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Monaghan v. Fitzpatrick

United States District Court, D. Maine, Dana Haven

June 22, 2015

AMANDA MONAGHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, Defendant

ORDER ON JOINT MOTION TO WAIVE THE DOCRINE OF MOOTNESS

John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

In this action, Plaintiff Amanda Monaghan challenges the constitutionality of a prison policy maintained by the Maine Department of Corrections, which policy permits the Department to bar all communication, including correspondence, between an inmate and a person “known” to have been a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by the inmate.

On February 20, 2015, the Court denied the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF No. 76.) Following the denial of the motions for summary judgment, because the record suggested that the person with whom Plaintiff wanted contact was no longer in custody, the Court convened a conference of counsel to discuss whether any issues remained for trial. At the conference, the parties informed the Court that even though the person was no longer in custody, the parties believed the matter remained for the Court’s consideration. The Court ordered the parties to file written argument in support of their contention. (ECF No. 79.) The parties subsequently filed a Joint Motion to Waive the Doctrine of Mootness (ECF No. 80). As explained below, after consideration of the parties’ arguments, the Court denies the motion.

Background

Plaintiff has asserted this action against Defendant Joseph Fitzpatrick, Acting Commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, in his official capacity pursuant to the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 4, ECF No. 19.) Plaintiff alleges that one of Defendant’s policies deprives her and her children of a constitutional right to maintain contact with Mr. Hart, her fiancé, who is the father of one of her children and effectively the step-father of her other child. (Id. ¶¶ 8 – 10.)

The policy, described as the “No-Contact Policy, ” provides, in substance, that the Department may bar communications between an inmate and someone “known” to have been victimized by the inmate through one or more acts of domestic violence. The policy applies regardless of the victim’s desire to communicate with the inmate, and regardless of the existence of a domestic violence conviction. During Mr. Hart’s incarceration, the Department applied the policy to prevent Plaintiff from communicating with Mr. Hart, despite the fact (1) that Plaintiff and Mr. Hart mutually desired contact, and (2) that Mr. Hart had not been convicted of a crime of domestic violence against Plaintiff or the children.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 17 – 23.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant deprived her of her constitutional rights under the First Amendment (Counts I and II) and under the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count III).[2] In her prayer for relief, Plaintiff requests (1) a declaration that the No-Contact Policy is unconstitutional, (2) an injunction enjoining Defendant from prohibiting contact with Mr. Hart, and (3) an award of damages, fees, and costs. Although she requests damages, Plaintiff has sued Defendant exclusively in his official capacity. While this case has been pending, Mr. Hart was released from the Department’s custody.

Discussion

An award of damages is not an available remedy in an official capacity suit under section 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). See also Nieves–Marquez v. Puerto Rico, 353 F.3d 108, 124 (1st Cir. 2003) (“No cause of action for damages is stated under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a state, its agency, or its officials acting in an official capacity.”); Caisse v. DuBois, 346 F.3d 213, 218 (1st Cir. 2003) (“Absent an explicit waiver from the state, the Eleventh Amendment bars ‘official capacity suits’ against state actors in federal court unless the suit seeks prospective injunctive relief.”). The issue of whether Plaintiff’s action is moot as the result of Mr. Hart’s release from custody, therefore, must be assessed in the context of Plaintiff’s requests for declaratory and injunctive relief.

A. Relief under Section 1983

Although damages are not available in an official capacity claim against a state officer, federal courts may “enjoin state officials in their official capacities.” Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 690 (1978) (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)). Here, Mr. Hart’s release from custody generates a legitimate issue as to whether the Court can or should consider Plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief.

“Ordinarily, an actual controversy must exist at all stages of litigation to sustain federal court jurisdiction.” Wilson v. Brown, 889 F.2d 1195, 1197 (1st Cir. 1989). When a change in the legal relationship between the parties eliminates the “vital claim for prospective relief, ” Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67 (1997), and when no other remedies are available, a case becomes moot and can be dismissed. Id. at 72.

The law, however, recognizes an exception to the mootness doctrine when a dispute is “capable of repetition yet evading review.” Id. (quoting S. Pac. Terminal Co. v. I.C.C., 219 U.S. 498, 515 (1911), and citing Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125 (1972)). “This exception to the mootness doctrine applies only in ‘exceptional situations.’” Davidson v. Howe, 749 F.3d 21, 26 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 109). To fall within the exception, the record must establish “a ‘reasonable expectation’ or a ‘demonstrated probability’ that the same controversy will recur involving the same complaining party.” Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 482 (1982) (quoting Weinstein v. Bradford, 423 U.S. 147, 149 (1975)).

In this case, therefore, the issue is whether the record establishes a reasonable expectation or demonstrated probability that Mr. Hart will return to the custody of the Maine Department of Corrections and that Plaintiff and the children would be barred from all ...


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