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Parker v. Landry

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 20, 2019

BRIDGET PARKER, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
SCOTT LANDRY, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE HON. GEORGE Z. SINGAL, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

          Ezra A. R. Willey and Willey Law Offices on brief for appellant.

          Aaron M. Frey, Attorney General of Maine, James E. Fortin and Christopher C. Taub, Assistant Attorneys General, on brief for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Selya, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         The district court dismissed a complaint filed by plaintiff-appellant Bridget Parker against (as relevant here) three Maine prison officials, determining that the complaint did not state a plausible claim. The plaintiff sought leave to amend, but the district court denied her motion. The court ruled that the proposed amended complaint was futile because it failed to state any plausible claims against the three officials. The plaintiff appeals. Concluding that the court below appropriately evaluated the proposed amended complaint and appropriately denied leave to amend, we affirm.

         I

         We rehearse the relevant facts as set out in the proposed amended complaint, assuming them to be true unless merely conclusory. See D'Agostino v. ev3, Inc., 845 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 2016). At the times material hereto, the plaintiff was incarcerated at the Southern Maine Reentry Center (SMRC), a minimum-security facility operated under the aegis of the Maine Correctional Center (MCC) and the Maine State Prison (MSP) by the Maine Department of Corrections (DOC). On occasion, the SMRC allows inmates to participate in outside work-study programs.

         While in custody, the plaintiff experienced several instances of unwanted sexual contact with a correctional officer, Joshua Dall-Leighton. Shortly after the plaintiff's arrival at the SMRC in September of 2014, she became the target of sexualized comments from Dall-Leighton, who was tasked with driving her to and from her employment and educational courses. Dall-Leighton also used his position of authority and his physical control over the plaintiff to initiate multiple sexual encounters with her, beginning in December of 2015. Notwithstanding the plaintiff's repeated attempts to end their carnal encounters, Dall-Leighton persisted in initiating them.

         The plaintiff felt unable to reject Dall-Leighton's sexual advances due to both fear of adverse consequences and the power dynamic inherent in the situation. She nonetheless disclosed his misconduct to another correctional officer, Renee Shanks. The latter tried to help the plaintiff limit her interactions with Dall-Leighton but did not report his misconduct to her superiors. In conversations with the plaintiff, Shanks appeared sympathetic to Dall-Leighton, distinguishing him from another correctional officer who reportedly had been fired for "preying" on female inmates at the SMRC.

         Around March of 2016, the plaintiff deliberately violated the SMRC's alcohol policy to secure a transfer to a different prison facility (where she would not have any contact with Dall-Leighton). In the new facility, the plaintiff told her story to a fellow inmate, who reported the abuse. This report triggered an investigation and resulted in Dall-Leighton's indictment and dismissal.

         On June 14, 2017, the plaintiff repaired to the United States District Court for the District of Maine and sued the warden of the MCC (Scott Landry), a former warden of the MSP (Randall Liberty), and the former commissioner of the DOC (Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick), whom we shall collectively call "the defendants."[1]With respect to the defendants, the complaint alleged federal constitutional violations, a civil rights conspiracy, and supplementary state-law claims.

         The defendants answered the complaint and moved to dismiss. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The district court treated the motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); see also Aponte-Torres v. Univ. of P.R., 445 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2006) ("Because the defendants previously had answered the amended complaint, the district court appropriately treated their motion to dismiss as one for judgment on the pleadings."). The court proceeded to grant the motion concluding that the plaintiff had not alleged facts sufficient to state any plausible claims against the defendants. See Parker v. Dall-Leighton, No. 2:17-CV-216, 2017 WL 6210892, at *7 (D. Me. Dec. 8, 2017).

          The plaintiff moved for reconsideration and for leave to amend. At the district court's request, she tendered a proposed amended complaint in which she purposed to fill the gaps that had doomed her original complaint. The district court denied both motions, holding in an unpublished order that allowing the motion to amend would be futile because the proposed amended complaint failed to state any plausible claims for relief. After some further proceedings, not pertinent here, the district court entered a final judgment in favor of the defendants. This timely appeal followed.

         II

         We review the district court's disposition of a motion to amend a complaint for abuse of discretion. See Hatch v. Dep't for Children, Youth & Their Families, 274 F.3d 12, 19 (1st Cir. 2001). In most cases - the exceptions are not relevant here - we gauge the court's use of its discretion in keeping with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), which directs that leave to amend a complaint "shall be freely given when justice so requires." Consequently, we will affirm the denial of a motion to amend "so long as the record evinces an arguably adequate basis for ...


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