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Burnham v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 12, 2018





         Arthur Burnham (“Burnham”) has filed a complaint against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Magistrate K. Candito, the Chief Probation Officer of the Dudley District Court and Jane Doe1 and Jane Doe 2, who are employees of the Dudley District Court, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. §§1983, 1985 and 1986 for: (1) violation of his Eighth Amendment Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment as well as deliberate indifference to his serious mental health needs; (2) violation of his right to due process under the Fourteen Amendment; (3) violation of the Equal Protection Clause; (4) conspiracy to impose disparate treatment; and (5) failure to prevent a conspiracy. Burnham has also alleged a claim against the defendants under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. and a state law claim for emotional distress.

         This Order addresses Defendants Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, Magistrate K Candito, And Dudley District Court Chief Probation Officer's Motion To Dismiss (Docket No. 57) and Burnham's Motion To File A Fourth Amended Complaint (Docket No. 45). For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted and Burnham's motion to further amend him complaint is denied.


         Summary of Underlying Facts

         Burnham's claims relate to an incident which occurred on March 3, 2012 at the time of his arrest by the Southbridge Police Department. More specifically, Burnham alleges that while in police custody, he had a medical emergency (a seizure) and soiled himself. He alleges that the police department had a video of the incident from its surveillance cameras and provided a copy to employees of the Dudley District Court. Burnham was brought to court at March 7, 2012, for a custody proceeding. He alleges that at the proceeding, employees of the courthouse looked at him and laughed. He further alleges that whenever he was brought to the Dudley District Court for the next year and a half, courthouse employees continued to laugh at him and mock his seizure. As a result, Burnham has been humiliated and attempted to commit suicide on a number of occasions. Upset about the courthouse employees' conduct, he acted out in court and as a result, lost custody of his children.

         Motion To Dismiss

         The defendants assert that Burnham's claims against them under Section 1983, 1985 and 1986 for violation of his civil rights and conspiracy to violate his civil rights, as well as all state law claims against them, must be dismissed because they are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Defendants allege that the remaining ADA claim must be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Standard of Review

         On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court “must assume the truth of all well-plead[ed] facts and give 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)). To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must state a claim that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555 (internal citations omitted). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Dismissal is appropriate if plaintiff's well-pleaded facts do not “possess enough heft to show that plaintiff is entitled to relief.” Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharm., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 84 (1st Cir. 2008) (internal quotations and original alterations omitted). “The relevant inquiry focuses on the reasonableness of the inference of liability that the plaintiff is asking the court to draw from the facts alleged in the complaint.” Ocasio-Hernàndez v. Fortuño-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2011).

         Whether Plaintiff's Civil Rights Claims Are Barred By The Eleventh Amendment

         Burnham has sued the individual defendants (including the Jane Doe defendants) in their official capacities. “A lawsuit against a state official in his or her official capacity for money damages is, in substance, a suit against the state itself. [O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. Suits against state officials in their official capacity therefore should be treated as suits against the State.” McGuigan v. Conte, 629 F.Supp.2d 76, 82-83 (D. Mass. 2009)(internal citation omitted).

         Bringing this action in federal court implicates the Commonwealth's sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. “Although the Eleventh Amendment does not expressly bar suits in federal court against a state by its own citizens, it has consistently been read to preclude such actions in the absence of a waiver of the state's immunity to suit. Thus, this court is without jurisdiction to grant relief directly against the Commonwealth or its agencies unless the Commonwealth has consented to the filing of this action.” McGuigan, 629 F.Supp.2d at 83. The Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution states that “[t]he Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. Amend. XI. “The Supreme Court ‘has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune [under the Eleventh Amendment] from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.' ” Torres-Alamo v. Puerto Rico, 502 F.3d 20, 24 (1st Cir. 2007)(quoting Edelman v. Jordan,415 U.S. 651, 662-63, 94 S.Ct. 1347(1974)). When enacting legislation, however, Congress has the authority “to abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it unequivocally intends to do so ‘and acts pursuant to a valid grant of ...

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