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Jellyman v. City of Worcester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 22, 2019




         Richard A. Jellyman (“Plaintiff”) brought this claim for excessive force (Count I), assault and battery (Count II), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III), violation of civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV), and conspiracy (Count V) against the City of Worcester, Officers Michael Spalatro, Jarret Watkins, Paul Cyr, and Nathan Lafleche, and Adam J. Bullock. Defendants Cyr and Watkins (“Defendants”) move to dismiss Counts I, III, and V against them pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, Defendants motion to dismiss (Docket No. 11) is granted in part and denied in part.


         The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's complaint and are assumed to be true at this stage of the litigation. (Docket No. 1). On March 6, 2015, Plaintiff began to experience a hypoglycemic event as he was leaving a business establishment in Worcester. In a confused and impaired condition, he began to operate his vehicle and backed into a parked car. Officer Michael Spalatro witnessed the event and attempted to stop Plaintiff. Plaintiff, however, did not heed Officer Spalatro's instructions and drove off. As he did, his rear-view mirror made contact with Officer Spalatro's hip. Officer Spalatro called the police dispatcher and a BOLO was called for Plaintiff's vehicle. A few blocks from this scene, Plaintiff was stopped without incident by Officer LaFleche. LaFleche then radioed Spalatro that Plaintiff was in custody and asked him to come to the scene to identify Plaintiff. Officer Spalatro arrived soon after and approached Plaintiff who was handcuffed and, without warning, punched him in the face. Officer Spalatro failed to document his use of force in violation of the Worcester Police Department's policies. Similarly, none of the other officers reported Spalatro's actions in written reports to any of their superiors.

         Standard of Review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion is used to dismiss complaints that do not “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “a plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 559, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). Although detailed factual allegations are not necessary to survive a motion to dismiss, the standard “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. “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-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2011).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Langadinos v. American Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 68 (1st Cir. 2000). It is a “context-specific task” to determine “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief, ” one that “requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (internal citations omitted). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). On the other hand, a court may not disregard properly pled factual allegations, “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955.

         Finally, “‘some latitude may be appropriate' in applying the plausibility standard in certain types of cases . . . in which a material part of the information needed is likely to be within the defendant's control.” Garcia-Catalan v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 104 (1st Cir. 2013). Moreover, the First Circuit has noted that “the plausibility inquiry properly takes into account whether discovery can reasonably be expected to fill any holes in the pleader's case.” Id.; see also Menard v. CSX Transp., Inc., 698 F.3d 40, 45 (1st Cir. 2012) (“Where modest discovery may provide the missing link, the district court has discretion to allow limited discovery and, if justified, a final amendment of the complaint.”).


         1. Count I: Failure to Protect/Intervene

         The Fourth Amendment not only protects individuals from excessive force, it also imposes an affirmative duty on police officers to intervene to prevent it. See Gaudreault v. Salem, 923 F.2d 203, 207 n.3 (1st Cir. 1990). Therefore, an officer present at the scene of a stop or arrest who observes the use of excessive force, but fails to intervene, violates the Fourth Amendment if he had the means and opportunity to prevent or mitigate the harm to the victim. Id. However, “mere presence [of an officer] at the scene, without more, does not by some mysterious alchemy render him responsible under Section 1983 for the actions of a fellow officer.” Calvi v. Knox County, 470 F.3d 422, 428 (1st Cir. 2006). Consequently, an “officer cannot be held liable for failing to intercede if he has no ‘realistic opportunity' to prevent an attack.” Gaudreault, 923 F.2d at 207 n.3.

         Here, Plaintiff has plead facts that make it plausible that Officers Cyr and Watkins could have intervened. Whether discovery will reveal Officers Cyr and Watkin's awareness of the impending assault remains to be seen. This is a case where the information needed is within Defendants' control and discovery may, or may not, establish the knowledge requirement.

         2. Count III: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         In order to maintain a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Massachusetts law, the plaintiff must establish that (1) the individual defendant intended to inflict emotional distress or that they knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of their conduct; (2) the conduct of the defendant was “extreme and outrageous” and “beyond all possible bounds of decency and was utterly intolerable in a civilized community;” (3) the actions of the defendant were the cause of the plaintiff's distress; and (4) the emotional distress sustained by the plaintiff was ...

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