United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE: REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
REGARDING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS (DKT. NOS. 8
MICHAEL A. PONSOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Le’Keisha Brown (“Plaintiff”) has filed
this nine-count action against Defendant Springfield Police
Officer Aaron Butler (“Defendant”) alleging
violations of her civil rights. Defendant has moved to
dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. No. 8.)
motion was referred to Magistrate Judge Katherine A.
Robertson for Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(B) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. On December 22, 2017,
Judge Robertson issued a 43-page report, meticulously laying
out the alleged facts, summarizing the applicable law, and
analyzing the merits of each of Defendant’s arguments.
She recommended that Defendant’s motion to dismiss be
allowed as to Counts II and VI, and denied as to the
remaining seven counts. (Dkt. No. 24.) On January 11, 2018,
Defendant filed a timely objection to the R&R. (Dkt. No.
de novo review, the court will adopt the R&R in
its entirety. Defendant’s motion to dismiss will
therefore be allowed as it pertains to Counts II and VI and
will otherwise be denied.
reviewing a motion to dismiss, as Judge Robertson noted, the
court must “accept as true all the well-pleaded facts
alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences
therefrom in the pleader’s favor.” (Dkt. No. 24
at 5, citations omitted.) The question at this stage is
simple: does the complaint allege “a plausible
entitlement to relief”? Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1967 (2007).
regard to the operative facts, it is not necessary to recite
them here; they are laid out, without significant objection,
in the R&R. (Dkt. No. 24 at 2-5.) A copy of the R&R
is appended to this memorandum as Exhibit 1. The central flaw
in all of Defendant’s objections is that, contrary to
the law applicable at this stage of the litigation,
Defendant’s arguments do not accept the facts as
pleaded, and they suggest inferences that, while possibly
convincing at trial (or perhaps at summary judgment), are not
permissible at this stage.
legal theories can be usefully addressed in three clusters:
claims related to false arrest and imprisonment (Counts I,
III, and IV); claims related to excessive force (Counts V and
VII), and claims related to the initiation of legal
proceedings (Counts VIII and IX). Plaintiff has not objected
to the dismissal of Counts II and VI, and they need not be
addressed substantively in this memorandum.
regard to the first grouping, at this early stage of the
lawsuit the facts outlined in Counts I, III, and IV are more
than sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss. A
reasonable jury, accepting the facts as currently alleged,
could conclude that Plaintiff was falsely arrested in
violation of her federal civil rights (Count I) and suffered
both a common law false arrest and false imprisonment (Counts
III and IV). Judge Robertson’s careful analysis makes
clear that, accepting the facts as alleged, a jury could
plausibly find that Plaintiff’s arrest could not be
justified based on conduct by her constituting disorderly
conduct, disturbing the peace, or interfering with a police
officer under Massachusetts law. (Dkt. 24 at 11-22.)
Similarly, it would be entirely justified in finding that no
argument in support of qualified immunity would protect the
officer in the circumstances alleged from liability for civil
rights and common law violations. A jury would not be bound
to accept that Defendant was responding to exigent
circumstances or providing some kind of emergency assistance.
Accepting Plaintiff’s facts, no such circumstances
existed and no assistance was needed; a reasonable officer
would have known that perfectly well. (Id. at
22-28.) Defendant’s arguments may be raised on a
clearer record at the summary judgment stage, but they are
not sufficient to justify dismissal now.
objections with regard to the excessive force claims (Counts
V and VII) are similarly unpersuasive. The question of
reasonableness in the use of force can rarely be resolved on
a motion to dismiss. Accepting Plaintiff’s facts, no
reasonable officer would have believed that an application of
force was needed to confront an imminent risk to the children
or for any other reason. Defendant’s actions in pushing
Plaintiff against the porch railing, shoving her again so
that she fell down, and cocking his fist as though he were
about to hit her may be found by a jury to have been
justified based upon alternate, credible facts, but the
allegations as set forth in the complaint, which must be
accepted by the court at this stage, are sufficient to
support a contrary jury conclusion.
with regard to Counts VII and IX, the facts as alleged are
sufficient to make out a claim both for malicious prosecution
and for abuse of process. (Id. at 40-43.) Under
Massachusetts law, establishing a malicious prosecution claim
requires proving malice, among other elements. Nieves v.
McSweeney, 241 F.3d 46, 53 (1st Cir. 2001). Malice,
defined as “any wrong or unjustifiable motive,”
may be “inferred from a lack of probable cause,”
Campbell v. Casey, 166 F. Supp. 3d 144, 153 (D.
Mass. 2016). Accepting the facts as alleged, a jury could
well find no probable cause to believe that Plaintiff had
committed any crime justifying her prosecution. The common
law tort of abuse of process requires establishing that a
defendant used “process” for an “ulterior
or illegitimate purpose.” Eason v. Alexis, 824
F.Supp.2d 236, 243 (D. Mass. 2011) (internal quotations
omitted). Establishing an abuse of process claim requires an
inquiry into Defendant’s motive which is not amenable
to resolution on a motion to dismiss. See Santiago v.
Fenton, 891 F.2d 373, 388 (1st Cir. 1989). For these
reasons, Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution and abuse of
process claims survive Defendant’s motion to dismiss.
Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No.
24), upon de novo review, is hereby adopted.
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 8) is hereby
ALLOWED as to Counts II and VI and DENIED as to all remaining
counts. The case is hereby referred ...