United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS DISTRICT JUDGE
se plaintiff Robert Williams brings this action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) in which he
asks that the Court order the Commonwealth's Chief
Medical Examiner, Mindy Hull, to amend the death certificate
of the person of whose death Williams was convicted. Williams
has paid the filing fee. For the reasons set forth below, the
Court will direct the plaintiff to show cause why this action
should not be dismissed.
is serving a prison sentence for the 1981 murder of Donald
Roberts. See Commonwealth v. Williams, 503 N.E.2d 1
(Mass. 1987). According to evidence at trial, Williams
and another defendant stabbed Roberts during the robbery of a
package store in Lowell, Massachusetts on March 4, 1981.
See Id. at 3. The next day, the victim lost
consciousness while in the hospital. See Id. He
remained unconscious until he died two weeks later.
Id. During the January 1982 criminal trial, the
medical examiner testified that Roberts died as a result of
multiple stab wounds that perforated the brain. Id.
The same cause of death appeared on the death certificate,
which is dated March 23, 1981. Id.; Compl. Exs. [ECF
No. 1-2] at 2.
present complaint, Williams maintains that “evidence
will overwhelmingly establish that the death certificate is
incorrect, in that it states that the victim died from stab
wounds to the skull and brain.” Compl. [ECF No. 1]
¶ 1. He represents that said evidence establishes that
Roberts died because of the gross negligence of physicians
who treated Roberts at the hospital after the assault and
robbery. See Id. ¶ 10. Williams attaches to the
complaint affidavits, notes, and other documents by doctors
and other medical providers who concluded that Roberts'
immediate cause of death was oxygen deprivation caused by the
malpractice of physicians treating the victim's wounds.
See Compl. Exs.
asks that the Court “afford” the
Commonwealth's Chief Medical Examiner “an
opportunity to amend the cause of death on the death
certificate of Donald E. Roberts.” Compl. at 11.
Williams further requests that “[i]f that does not
occur, ” the Court order the defendant “to amend
the death certificate to include the true cause of death . .
. that Donald E. Roberts died from severe hypoxia and cardiac
federal law, the Court is obligated to conduct a preliminary
review of a complaint filed by a prisoner who “seeks
redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of
a governmental entity.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The
Court may dismiss the compliant sua sponte if it is
frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §
Williams' complaint is subject to dismissal because it
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
Section 1983 provides a private right of action against a
person acting under state law who has deprived the plaintiff
of a right secured by federal law. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. Williams invokes the Fourteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution. Compl. ¶ 27. The Court
assumes that Williams is referring to the Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment. This guarantee of due process
“protects persons against deprivations of life,
liberty, or property; and those who seek to invoke its
procedural protection must establish that one of these
interests is at stake.” Wilkinson v. Austin,
545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005).
has not alleged facts supporting that he has a life, liberty,
or property interest in the amendment of Roberts' death
certificate. Williams argues that the Fourteenth Amendment
“guarantees Robert Williams, Jr., and all others, that
all death certificates must be correct and list the correct
cause of death predicated upon the correct medical reporting
and that the result must be articulated and based upon
correct medical testing and results.” Compl. ¶ 27.
However, the cases he cites in support of this conclusion
merely illustrate that a death certificate can be amended in
appropriate circumstances. They do not hold that all
individuals have a protected interest in the death
certificates of others.
the Court does not discern any basis for concluding that
Williams has a protected interest in the amendment of
Roberts' death certificate in particular. The fact that
the death certificate identifies a stab wound as the cause of
death does not interfere with Williams' ability to raise,
in the appropriate proceeding, evidence of the
physicians' malpractice. Williams' widow, who sued
the treating physicians for malpractice in September 1981,
was apparently successful in obtaining a favorable ruling
from the medical malpractice tribunal, notwithstanding that
the death certificate identified a stab wound to the head as
the cause of death. See Williams, 503 N.E.2d at 3-4.
addition, amendment of the death certificate to include only
the immediate cause of Roberts' death would not absolve
Williams of criminal liability. In upholding the denial of
Williams' motion for a new trial to include evidence of
the medical malpractice lawsuit, the Supreme Judicial Court
concluded that “a jury would not be warranted in
considering evidence that the victim's wounds were
negligently treated unless there also was evidence that that
treatment was the only cause of the victim's
death.” Id. at 4; see also Id.
(“We have said that ‘[i]f a person inflicts a
wound with a deadly weapon in such manner as to put life in
jeopardy, and death follows as a consequence of this
felonious and wicked act, it does not alter its nature or
diminish its criminality to prove that other causes
cooperated in producing the fatal result.'”
(alteration in original) (quoting Commonwealth v.
Fernette, 500 N.E.2d 1290, 1296