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Diaz v. Massachusetts Department of Correction

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 6, 2017

JUAN DIAZ, JR., Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction.

         On September 20, 2016, Juan Diaz, Jr. brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights against defendants: Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC); Thomas Turco, current Commissioner of the DOC; Carol Micci, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of the DOC; Douglas Cabral, Manager of the County, Federal and Interstate Compact Unit Classification Division; Christopher Fallon, Director of Communications for the DOC; and Carol Higgins O'Brien, former Commissioner of the DOC. (#1.) On January 3, 2017, pursuant to this court's November 22, 2017 Order (#7), plaintiff filed the operative amended complaint (#11).[1] Now before the court is defendant Turco's motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (#39), to which plaintiff has responded in opposition (#41).[2]

         II. The Facts.

         In early 2007, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC) affirmed plaintiff's conviction of first-degree murder, for which he is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Commonwealth v. Diaz, 448 Mass. 286, 287 (2007). In accordance with a contract program between the DOC and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP), Diaz currently is confined in a federal penitentiary in Coleman, Florida. (#11 at 5.)

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by denying him access to the courts when they refused to provide him with Massachusetts case law and legal materials necessary to litigate his conviction, despite his repeated requests, without an explanation for the refusal. Id. at 3-4. He complains he was subject to the decisions made by his appellate counsel, specifically, the decision to appeal directly his conviction on ineffective counsel grounds instead of moving for a new trial, and that the lack of Massachusetts legal materials prevented him from researching his own claims to present to his attorney. Id. at 4, 6. He alleges he would not have directly appealed his conviction if he had been provided with Massachusetts case law and that he wanted to raise a potential conflict of interest claim, but could not do so because the DOC did not provide him with Massachusetts legal materials. Id. at 5-6. In 2010, Diaz's appellate counsel filed an untimely petition to appeal which was denied. Id. at 4. Plaintiff contends that had he been provided with Massachusetts legal materials, he would not have wasted his constitutional right to appeal on such a claim. Id. at 5. He alleges the DOC was, and is, aware that the FBOP is not obligated to provide him with Massachusetts legal materials, so defendants violated his constitutional right of access to the courts when they refused his requests for them. Id. at 5.

         III. Standard of Review.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss challenges a party's complaint for failing to state a claim. In deciding such a motion, a court must “‘accept as true all well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the pleader's favor.'” Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Artuso v. Vertex Pharm., Inc., 637 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2011)). When considering a motion to dismiss, a court “may augment these facts and inferences with data points gleaned from documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, matters of public record, and facts susceptible to judicial notice.” Haley, 657 F.3d at 46 (citing In re Colonial Mortg. Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 15 (1st Cir. 2003)).

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must provide “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The “obligation to provide the grounds of [the plaintiff's] entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555 (quotation marks and alteration omitted). The “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” and to cross the “line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 555, 570.

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). However, the court is “‘not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Simply put, the court should assume that well-pleaded facts are genuine and then determine whether such facts state a plausible claim for relief. Id. at IV. Discussion.

         Section 1983 is a procedural mechanism through which constitutional and statutory rights are enforced. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994).

         The legal framework pertaining to a section 1983 claim is well established. ‘Section 1983 supplies a private right of action against a person who, under color of state law, deprives another of rights secured by the Constitution or by federal law.' Redondo-Borges v. U.S. Dep't of HUD, 421 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2005) (quoting Evans v. Avery, 100 F.3d 1033, 1036 (1st Cir. 1996)). To make out a viable section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show both that the conduct complained of transpired under color of state law and that a deprivation of federally secured rights ensued.

         Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2011).

         The basis for plaintiff's § 1983 claim is that he was denied access to the courts due to defendants' refusal to provide him with Massachusetts legal materials while he was confined in an out-of-state prison. (#11 at 3.) He alleges he needed the legal materials to research bases on which to challenge his conviction and the lack of materials caused him to rely on his appellate counsel, who advanced arguments that were ultimately rejected. Id. at 4. Turco presents two arguments in his motion to dismiss: first, that plaintiff was not denied access to the courts because he had adequate access to legal counsel; and, ...

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