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Johnson v. McDonald

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 12, 2019




         Isaiah Johnson (“Johnson”) claims that he was deprived of his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when he was assaulted by a number of correctional officers while he was a pre-trial detainee at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility (“Facility”). He alleges that several unnamed correctional officers physically assaulted him when he was being transported in a restraint chair.

         Presently before the Court is Sheriff Joseph McDonald (“McDonald”) and Superintendent Antone Moniz's (“Moniz” and together with McDonald, “Defendants”) motion to dismiss, [ECF No. 14]. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 14] is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Johnson, who has a diagnosed mental illness, claims that he was subjected to an unwarranted cell extraction in which he was moved to the Facility's “mental health vicinity” and kept in segregation for twelve months. [ECF No. 9-1 at 5]. Johnson further asserts that he was placed in a restraint chair and that his face was covered in a “spit mask” during the move because a Facility employee claimed that Johnson had bitten him. [Id. at 6]. He alleges that he was then assaulted by Facility employees in a “blind spot, ” where Facility security cameras could not record the attack. [Id.].

         Johnson filed this lawsuit against the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department and an unknown number of unidentified John Does seeking monetary damages and dismissal of his underlying criminal charges. [ECF No. 1]. On April 5, 2019, the Court granted Johnson's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. [ECF No. 6]. The Court also dismissed Johnson's claim against the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department because the Sheriff's Department is an “arm of the state” and is entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. [Id. at 4]. The Court ordered Johnson to file an amended complaint. [Id. at 6]. On April 12, 2019, Johnson filed the amended complaint that identified Defendants both in their official and individual capacities. [ECF No. 9 at 2; ECF No. 9-1 ¶¶ 3-4].

         On May 30, 2019, Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that Defendants are entitled to immunity under the Eleventh Amendment where the claims seek damages and were brought against Defendants in their official capacity. [ECF No. 15 at 3]. They further claim that the amended complaint should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) because the amended complaint fails to state a claim and Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity in any event. [Id. at 3-7]. After Johnson, acting pro se, failed to timely oppose the motion, the Court gave him leave to respond by July 26, 2019. [ECF No. 18]. On July 22, 2019, Johnson filed his opposition. [ECF No. 20]. Johnson's opposition does not address Defendants' arguments, but rather requests that the Court not dismiss his claims. [Id. at 1].


         “A court may not automatically treat a plaintiff's failure [to oppose] a motion to dismiss as a procedural default warranting dismissal irrespective of whether the Complaint has merit, that is, the Court cannot simply allow the motion to dismiss as a sanction [for] failure to oppose the motion.” Phaneuf v. Lustig, Glaser & Wilson P.C., 148 F.Supp.3d 72, 74 (D. Mass. 2015) (emphasis in original). The Court will therefore evaluate the amended complaint to determine whether it sufficiently states a claim, despite Johnson's failure to address Defendants' arguments. Pomerleau v. West Springfield Pub. Sch., 362 F.3d 143, 145 (1st Cir. 2004).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the Court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint, “taken at face value, ” support subject matter jurisdiction. Gordo-González v. United States, 873 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 2017). Because Johnson is invoking federal jurisdiction, he has the burden of establishing that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction. Amoche v. Guarantee Tr. Life Ins. Co., 556 F.3d 41, 48 (1st Cir. 2008). “When considering a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(1) . . ., the Court should apply a standard of review ‘similar to that accorded a dismissal for failure to state a claim' under subsection 12(b)(6).” Rodriguez v. Mass. Parole Bd., No. 16-cv-11113, 2017 WL 706597, at *2 (D. Mass. Feb. 22, 2017) (quoting Menge v. N. Am. Specialty Ins. Co., 905 F.Supp.2d 414, 416 (D.R.I. 2012)).

         To evaluate a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must “accept as true all well-pleaded facts alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the pleader's favor.” A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Santiago v. Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 72 (1st Cir. 2011)). The complaint must set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), and should “contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, '” id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         “To cross the plausibility threshold a claim does not need to be probable, but it must give rise to more than a mere possibility of liability.” Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 44- 45 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A determination of plausibility is ‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” Id. at 44 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “[T]he complaint should be read as a whole, not parsed piece by piece to determine whether each allegation, in isolation, is plausible.” Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor, 723 F.3d 91, 103 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 14 (1st Cir. 2011)). “The plausibility standard invites a two-step pavane.” Maddox, 732 F.3d at 80. First, the Court “must separate the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited).” Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012)). Second, the Court “must determine whether the remaining factual content allows a ‘reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz, 676 F.3d at 224).

         “In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . a pro se complaint must be evaluated upon less stringent standards than those applicable to one drafted by an attorney.” Ulatowski v. Ponte, 524 F.Supp. 1112, 1114 (D. Mass. 1981). The Court is therefore more lenient when considering a complaint filed by a pro se plaintiff. See, e.g., Elliott v. Segal, No. 19-cv-10259-ADB, 2019 WL 5168448, at * 4 n.2 (D. Mass. Oct. 15, 2019) (“Because [Plaintiff] is pro se [the Court] read[s] [her] complaint with an extra degree of solicitude.” (alteration in original) (quoting Malek v. Knightly, No. 94-cv-02113, 1995 WL 338178 (1st Cir. June 5, 1995))). Still, the Court will “not conjure up unpleaded facts to support . . . conclusory [allegations].” Cote v. Murphy, No. 04-2538, 152 Fed.Appx. 6, 7 (1st Cir. Oct. 21, 2005) (alterations in original) (quoting Hurney v. Carver, 602 F.2d 993, 995 (1st Cir. 1979)).

         III. ...

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