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Anderson v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 15, 2019

SHAUNA ANDERSON, I.D. and G.L., Plaintiffs,
v.
SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, RALPH D. GANTS, BARBARA A. LENK, FRANK M. GAZIANO, DAVID A. LOWY, KIMBERLY S. BUDD, ELSPETH B. CYPHER, SCOTT L. KAFKER, ANASTASIA PANAGIOTOPOULOS and NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Denise J. Casper United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Shauna Anderson (“Anderson”) has filed this lawsuit on behalf of herself and her children, I.D. and G.L., against the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the Justices thereof in their official capacities (the “Judicial Defendants”) (together, the “Commonwealth Defendants”), and Anderson's former landlords Anastasia Panagiotopoulos and Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos (together, the “Landlord Defendants”) (collectively, “Defendants”). The Court construes the amended complaint as alleging that: the Commonwealth Defendants' court fees violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count I), D. 8 ¶¶ 75-78; such fees constitute a deprivation of access to public accommodations in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II), id. ¶¶ 79-80; the Commonwealth Defendants' conduct constitutes “obstruction of courts” in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count III), id. ¶¶ 81-83; Anderson's summary process eviction violated constitutional and state law (Counts IV and V), id. ¶¶ 84-90; and the Landlord Defendants discriminated against Anderson and her family in violation of the Fair Housing Act and other unspecified federal laws (Counts VI, VII and VIII), id. ¶¶ 91-99. The amended complaint also attempts to incorporate by reference documents Anderson filed in Housing Court (Count IX), which were attached to the original complaint, see D. 1-3, but omitted from the amended complaint, see D. 8 ¶¶ 100-101.

         The Commonwealth Defendants have moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). D. 24. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS the motion and dismisses this action with prejudice as to all Defendants.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), a defendant may move to dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. “[T]he party invoking the jurisdiction of a federal court carries the burden of proving its existence.” Murphy v. United States, 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Taber Partners, I v. Merit Builders, Inc., 987 F.2d 57, 60 (1st Cir. 1993)). To determine if the burden has been met, the Court “take[s] as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiffs' complaints, scrutinize[s] them in the light most hospitable to the plaintiffs' theory of liability, and draw[s] all reasonable inferences therefrom in the plaintiffs' favor.” Fothergill v. United States, 566 F.3d 248, 251 (1st Cir. 2009).

         A defendant may also move to dismiss, based solely on the complaint, for a plaintiff's “failure to 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 (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. “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 under Rule 12(b)(6), 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, 69 (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 (2009). “[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.

         III. Factual Background

         The Court accepts the following non-conclusory factual allegations in the amended complaint as true.[1] The Court, where applicable, also draws from “facts contained in documents incorporated within the complaint and facts susceptible to judicial notice” for the purposes of evaluating the motion to dismiss. Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 44 (1st Cir. 2011). The instant dispute stems from a summary process eviction action that the Landlord Defendants initiated in Massachusetts Housing Court (“Housing Court”) against Anderson for non-payment of rent in November 2017. D. 8 ¶ 32. The matter was scheduled for trial in Housing Court in December 2017. Id. ¶ 33. On the first day of trial, which was several days after Anderson's answer was due, Anderson filed an answer with a request for a jury trial and a motion to continue the trial. Id. ¶¶ 33, 35. The Housing Court accepted Anderson's answer, continued the trial date but denied Anderson's request for a jury trial and schedules the matter for a jury waived trial. Id. ¶ 36. Anderson filed a petition with a single Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, seeking interlocutory review of the denial of her jury trial request. Id. ¶ 37. The petition and Anderson's subsequent motion for reconsideration were denied. Id. ¶¶ 39-41.

         On February 15, 2018, Anderson petitioned a single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court for review of the Massachusetts Appeals Court's denial of her petition and refusal to consider her “motion for relief from judgment” regarding same. Id. ¶ 51; D. 1-3 at 41, 44. Along with her petition, Anderson filed an application to waive the filing fee associated with the petition and an affidavit of indigency that was signed by her attorney (as opposed to by Anderson, as required). D. 8 ¶¶ 52, 55; D. 1-3 at 41. On March 1, 2018, the single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court denied Anderson's application for a fee waiver without prejudice because the affidavit of indigency was not signed by Anderson. D. 8 ¶ 54; D. 1-3 at 42. Per the single Justice's order, Anderson was to file a properly executed affidavit of indigency or pay the statutory filing fee within fourteen days or the case would be dismissed. Id. Anderson failed to take any action and, as a result, the single Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed Anderson's petition without prejudice. D. 8 ¶ 56; D. 1-3 at 42. On June 1, 2018, Anderson filed an untimely appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that the single Justice's dismissal violated her due process right of access to the court. D. 8 ¶ 61; D. 1-3 at 12-17 (providing Anderson's appeal of the single Justice's denial of her petition). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the single Justice's dismissal of Anderson's petition on October 30, 2018. See Anderson v. Panagiotopoulos, 480 Mass. 1031 (2018). The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the petition at issue was moot because (1) the Housing Court had previously entered final judgment against Anderson in the underlying summary process proceeding, [2] (2) the single Justice did not err, abuse his discretion or infringe upon Anderson's right of access to the courts by requiring a signed affidavit of indigency and (3) even if the Supreme Judicial Court considered the underlying merits of Anderson's petition challenging Housing Court's denial of her request for a jury trial, Anderson failed to demonstrate she lacked adequate alternative means of obtaining appellate review as required by S.J.C. Rule 2:21. Id. at 1032 (noting that Anderson “could have appealed the Housing Court judgment, in which case the judgment of eviction would have been automatically stayed pending appeal . . . and could have argued to the appellate court that she was erroneously deprived of a jury trial”).

         IV. Procedural History

         Anderson instituted this action on June 21, 2018. D. 1. That same day, Anderson filed an emergency motion to stay execution of her eviction. D. 4. The Court denied the motion pursuant to the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, which prohibits the Court from staying the housing dispute between Anderson and the Landlord Defendants that was ongoing at the time, and because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits the Court from reviewing and reversing constitutional claims regarding Anderson's right to a jury trial that were previously considered and rejected by the Supreme Judicial Court. D. 7. Anderson filed an amended complaint on June 27, 2018. D. 8. The Commonwealth Defendants have now moved to dismiss. D. 24. The Court heard the parties on the pending motion to dismiss on February 6, 2019 and took the matter under advisement. D. 29. That same day, Anderson filed a document the Court has construed as requesting that Anderson's counsel, Attorney Ilya Liviz, and his minor child be added to the litigation as “collateral plaintiffs.” D. 28.[3] With leave of Court, the Commonwealth Defendants filed an opposition to the attempt to add Attorney Liviz and his son to the instant litigation. D. 31.

         V. ...


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