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Murphy v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 29, 2019

GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER, et al., Defendants.


          Mark G. Mastroianni United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed his complaint on February 17, 2017, at a time when he was incarcerated in Massachusetts. (Dkt. 1, Compl.) In his initial complaint, he described his experiences and observations as an inmate at the Worcester County Jail and House of Corrections (the “Jail”). More specifically, he alleged that he was confined 21 hours per day in an environment with rampant gang activity such as gambling, extortion, blackmail, and violence. The gang activity caused him harm, including both minor injuries from attacks by other inmates and severe physical injuries that resulted when a fellow inmate and gang member stabbed him in the shoulder. Plaintiff also alleged a group of corrections officers and public officials knew about and condoned the gang activity that created an environment in which extortion and inmate violence could occur. This knowledge was based on their observing gangs operating openly and being aware of a 2008 report from the Department of Justice identifying problems at the Jail. In addition to claiming he was harmed by the general environment within the Jail, Plaintiff has also asserted that two unidentified corrections officers took specific actions which directly exposed him to more specific injuries. Specifically, he claims he became a target for extortion and violence because an unidentified corrections officer notified gang members that he had more than $5, 000 in his jail account and that Lieutenant Edward Schwartz (“Schwartz”) refused to provide him with a grievance form and retaliated against him for requesting one. In his original complaint, Plaintiff sought only monetary damages as relief. He did not separately list his counts, but asserted that he brought claims pursuant to a federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (§ 1983) for violations of his rights under the First and Eighth Amendments, and the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (“MTCA”), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 258, § 2.

         On June 9, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. No. 31.) Plaintiff filed motions requesting counsel and leave to file an amended complaint on August 1, 2017. (Dkt. Nos. 41 & 42.) In his request for counsel, Plaintiff notified the court that his period of incarceration in Massachusetts was ending and he would soon be incarcerated in Connecticut. On August 7, 2017, the court directed the Pro Bono Coordinator to search for pro bono counsel for Plaintiff and on January 5, 2018 the court appointed Attorney Timothy M. Cornell to represent Plaintiff. (Dkt. Nos. 44 & 52.) Anticipating the filing of an amended complaint by Attorney Cornell, the court dismissed as moot the previously-filed motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 54.) Attorney Cornell filed an amended complaint on May 10, 2018. (Dkt. No. 61.) The Amended Complaint asserted claims pursuant to § 1983 and the Federal Tort Claims Act against a smaller group of defendants. The Amended Complaint is the currently operative complaint in this case.

         The Amended Complaint restated the claims against unidentified corrections officers related to (1) the disclosure of the amount in Plaintiff's Jail account to gang members by John Doe 1 and (2) the opening of his cell to facilitate his stabbing by John Doe 2. Additionally, the Amended Complaint alleged Captain Charles Fuller (“Fuller”) investigated Plaintiff's stabbing in a manner that prevented Plaintiff from participating because his cooperation would have exposed him to further inmate violence.[1] The Amended Complaint also added additional allegations related to Schwartz's response to Plaintiff's request for a grievance form.

         Defendants filed a second Motion to Dismiss on May 25, 2018, seeking dismissal of all claims except for Plaintiff's § 1983 claims alleging First Amendment violations by Lieutenant Schwartz related to his response to Plaintiff's request for a grievance form. (Dkt. No. 62.) Attorney Cornell filed an opposition on June 22, 2018. (Dkt. No. 67.) Plaintiff, unhappy with the work of his pro bono counsel, directly filed a motion for leave to file a superseding amended complaint on July 30, 2018. (Dkt. No. 70.) On September 6, 2018, the court held a hearing regarding Plaintiff's filing.

         Attorney Cornell advised the court that Plaintiff had directed him to seek leave for Plaintiff to file the proposed amended complaint personally prepared by Plaintiff. In the course of a colloquy with the court, Attorney Cornell conceded that his professional duties to the court prevented him from filing the amended complaint drafted by Plaintiff. The court advised Attorney Cornell that it would not consider pro se filings from Plaintiff so long as he was represented by counsel and denied Plaintiff's motion. A short time later, Attorney Cornell filed a Motion to Withdraw as counsel for Plaintiff (Dkt. No. 80), citing a conflict with Plaintiff regarding Plaintiff's dissatisfaction with the Amended Complaint filed by Counsel. The court considered its colloquy with Attorney Cornell at the September 6, 2018 hearing, his request to withdraw, and two communications submitted directly to the court by Plaintiff (Dkt. Nos. 77 & 79) and granted Attorney Cornell's request to withdraw. As Plaintiff was again pro se, the court, sua sponte, revived Plaintiff's Motion to Amend. Plaintiffs proposed amended complaint, like his original complaint, makes claims pursuant to § 1983 and the MTCA and includes additional factual allegations beyond those included in the Amended Complaint.

         II. Special Considerations Applicable to Complaints Filed By Pro Se Plaintiffs[2]

         “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-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)). 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. In cases involving multiple defendants, the court “must determine whether, as to each defendant, a plaintiff's pleadings are sufficient to state a claim on which relief can be granted.” Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, 590 F.3d 31, 48 (1st Cir. 2009).

         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 547. 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).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Official ...

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