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McLaughlin v. Meehan

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

January 19, 2018

Timothy MCLAUGHLIN et al.[1]
v.
Martin MEEHAN et al.[2]

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON THE DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS

          Kathe M. Tuttman, Justice

         On March 28, 2016, the plaintiffs, Timothy McLaughlin (" McLaughlin") and Pauline Carteiro (" Carteiro"), filed a twelve-count complaint alleging that the defendants, administrators and police officers at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell (" UMass-Lowell") violated their federal and state civil rights and engaged in intentionally tortious conduct, including false imprisonment and defamation. The case principally concerns the plaintiffs’ speaking out about alleged sham hiring practices at the UMass-Lowell Police Department (" Department"), and the defendants’ allegedly taking actions to suppress that speech. The matter is presently before the court on the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The court heard oral argument on the motion on November 14, 2017. For the following reasons, the motion is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The complaint and attached exhibits[3] sets forth the following allegations. McLaughlin and Carteiro are former UMass-Lowell security officers. McLaughlin began his employment in 2011; he was discharged on or about June 12, 2013. Carteiro began in 2009; his discharge occurred on or about May 31, 2013. During their employment, each had satisfactory or above average performance reviews. The defendants were at all relevant times the following UMass-Lowell employees: Martin Meehan (" Meehan"), the Chancellor of UMass-Lowell; Randolph Brashears (" Brashears"), the Chief of the Department; Scott Childs (" Childs"); an officer in the Department; Mark Schaaf (" Schaaf"), an officer in the Department; Kenneth Wilson (" Wilson"), the Civilian Security Dispatch Supervisor in the Department; Lauren Turner (" Turner"), an Associate Vice Chancellor in human resources and equal opportunity and outreach; Michael Rutherford (" Rutherford"), the Director of Employer and Labor Relations; Ronald Dickerson (" Dickerson"), the Deputy Chief of the Department; and Melissa Mullen (" Mullen"), the Administrative Lieutenant in the Department.

         I. The Patronage Scheme

         In 2010, UMass-Lowell hired Brashears as its new Police Chief. Brashears, who was from out of state, immediately became friends with a detective in the Department who had retired from the Nashua, New Hampshire, Police Department. After the two became friends, Brashears began a practice of hiring only retired New Hampshire police officers, most with connections to Nashua, for open positions in the Department. By the end of 2010, he had hired Childs and another officer, both retired Nashua police sergeants, as patrolmen, and a few months later, promoted them to the rank of sergeant. Shortly thereafter, Brashears hired at least seven additional New Hampshire police retirees, including Schaaf, while at the same time halting the advancement of three security officers who were about to enter the police academy in order to fill three of those positions. In 2011, Brashears created the position of deputy chief in the Department, and hired Dickerson, a retired Nashua Police Department captain, to fill the spot. In early 2012, Brashears created two more new positions: chaplain and civilian communications and security manager. He then hired a former Nashua police officer for the chaplain job, and Wilson, a former Nashua police captain, to fill the civilian job.[4]

         As a result of the patronage scheme, public safety has suffered at UMass-Lowell. In particular, Department directives ordered officers not to enforce drug- and alcohol-related matters, not to arrest students, and not to issue parking tickets after hours.[5] The problem was compounded by Brashears " stacking" the first shift with the New Hampshire hires, and leaving the third shift barely staffed. The New Hampshire hires also regularly took two- to three-hour lunch breaks at local establishments, rather than spending that shift time protecting the campus.

         The patronage scheme also created a rift in the Department, with those speaking out against it suffering ridicule, as well as verbal and written reprimands. The rift is apparent in a March 29, 2013, employee newsletter (" newsletter") wherein Brashears writes that: " a very small element within our security department has been silently waging a war on the rest of our department." He further notes that those employees’ acts, including photographing members’ patrol cars, " are currently under criminal investigation." He closes the newsletter by asking " the 98% of our good willed employees [to] commit to resolving these problems and moving forward as one Department." The New Hampshire hires also set themselves apart by creating a shared email account, " teamnewhampshire@aol.com, " that they used to disseminate inappropriate material among themselves, including an email containing derogatory and violent statements against women.

         II. Carteiro’s Public Disclosure of the Patronage Scheme

         In 2012, Carteiro began to send anonymous letters to the press and law enforcement exposing the patronage scheme. In particular, Carteiro sent to the FBI a letter dated February 15, 2013 (" FBI letter"), detailing the patronage scheme, the hostile work environment, and the public safety concerns set forth above, as well as mentioning the sexist behavior of one officer. In one paragraph of the five-plus page, single-spaced FBI letter, Carteiro states: " My fear is that the hostile work environment we currently face creates an environment in which one of us or myself will snap, and this will put the safety of the entire University at risk." The FBI letter is signed " Concerned Citizen, Taxpayer, and Employee."

         Carteiro also sent a letter to Meehan, dated March 22, 2013 (" Meehan letter"), wherein he impersonated a parent concerned about public safety at UMass-Lowell. The Meehan letter cited the lack of police personnel present on campus, who are instead spending their time at local establishments, and the writer’s attempts to document the whereabouts of the UMass-Lowell police officers.

         III. Carteiro’s Detention and Interrogation

         On March 28, 2013, at about 5:00 a.m., while Carteiro was posted at a campus building, Wilson approached him and insisted that he " go for a ride." Carteiro initially declined, but then went with Wilson because he felt he had no choice. Wilson drove Carteiro to the Cabot Street Police Station, escorted him in, and told him to turn over his radio. After he did so, Carteiro was taken to an interrogation room, where Schaaf and Childs began to interrogate him about the FBI letter. Carteiro admitted writing it, and admitted that he had gathered the information it contained from numerous sources, including McLaughlin. Carteiro insisted, however, that he alone wrote and sent the FBI letter, despite Schaaf and Childs pressuring him at length to admit that McLaughlin and another security officer, Leo Reading, had assisted him.

         When Carteiro refused to provide additional information, Schaaf and Childs told him that " things are going to get ugly." Schaaf asked for Carteiro’s cell phone, which he searched for text messages and numbers. Childs asked Carteiro where his mother and father worked, and also about his brother. Childs showed Carteiro a piece of paper from the district attorney’s office, telling him, " this is where you’re going if you don’t cooperate. You ever been to a grand jury?" Childs went on, saying, " Do you want to be in the news; your parents in the news?" and " Are you afraid of getting jammed up; getting your friends jammed up?"

         Eventually, Childs told Carteiro that they had to go to his house and look on his computer, saying, " we either get to see it or the Middlesex District Attorney will subpoena or get a search warrant for it and we’ll see it anyway." Shaaf then gave Carteiro a consent form, which he signed. Childs, who had left the room, returned and informed Carteiro that " I just spoke with the DA and they have the grand jury ready so now it all depends if you cooperate." After hearing this, fearing further detention or arrest, Carteiro agreed to show them the FBI letter on his computer.

         Prior to leaving the station for Carteiro’s house, while he was waiting in the lobby with Wilson, Carteiro said that he wanted some fresh air. Wilson said, " you better stay right here." Shortly thereafter, Carteiro drove his personal vehicle to his house, followed by Childs and Schaaf in an unmarked cruiser. Once at his house, Carteiro showed them his computer, and directed them to the FBI letter thereon. Schaaf began searching the computer, and asked Carteiro for his email password, which Carteiro provided. After about forty-five minutes, Childs informed Carteiro that they were going to take his computer, despite Carteiro’s protestations. To safeguard the computer, Carteiro himself loaded it into the cruiser.

         From the start of the interrogation, until Schaaf and Childs left Carteiro’s home, approximately seven hours elapsed. Carteiro was exhausted and sleep-deprived from his overnight shift, and, at one point during the interrogation, nodded off and fell asleep. At no point during the interrogation did Carteiro feel free to leave.

         The following day, March 29, 2013, Carteiro came to the UMass-Lowell police station to retrieve his computer. While he was waiting, he observed Mullen, Dickerson, and Brashears looking at a screen attached to his computer. Dickerson and Brashears ultimately handed the computer back to Carteiro.

         IV. Carteiro’s Suspension and Termination

         Also on March 29, 2013, Carteiro received a letter informing him that he was suspended from work. A few weeks later, by letter dated May 24, 2013, Rutherford informed Carteiro of a disciplinary hearing regarding the following offenses: publishing false information that he was a police officer, publishing false claims about UMass-Lowell’s hiring practices, and publishing a false threat to the safety of UMass-Lowell. At the hearing, the questioning was focused almost exclusively on Carteiro’s exposure of the patronage scheme, and not on any perceived safety threat. A few days later, on or about May 31, Carteiro’s employment was terminated.

         V. McLaughlin

         In October 2012, McLaughlin observed an incident of sexual harassment during work hours involving the New Hampshire hires. Specifically, at some point in October 2012, shortly before his shift began, McLaughlin saw Schaaf watching a video, and then heard him say about a sexual assault victim that " she’s more of a slut than a victim" and call another officer to " come here, you’re missing her boobies." Female officers were present in the room at the time Schaaf made the comments.

         McLaughlin reported the incident up the chain of command. Wilson then questioned McLaughlin about the incident, asking McLaughlin what he wanted him to do about it. McLaughlin replied that he wanted Schaaf to be retrained. Shortly thereafter, Schaaf was promoted to detective.

         On March 28, 2013, at some point in the mid-afternoon, Schaaf, Childs, and two Nashua police officers came to McLaughlin’s house and questioned him about sending the FBI letter, and the " threat" contained therein. Despite McLaughlin’s protests that he did not write the letter, Childs did not stop questioning him. When one of McLaughlin’s family members suggested getting a lawyer, Childs leaned closely into McLaughlin, pointed a finger in his face, and said, " you know what, get a lawyer, you’re going to need one."

         McLaughlin’s disciplinary hearing occurred on June 4, 2013, and concerned the same allegations listed above for Carteiro, in addition to conduct unbecoming of an employee and gross insubordination. In support of the charges, during the hearing, Schaaf and Childs presented evidence obtained from their search of Carteiro’s phone and computer. In his written recommendation for termination, the hearing officer noted that, during a prior investigatory hearing, McLaughlin refused to answer questions and instead exercised his rights against self-incrimination. Finally, the hearing officer noted McLaughlin’s disrespectful and flippant attitude during the hearing. On or about June 12, 2013, McLaughlin’s employment was terminated.

         At some point thereafter, after receiving information from Schaaf and Childs that McLaughlin was involved in drafting and sending the FBI letter, Nashua police confiscated McLaughlin’s New Hampshire pistol/revolver license.

         VI. Present Action

         In their July 5, 2016, amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege the following causes of action: Count 1, violations of their rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count 2, violations of G.L.c. 12, § § 11H and 11I; Count 3, interference with advantageous relationship; Count 4, false imprisonment; Count 5, violations of substantive and procedural due process rights under § 1983; Count 6, invasion of privacy; Count 7, intentional infliction of emotional distress; Count 8, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985; Count 9, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1986; Count 10, defamation; Count 11, declaratory and prospective injunctive relief; and Count 12, violations of the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful seizure under § 1983. Not all counts concern both plaintiffs and all defendants; the details of the parties involved in each count will be discussed, infra . On September 30, 2016, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, which the plaintiffs opposed.

         DISCUSSION

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows for dismissal of a complaint when the factual allegations contained within it do not suggest plausible entitlement to relief. Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co.,451 Mass. 623, 635-36 (2008); Fraelick v. PerkettPR, Inc.,83 Mass.App.Ct. 698, 699-700 (2013). In ruling on the motion, the court accepts the factual allegations as true and ...


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