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Lauzon v. Dodd

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 14, 2016

MATTHEW LAUZON, Plaintiff
v.
STEPHEN DODD, in his individual capacity; ROGER BEAUPRE, in his official capacity as Chief of Police for the Biddeford Police Department and in his individual capacity; and CITY OF BIDDEFORD, Defendants LAWRENCE OUELLETTE, Plaintiff
v.
NORMAN GAUDETTE, in his individual capacity; ROGER BEAUPRE, in his official capacity as Chief of Police for the Biddeford Police Department and in his individual c ap acity; and CITY OF BIDDEFORD, Defendants

          DECISION AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS’ MOTIONS TO AMEND COMPLAINT AND ORDER FOR FURTHER BRIEFING ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          D. BROCK HORNBY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         These cases claim that Biddeford police officers violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (2015), as well as related state laws. Both lawsuits allege sexual assault (during different time periods many years ago) by Biddeford police officers when the plaintiffs were minors. They also assert that the Biddeford Police Chief and the City of Biddeford failed to investigate, supervise, or train Biddeford police officers, thereby creating a widespread custom, habit, practice, and/or policy of permitting Biddeford police officers to sexually assault minors. Despite a serious statute of limitations issue, at this stage of the litigation before any discovery has occurred, the federal accrual rule may “save” the plaintiffs’ claims against the Police Chief and the City because of when the plaintiffs say they first learned of Biddeford officials’ involvement. Before I rule, however, I direct the parties to brief the significance of the First Circuit’s decision in Nieves v. McSweeney, 241 F.3d 46 (1st Cir. 2001), as explained further below.

         Background

         I. Procedural History

         The procedural postures of these two cases is almost identical. The plaintiffs filed separate Complaints in the Maine Superior Court, each alleging three federal claims under section 1983-one against the police officer individually (for Lauzon, Officer Stephen Dodd; for Ouellette, Officer Norman Gaudette), one against Chief Roger Beaupre individually, and one against the Chief in his official capacity and the City of Biddeford (“Municipal Defendants”)- and a state law tort claim of negligent supervision against the Municipal Defendants. Lauzon Compl. (ECF No. 3-1); Ouellette Compl. (ECF No. 1-2). The defendants removed the cases to this court and moved to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Complaints, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations.[1] Defs. Roger Beaupre and City of Biddeford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 2 (ECF No. 19) (“Lauzon Defs.’ Mot.); Defs. Gaudette, Roger Beaupre & City of Biddeford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 3 (ECF No. 6) (“Ouellette Defs.’ Mot.”).

         Lauzon and Ouellette then moved to amend their Complaints, adding Count V-a state law claim for sexual assault-and “clarifying” that they did not know about the Chief’s or the City’s role in violating their constitutional rights until 2014-2015, when media coverage and Biddeford Police Department investigations revealed municipal involvement in “turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of minors.” Lauzon’s First Mot. to Am. Compl. at 5 (ECF No. 29); Ouellette’s First Mot. to Am. Compl. at 5 (ECF No. 13). A few days after moving to amend their Complaints, the plaintiffs filed their respective oppositions to the defendants’ motions to dismiss. In their oppositions, they stipulate to the dismissal of their Count I section 1983 claims against officers Dodd and Gaudette, but they ask the court to grant their pending motions to amend their Complaints so that they may hold Dodd and Gaudette accountable for the same conduct under state claims of sexual assault-Count V of the plaintiffs’ Amended Complaints-which are not subject to a statute of limitations. Lauzon’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6, 8-9 (ECF No. 33) (“Lauzon Opp’n”); Ouellette’s Opp’n to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6, 8-9 (ECF No. 14) (“Ouellette Opp’n”); see 14 M.R.S.A. § 752-C (2015). They also stipulate to the dismissal of their state law claims against the Municipal Defendants for negligent supervision (Count IV of their Complaints and the Amended Complaints). Lauzon Opp’n at 13; Ouellette Opp’n at 12. As to Counts II and III-the section 1983 claims against the Chief and the City-they argue that the federal rule for when a claim accrues defers the accrual date of these claims until 2014-2015, when an investigation first alerted Lauzon and Ouellette to the Municipal Defendants’ role in violating their constitutional rights. As a result, they say, their lawsuits are well within Maine’s six-year statute of limitations. Lauzon Opp’n at 6-10; Ouellette Opp’n at 6-10. Lauzon and Ouellette also assert that their claims should be tolled based on a theory of fraudulent concealment. Lauzon Opp’n at 10; Ouellette Opp’n at 10.

         II. Plaintiffs’ Motions to Amend their Complaints

         The motions to amend the Complaints come at an early stage in the litigation, before the defendants have filed Answers, and before any discovery has taken place. Finding no prejudice to the defendants by virtue of allowing the amendments[2] and given the “liberal amendment policy” of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), O’Connell v. Hyatt Hotels of P.R., 357 F.3d 152, 154 (1st Cir. 2004), I Grant the plaintiffs’ motions to amend their Complaints. As a result, and accepting the plaintiffs’ stipulations of dismissal as to Counts I and IV, the remaining claims before me for decision are Counts II and III-the section 1983 claims against the Chief and the City-and Count V-the state law sexual assault claim against Dodd and Gaudette, respectively.

         III. Facts for Purposes of the Motions to Dismiss

         Because I am ruling on motions to dismiss, I construe the facts alleged in the Amended Complaints in the light most favorable to Lauzon and Ouellette. See Rodríguez-Ortiz v. Margo Caribe, Inc., 490 F.3d 92, 94 (1st Cir. 2007). Although the two cases are strikingly similar, because they involve different police officers and different time periods, I separate them for clarity. At this point, I do not know whether the facts as alleged are true, but I must treat them as if they are.

         A. Lauzon v. Dodd, et al.

         Between 1998 and 1999, when Lauzon was thirteen or fourteen years old, an adult neighbor sexually abused him. Lauzon Am. Compl. ¶ 10 (ECF No. 29-1). The Biddeford Police Department investigated the incident, but at the time of the investigation, Lauzon was too embarrassed to admit what had happened. Id. ¶¶ 11-12. Weeks later, Officer Stephen Dodd contacted Lauzon, offered to help him with the neighbor’s sexual abuse, and picked up Lauzon to discuss the incident. Id. ¶¶ 13-16. Dodd drove Lauzon to a secluded dirt road and proceeded to assault him sexually. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Officer Dodd sexually assaulted Lauzon on at least one other occasion. Id. ¶ 21.

         Before Officer Dodd sexually assaulted Lauzon, Chief Roger Beaupre of the Biddeford Police Department had received information that Dodd and at least one other Biddeford police officer had sexually assaulted minors in Biddeford. Id. ¶ 23. Despite this information, the Chief took no steps to protect Lauzon or other minors in Biddeford from being sexually assaulted. Id. ¶ 25. Officer Dodd has stated (the Amended Complaint does not say to whom) that Chief Beaupre would not take action to terminate Officer Dodd because Dodd had photographic and/or video evidence of Chief Beaupre’s alleged relationship with Officer Dodd and one other person that, if disclosed, would significantly compromise the Chief. Id.

         Chief Beaupre engaged in a pattern of altering Biddeford Police Department internal affairs policies and establishing department policies to allow Officer Dodd to remain in his position during and after the period that sexual abuse allegations were made against Dodd and before Lauzon was sexually assaulted. Id. Chief Beaupre also failed to provide mandatory notification to Maine’s Department of Human Services of Officer Dodd’s sexual abuse, despite his obligation to do so. Id. Lauzon first discovered the Municipal ...


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