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Unitt v. Bennett

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 5, 2019

LEE P. UNITT
v.
DANIEL BENNETT, et al.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         STEARNS, D.J.

         Now before the court are the Motion to Dismiss (#38) of Marylou Sudders and Monica Bharel and the Motion to Dismiss (#50) of Carol Gladstone. For the reasons stated below, the court will GRANT the motions.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lee Unitt complains of the conditions of confinement while she was incarcerated at MCI Framingham. She claims, inter alia, that she was exposed to dangerous airborne particulates, housed in cells without sufficient circulation or cooling, and subject to overcrowded conditions. According to Unitt, these conditions aggravated her already serious medical condition and caused her health to deteriorate.

         Unitt brings claims for injunctive relief under the Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. and the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7401 et seq. She also brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“§ 1983”) seeking injunctive and monetary relief. She sues Sudders and Bharel in their official and individual capacities and Gladstone in her official capacity.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Claims for Injunctive Relief

         Since commencing this action, Unitt has been released from incarceration. In her opposition (#54), Unitt argues that her release did not moot her request for injunctive relief because, if she violates the terms of her 20-year period of probation, she would return to MCI Framingham where the dangerous conditions would continue to persist. See Id. at 7. However, the mere possibility that Unitt will be re-incarcerated for a probation violation sometime in the next 20 years is too speculative to confer standing on her to seek injunctive relief, whether her claim arises under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Clean Air Act, or § 1983. See Horne v. Flores, 557 U.S. 433, 445 (2009) (“To establish standing, a plaintiff must present an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent . . . .”).

         II. § 1983 Claims for Damages Against Bharel and Sudders

         In the absence of standing to pursue injunctive relief, Unitt's only remaining claims are those for damages under § 1983. Unitt is not pursuing such a claim against Gladstone.

         With regard to the § 1983 claims against Bharel and Sudders, the court concludes that Unitt has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because she has not alleged facts from which the court may reasonably infer that these two defendants were personally involved in the deprivation of Unitt's rights.[1]

         In the context of a § 1983 claim, “only those individuals who participated in the conduct that deprived the plaintiff of his rights can be held liable.” Cepero-Rivera v. Fagundo, 414 F.3d 124, 129 (1st Cir. 2005). The allegations against Bharel, who is the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (“DPH”), do not demonstrate that she was personally involved in the Eighth Amendment violations of which Unitt complains.

         The DPH is required to make rules and regulations for prisons “regarding . . . the ventilation of the building . . . and the general health and safety of the detainee.” M.G.L. ch. 111, § 21. Under the DPH's own regulations, a representative of the DPH must inspect each correctional facility at least two times a year and make a written report. See 105 C.M.R. chs. 451.401, 451.402. Where correction is necessary, the DPH reviews the facility's plan for remediation and can advise the superintendent on the methods that should be employed to correct the deficiencies. See 105 C.M.R. chs. 451.404-451.406. In extreme circumstances where the Department of Correction fails to correct a deficiency that poses a serious threat to health and safety, the Commissioner of the DPH may ask the governor to declare a ...


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