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Cordero v. Pack

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 19, 2019

TROOPER NOAH PACK, MA State Police, In his personal and professional capacity, et al., Defendants.


          MASTROIANNI, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed his complaint on February 20, 2018, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for the torts of false imprisonment, battery, trespass to chattel, negligence, and negligence for failure to adequately train against the Pittsfield Police, the City of Pittsfield, the Massachusetts State Police, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and ten members of either the Massachusetts State Police or the Pittsfield Police (including two unnamed individuals), all sued in their individual and official capacities. With respect to all claims and all defendants, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, both compensatory and punitive. Plaintiff's claims stem from his detention following a routine traffic stop on the evening of February 19, 2015 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. In the course of his detention, illegal drugs were found in his vehicle and he was charged in state court with various drug-trafficking crimes. A superior court judge denied Plaintiff's motion to suppress the evidence obtained the evening of the traffic stop. On interlocutory appeal, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) reversed, ruling that officers did not have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity at the time they completed their investigation of civil traffic violations, did not have a legitimate basis to detain Plaintiff past that point, and all evidence seized thereafter must be suppressed. Commonwealth v. Cordero, 74 N.E. 3d 1282 (Mass. 2017) (hereinafter “Cordero” or “the SJC opinion”).

         Defendants have filed three separate motions to dismiss, one on behalf of Chief Wynn, Officer Steven Haecker, the Pittsfield Police Department, and the City of Pittsfield (Dkt. No. 24); one on behalf of Colonel Kerry Gilpin, Major Michael Habel, the Massachusetts State Police, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Dkt. No. 37); and one on behalf of Trooper David Buell (Dkt. No. 39). Trooper Noah Pack has filed an answer and jury demand. (Dkt. No. 53). Plaintiff has filed a single opposition to all pending motions and has moved to file an amended complaint to provide more detail to support his claims related to inadequate training. (Dkt. No. 44). The defendants who have moved to dismiss have also opposed Plaintiff's Motion to Amend. (Dkt. Nos. 45, 46, & 47.)

         II. Special Considerations Applicable to Complaints Filed By Pro Se Plaintiffs[1]

         “Our judicial system zealously guards the attempts of pro se litigants on their own behalf.” Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 118 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir. 1997). Recognizing the difficulties pro se plaintiffs face, the courts construe pro se complaints liberally. Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 75 (1st Cir. 2014). “However, pro se status does not insulate a party from complying with procedural and substantive law.” Ahmed, 118 F.3d at 890. Like other plaintiffs, “even a pro se plaintiff is required ‘to set forth factual allegations, either direct or inferential, respecting each material element necessary to sustain recovery under some actionable legal theory.'” Adams v. Stephenson, 116 F.3d 464 (1st Cir. 1997) (unpublished table decision) (quoting Gooley v. Mobil Oil Corp., 851 F.2d 513, 515 (1st Cir. 1988)). Holding all plaintiffs, including pro se plaintiffs, to this standard is necessary to ensure every defendant is “afforded both adequate notice of any claims asserted against him and a meaningful opportunity to mount a defense.” Díaz-Rivera v. Rivera-Rodríguez, 377 F.3d 119, 123 (1st Cir. 2004).

         III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         At this stage in the litigation, the court accepts as true the factual allegations-those setting out who did or said what, to whom, and when-contained in the complaint, or, in this case, the SJC's opinion, and draws all reasonable inferences based on those factual allegations. Evergreen Partnering Grp, Inc. v. Pactiv Corp., 720 F.3d 33, 36 (1st Cir. 2013). “As a general proposition, a complaint must contain no more than ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” S.E.C. v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436, 442 (1st Cir. 2010) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). However, this simple formulation obscures the full weight of the burden that falls on plaintiffs seeking to show that they are entitled to relief. Plaintiff's “short and plain” statement must state the plaintiff's claims and the facts on which they are based clearly enough to allow the defendant to mount a defense. Díaz-Rivera, 377 F.3d at 123. The court may consider additional facts, but only in narrow circumstances, such as facts contained in documents of undisputed authenticity and sufficiently central to claims in the complaint. See Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993); see also Fudge v. Penthouse Int'l, Ltd., 840 F.2d 1012, 1015 (1st Cir. 1988).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The factual allegations in the complaint must “nudge[] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570. This means the complaint must identify a legal basis for imposing liability on a defendant based on the alleged conduct and contain sufficiently specific factual content from which the court can reasonably infer “that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). At this stage, the court credits factual allegations, but not conclusory statements.

         IV. Complaint and Proposed Amended Complaint

         A. Complaint

         Plaintiff's complaint alleges that he was subjected to a traffic stop on the evening of February 19, 2015 during which, as the SJC later ruled, his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights were violated. Specifically, the SJC wrote that the state and local law enforcement officers present at the stop detained Plaintiff for longer than was required to complete the traffic stop. Cordero, 74 N.E.3d at 1292. Plaintiff alleges the officers acted pursuant to “a policy implemented by the Pittsfield Police Department and the Massachusetts state police [sic] to pull over suspects for minor traffic violations when their real purpose is to monitor felonious drug and other criminal activity” and that the “pretextual pullovers often involve searches that violate the constitution.” (Dkt. No. 1, Compl., 2.) With respect to the individual defendants who are supervisors, and presumably were not present on February 19, 2015, Plaintiff states that he is suing them based on their failure to train. (Id.) Within the body of his complaint, Plaintiff does not identify which of the officers he has named as defendants are supervisors and which were present at the traffic stop. In the caption he identifies Colonel Kerry Gilpin (“Gilpin”) as the Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, Major Michael Habel (“Habel”) as a Troop Commander, and Lieutenant David Buell (“Buell”) as Station Commander of the Lee Barracks of the Massachusetts State Police.

         In Cordero, the SJC provided a detailed description of the actions of Trooper Noah Pack (“Pack”), the officer who made the initial traffic stop and summarized the actions of two unnamed officers: a second Massachusetts State Trooper and a Pittsfield Police Officer. Cordero, 74 N.E.3d at 1285-87. Both unnamed officers arrived at the traffic stop after Pack. Id. at 1286-87. The Pittsfield Police Officer, Steven Haecker (“Haecker”) is described by the SJC as arriving on the scene after the routine traffic stop had been completed. Id. at 1287. At that time, Plaintiff had been patfrisked, “handcuffed and placed in the back of [a state police] cruiser, ” though he had not been arrested and his vehicle had not yet been searched. Id. The SJC stated the Pittsfield officer asked three different times for Plaintiff's consent to a search of his vehicle before, “according to the officer, [Plaintiff] ‘gave consent for it, '” and the vehicle was searched. Id. Plaintiff supplements the facts set forth in Cordero, disputing Haecker's statement and asserting he never consented to the search. He asserts the search was unconstitutional for that reason, as well as being unconstitutional for the reasons given by the SJC.

         B. ...

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