R&R's proposal to dismiss the MCRA and § 1983 claims against Orr either for failing to state a claim or because he is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff further objects to the recommended dismissal of the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 258, § 2 (“MCTA”), claims against the Light Board.

         A. Orr's Objection

         Orr objects to Judge Robertson's recommendation against dismissal of Count IX, which asserts a claim against him for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). He argues the claim is barred by the exclusivity provisions of the Worker's Compensation Act, Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 152, § 1 et seq., or, alternatively, that Plaintiff has not alleged conduct that was “extreme and outrageous, ” as required to state a claim for IIED. Judge Robertson rejected Orr's argument regarding the applicability of the exclusivity provision of the Worker's Compensation Act, finding, at this stage of the litigation, the court cannot conclude Plaintiff will be unable to prove facts demonstrating Orr's actions were outside the scope of employment and unrelated to his employer's interests. Orr counters with language from Doe v. Purity Supreme, in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court describes a plaintiff's injuries as “aris[ing] out of the nature, conditions, obligations or incidents” of her employment because the injuries occurred at her workplace during working hours and were caused by a coworker with whom she had no other relationship. 664 N.E.2d 815, 819 (Mass. 1996). However, in Purity Supreme the court considered only the applicability of the exclusivity provision to a claim against the employer, not whether or when the exclusivity provision would apply to bar a claim directly against a coworker. In a later case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court distinguished the analysis in Purity Supreme from the appropriate, “fact-intensive analysis” applicable when assessing the adequacy of a claim asserted directly against a coworker. Brown v. Nutter, McClennen & Fish, 696 N.E.2d 953, 956 (Mass. App. Ct. 1998). As clarified by the court in Brown, when considering a motion to dismiss a claim asserted against a coworker, the court must analyze whether the coworker was acting within the course of their employment or to further their employer's interests at the time of their allegedly tortious conduct. The focus is thus on the relationship between the actions of the alleged tortfeasor and their employment, not whether the victim's injuries arose in the course of the victim's employment. This court, therefore, agrees with Judge Robertson's conclusion that the exclusivity provision of the Worker's Compensation Act does not warrant dismissal of Plaintiff's claim that Orr is liable to him for IIED.

         Orr has also argued dismissal of the IIED claim is warranted because the conduct alleged did not rise to the extreme level required for a successful claim. Given the history between Orr and his coworkers, the allegations of a physical altercation, and continued hostility despite Orr's awareness of Plaintiff's anxiety, this court agrees with Judge Robertson's ...

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