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Bernard v. Town of Lebanon Maine

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 3, 2017

PAUL BERNARD, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF LEBANON, MAINE, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         A former paramedic student has brought suit against a municipality, alleging that the municipality violated his procedural due process rights when the chief of the municipality's rescue department publicly associated him with an investigation into missing fentanyl. The former paramedic student asserts that as a result of the defamatory statement, he was dismissed from the paramedic program at his community college, and that his career as an EMT and future paramedic has been destroyed. In addition to the procedural due process claim, the former paramedic student also asserts a standalone claim for punitive damages.

         The municipality moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court dismisses the procedural due process claim because the former paramedic student has not shown that the chief was involved in the community college's decision to dismiss the former paramedic student, and because the burdens on the student's future employment prospects, without more, are not constitutionally cognizable injuries. Furthermore, the Court dismisses the punitive damages claim because punitive damages are a remedy, not a standalone count. However, the Court grants the student fourteen days to file a motion for leave to amend his complaint with a properly framed amended pleading.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On January 26, 2016, Paul Bernard, Jr., filed a complaint against the town of Lebanon, Maine (Town). Compl. (ECF No. 1) (Compl.). On March 10, 2016, the Town filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Def. Town's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. (ECF No. 4). Mr. Bernard responded on March 23, 2016. Obj. of Pl. Paul Bernard, Jr. to the Def. Town of Lebanon's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. (ECF No. 5). In the final sentence of his response, Mr. Bernard moved for leave to amend his complaint “to include a Due Process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Id. at 11; Mot. to Amend Compl. (ECF No. 6). The Town replied to Mr. Bernard's response on April 5, 2016. Def. Town's Reply to Pl.'s Resp. to the Town's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. (ECF No. 8).

         On July 22, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision in which he recommended that the Court grant Mr. Bernard's motion to amend the complaint. Recommended Decision on Mot. to Dismiss and Mot. to Amend at 1 (ECF No. 9) (Recommended Decision). On August 15, 2016, the Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's recommendation without objection and permitted Mr. Bernard ten days to file an amended complaint, following which the Court would deny the Town's motion to dismiss, but failing which the Court would grant the motion with prejudice. Order Affirming the Recommended Decision of the Magistrate Judge at 1 (ECF No. 10) (Order). Mr. Bernard filed an amended complaint on August 23, 2016, First Am. Compl. (ECF No. 11) (Am. Compl.), and the Court denied the Town's motion to dismiss the same day. Order Den. Mot. to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (ECF No. 12).

         On September 13, 2016, the Town filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Bernard's amended complaint. Def. Town's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl. (ECF No. 13) (Def.'s Mot.). On September 22, 2016, Mr. Bernard filed a response. Obj. of Pl. Paul Bernard Jr. to the Def. Town of Lebanon's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl. (ECF No. 14) (Pl.'s Resp.). The Town replied on October 6, 2016. Def. Town's Reply to Pl.'s Obj. to Town's Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Am. Compl. (ECF No. 15) (Def.'s Reply).

         B. The Alleged Facts[1]

         Paul Bernard, Jr., is a resident of Dover, New Hampshire. Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Mr. Bernard became an EMT in 2008. Id. ¶ 7. In September 2012, Mr. Bernard began attending Northern Essex Community College (NECC) in Massachusetts to become a paramedic. Id. Mr. Bernard started a field internship with Cataldo Ambulance, a Massachusetts company, in December 2013. Id. ¶ 8. In January 2014, Mr. Bernard went on a Cataldo Ambulance call during which a patient was administered an entire pre-filled syringe (2 mg) of Narcan. Id. ¶ 9. After transporting the patient to the hospital, Mr. Bernard's supervisor asked if Mr. Bernard wanted to keep the empty vial of Narcan for training purposes. Id. ¶ 10. Mr. Bernard replied, “Yes, as long as it's okay, ” and the supervisor gave him the empty vial. Id.

         On about January 28, 2014, Mr. Bernard had a telephone conversation with Mario Stefano, an employee of the Lebanon Rescue Department. Id. ¶ 11. Mr. Bernard had been working as an EMT for the Lebanon Rescue Department since August 2013. Id. The conversation revolved around another employee and possible missing Fentanyl-a matter that Mr. Bernard alleges had nothing to do with him. Id. During the conversation, it came up that the other employee possessed empty vials, and Mr. Stefano opined that this was illegal. Id. Mr. Bernard immediately told Mr. Stefano about the Narcan vial that his supervisor at Cataldo Ambulance permitted him to keep for training. Id. Mr. Bernard stated he did not believe it was illegal to possess the empty vial but that he would nevertheless discard the vial the following day, which he did. Id.

         Mr. Bernard alleges that Lebanon Rescue Chief Raymond Parent then ordered Mr. Stefano to call Cataldo Ambulance regarding Mr. Bernard. Id. ¶ 12. On January 29, 2014, Mr. Bernard received a call from the Clinical Director of Cataldo Ambulance informing him that he was being suspended due to an “ongoing investigation” but did not refer to the empty vial. Id. ¶ 13. Later that day, Rory Putnam, Mr. Bernard's Clinical Advisor at NECC asked Mr. Bernard, “What's going on in Lebanon?” Id. Mr. Bernard responded that he did not know what Mr. Putnam was talking about. Id. Mr. Putnam informed Mr. Bernard that there was a “fentanyl investigation” and that someone from the Lebanon Rescue Department had called Cataldo Ambulance and said that Mr. Bernard was being investigated for fentanyl and the vial. Id.

         Mr. Bernard alleges that he has never been the subject of a fentanyl investigation. Id. ¶ 14. Further, Mr. Bernard asserts that as a result of the Lebanon Rescue Department's communication with Cataldo Ambulence, he was dismissed from the paramedic program at NECC and his career as an EMT and future paramedic has been effectively destroyed. Id.

         C. Counts in the Amended Complaint

         In Count I, Mr. Bernard asserts:

Defendant, Town of Lebanon, through its duly authorized agents, engage[d] in conduct . . . that directly deprived Plaintiff of his constitutional due process rights not only through their own individual acts and conduct, but by setting in motion a series of acts by others which Defendant knew, or reasonably should have known, would cause Plaintiff to be deprived of his constitutional rights of due process and would result in his losing his career and livelihood and to suffer other direct and consequential damages.

Id. ¶ 19. Specifically, Mr. Bernard alleges that the Town, through its agents, made defamatory statements to Cataldo Ambulance that culminated in his dismissal from the paramedic program at NECC. Id. ΒΆΒΆ 12, 14, 16. Mr. Bernard states that the Town's conduct resulted in damage to his reputation, the loss of his career, a loss of income and earning capacity, emotional distress, ...


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