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Parker v. Dall-Leighton

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 8, 2017

BRIDGET PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSH DALL-LEIGHTON et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE AND DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          George Z. Singal United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Scott Landry, Randall Liberty, Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick, and the State of Maine (ECF No. 13), Plaintiff's Motion to Strike (ECF No. 16), and Defendant Renee Shanks's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 29). For the reasons briefly explained below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion; GRANTS Defendant Landry, Liberty, Fitzpatrick, and the State of Maine's Motion; and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendant Shanks's Motion.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and a demand for the relief sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1)-(3). The Court assumes the truth of the complaint's well-pleaded facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Schatz v. Republican State Leadership Comm., 669 F.3d 50, 55 (1st Cir. 2012). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “may consider only facts and documents that are part of or incorporated into the complaint.” United Auto., Aerospace, Agric. Implement Workers of Am. Int'l Union v. Fortuño, 633 F.3d 37, 39 (1st Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted).

         A viable complaint need not proffer “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” but in order to survive a motion to dismiss it must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). At this point in the litigation, “the determination of whether an issue is trialworthy simply is not the same as the determination of whether a plaintiff states a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Bodman v. Maine, Dep't of Health and Human Servs., 720 F.Supp.2d 115, 121 (D. Me. 2010).

         However, “[i]f the factual allegations in the complaint are too meager, vague, or conclusory to remove the possibility of relief from the realm of mere conjecture, the complaint is open to dismissal.” Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 46 (1st Cir. 2011) (quotation marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (stating that a court need not accept “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements”). In short, a plaintiff must plead facts indicating “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On June 14, 2017, Plaintiff Bridget Parker filed a Complaint (ECF No. 1) against Corrections Officer Josh Dall-Leighton; Corrections Officer Renee Shanks; Scott Landry, Warden of the Maine Correctional Center; Randall Liberty, Warden of the Maine State Prison; and Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick, Commissioner of the State of Maine Department of Corrections, as well as against the State of Maine. Parker alleges she was subjected to unwelcome sexual advances and eventually coerced into sexual contact by Defendant Dall-Leighton during times that she was a state inmate and he was responsible for transporting her between work or school and the Southern Maine Re-entry Center.

         As alleged in the Complaint, on several occasions, Dall-Leighton pulled a transport vehicle onto a side road or into a parking lot and coerced Parker into sexual relations in the vehicle, sometimes without a condom. On one occasion, Parker and Dall-Leighton had sex in a transport vehicle parked outside her work. These sexual encounters resulted in Parker contracting an incurable, sexually transmitted disease.[1] Dall-Leighton also pressured her into communicating with him via phone during her furloughs and the two engaged in sexual conversations and exchanged sexual texts and photographs. After one sexual encounter in a transport van, Dall-Leighton “said ‘shit, this [is] Butterfield's van, ' meaning [another corrections officer] who was charged with sexually assaulting another inmate, and who [Dall-Leighton] was best friends with.” (Compl. ¶ 62.) “On information and belief, [Dall-Leighton] was suspended, partially without pay, during the period of Butterfield's investigation for inappropriate sexual relations with female inmates.” (Id.)

         Dall-Leighton made unwanted sexual comments and touched Parker inappropriately at the re-entry center and generally interacted with her in a way that would not be normal for a corrections officer to act toward an inmate in front of other inmates, other corrections officers, and her co-workers. Before or after several sexual encounters, Dall-Leighton made excuses to other corrections officers or to re-entry staff to explain any delay in Parker arriving at her scheduled destination. On at least one occasion, other inmates questioned Parker about why she was being spoken to familiarly by a corrections officer and she “ma[d]e up responses to why she was being spoken to by a” corrections officer. (Compl. ¶ 86.) One particular inmate, Jessica Pomerleau, [2]“kept asking [Parker] why [Dall-Leighton] kept talking to [Parker], to which [Parker] had to make up random responses, such as there was an issue with her laundry bag, etc.” (Compl. ¶ 87.) At one point, Parker “began to try to push for a new job so that she would not have to be transported by” Dall-Leighton (Compl. ¶ 97), but she did not get a new job and she “did not disclose why” she wanted one (Compl. ¶ 98).

         However, Parker did tell Defendant Corrections Officer Renee Shanks about the situation after Shanks approached Parker several times to ask “if something was going on between her and” Dall-Leighton. (Compl. ¶ 66.) Parker disclosed to Shanks how Dall-Leighton's conduct was affecting her emotionally and Shanks helped Parker in her attempt to get a new job so that she could avoid contact with him. Shanks also gave Parker her phone number and they talked by phone and text, as well as in person. Despite having approximately ten conversations with Parker about the situation with Dall-Leighton, Shanks “never reported it to the authorities” (Compl. ¶ 72) and “made no attempts at disclosing the alleged abuses to anyone” (Compl. ¶ 98). During her conversations with Shanks, Parker told Shanks “that she thought [Dall-Leighton] was just like [another corrections officer] who, on information and belief, had been investigated and fired for ‘preying' on female inmates.” (Compl. ¶ 73.) Shanks responded that Dall-Leighton “was just looking for ‘happiness'” and that Dall-Leighton “was nothing like” the other officer. (Compl. ¶ 74.)

         Parker eventually “got very intoxicated on alcohol so that she would be sent back to the prison as she needed to escape the situation she was being forced to live at the Re-entry Center.” (Compl. ¶ 120.) She was sent back to prison, where she disclosed the situation with Dall-Leighton to another inmate, who reported it to the authorities. Parker cooperated with the ensuing investigation, “although she did hold back certain information as she had a lack of trust for the system that she was in.” (Compl. ¶ 123.) When Parker returned to the re-entry center, Shanks “immediately approached [Parker] about not telling anyone that [Parker] has previously disclosed to [Shanks] what had occurred, and also that if anyone asked, that [Shanks] did not give [Parker] her [telephone] number and that [Parker] instead saw it on a desk and wrote it down herself.” (Compl. ¶ 129.) Parker believed that Shanks was asking her to lie about Shanks's knowledge of Dall-Leighton's conduct. Shanks also told Parker that she was sorry about previously having said that Dall-Leighton was not like the other officer who preyed on women, and that Shanks now agreed with Parker that Dall-Leighton was like that officer.

         The investigation into Dall-Leighton stopped once he was arrested. Approximately two months after the investigation into Dall-Leighton's sexual assaults of Parker commenced, she “learned that that there was also an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by Defendant Dall-Leighton towards Jessica Pomerle[a]u.” (Compl. ¶ 133.) Another inmate, Crystal Gagnier, also known as “Tasha, ” also confided in Parker that Dall-Leighton “had done the same thi[n]gs to her that he had done to” Parker. (Compl. ¶ 134.) Parker told Shanks about what Tasha had told her. Parker understood that Shanks spoke to Tasha but that Tasha denied being assaulted by Dall-Leighton. Shanks never reported the allegations involving Tasha, or her conversation with Tasha, to any authorities. As a result of Dall-Leighton's conduct, and in addition to the harm caused by her sexually transmitted disease, Parker is now uncomfortable “being alone with any men of power”; has panic attacks when she sees a male police officer; is depressed and feels inhibited from moving forward with her goals and aspirations; cannot enter into a relationship with a man; and is “extremely sensitive to being touched now, which has caused her a great deal of issues with her children as it has created a barrier between her and them.” (Compl. ¶¶ 149-55.)

         During the relevant period, Defendants Landry and Liberty “had oversight and control of the Southern Maine Re[-]entry Center and its employees.” (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6.) Defendant Dr. Fitzpatrick “had oversight and control of all State of Maine correctional facilities and corrections employees, including, but not limited to, the Southern Maine Re[-]entry Center.” (Compl. ¶ 8.) Defendant Shanks was acting as a corrections officer for the Maine Department of Corrections at the Southern Maine Re-entry Center. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

         Based on these allegations, Parker brought the following claims against Defendants Dall-Leighton, Landry, Liberty, Fitzpatrick, all in their individual and official capacities, and the State of Maine: Count I (Assault and Battery); Count II (Negligence); Count III (Fraudulent Misrepresentation); Count IV (Negligent Misrepresentation); Count V (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress); Count VI (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress); Count VII (Civil Conspiracy); Count VIII (Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Count IX (Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3), 1988); Count X (Punitive Damages); Count XI (Due Process - Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; Article I, § 6-A to the Maine Constitution); Count XII (U.S. Constitution Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments; Maine Constitution, Article I, §§ 5, 6-A, and 9); and Count XIII (False Arrest, False Imprisonment, and Invasion of Privacy). Pursuant to a stipulation, Parker is only bringing the following claims against Shanks, in her individual and official capacity: Count II (Negligence); Count V (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress); Count VII (Civil Conspiracy); County VIII (Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. § 1983); Count IX (Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3), 1988); Count XI (Due Process - Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; Article I, § 6-A to the Maine Constitution); and Count XII (U.S. Constitution Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments; Maine Constitution, Article I, §§ 5, 6-A, and 9). (See Stipulation (ECF No. 31), PageID #s 148-49.) Parker is seeking damages against all Defendants, including punitive damages, as well as attorney's fees.[3]

         On July 6, 2017, Defendants Landry, Liberty, Fitzpatrick, and the State of Maine filed an Answer and pleaded failure to state a claim.[4] (ECF No. 12.) On July 10, 2017, these same Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 13.) On July 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition and moved to strike Defendants' Motion to Dismiss because they had already filed an Answer. (ECF Nos. 15 & 16.) On September 15, 2017, Defendant Shanks filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against her pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).[5] (ECF No. 29.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a motion asserting failure to state a claim “must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.” (Emphasis added). Defendants admit that they failed to comply with this Rule when they filed their Motion to Dismiss after filing an Answer. (Defs.' Opp'n to Mot. to Strike (ECF No. 20), PageID # 108.) However, courts frequently treat an untimely motion to dismiss as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See, e.g., Aponte-Torres v. Univ. of Puerto Rico, 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.”). A motion to dismiss and a motion for judgment on the pleadings “are ordinarily accorded much the same treatment, ” but for the “modest difference” that a “Rule 12(c) motion . . . implicates the pleadings as a whole.” Id. at 54-55. In this case, the Court notes that any consideration of Defendants' Answer does not change its analysis of whether Plaintiff has stated a claim. Given this, and the fact that Defendants did not waive their failure to state a claim defense by filing their Motion to Dismiss after their Answer, see Fed R. Civ. P. 12(h), the Court can discern no prejudice to Plaintiff from treating Defendants' Motion as a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff's arguments against this straightforward course are unconvincing and not supported by any legal citation. The Court also rejects Plaintiff's attempts to introduce into the record through briefing on the motion to strike newspaper articles that she did not include with her Complaint, and the Court does not consider these documents. See Collier v. City of Chicopee, 158 F.3d 601, 602-03 (1st Cir. 1998) (explaining that consideration of material outside the pleadings necessitates conversion of a Rule 12 motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment with that Rule's different legal standard and notice requirements).

         For these reasons, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and considers the Motion filed by Defendants Landry, Liberty, Fitzpatrick, and the State of Maine as a motion for judgment on the pleadings. However, the Court notes this conversion to Rule 12(c) allows the Court to review ...


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