Saintcome v. Tully et al
Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: ENDORSED ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDERFor the foregoing reasons,1) plaintiffs motion for appointment of counsel (Docket No. 16) is DENIED, and2) defendants motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Docket No. 14) is DENIED.So ordered.(Caruso, Stephanie)
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
Jason Tully, et al.,
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
This case arises from an alleged incident of excessive
force against a restrained, pre-trial detainee.
William Saintcome (“Saintcome” or “plaintiff”) asserts that two
defendant correctional officers, Officer Jason Tully (“Tully”)
and Officer C. Perrin (“Perrin”), deprived him of his civil
Saintcome alleges that while he was awaiting release
from the segregation unit of the Billerica House of Corrections
(“BHOC”) in Billerica, Massachusetts, the defendant officers
used improper, excessive force against him in violation of his
constitutional rights under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments of the United States Constitution.
He also alleges
state tort claims of assault and battery against both
Pending before the Court are defendants’ motion to dismiss
and plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel.
For the reasons that
follow, plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel will be denied and
defendants’ motion to dismiss will also be denied.
Plaintiff is a prisoner at Massachusetts Correctional
Institution - Concord appearing pro se.
Prior to his
incarceration in that facility, he was imprisoned awaiting trial
at the BHOC.
Saintcome alleges that on November 12, 2014, he was
scheduled to be released from the BHOC’s segregation unit.
Defendant Perrin and a third corrections officer, Officer
Corindina (“Corindina”), had placed Saintcome in restraints
before his daily recreation time.
When time came to remove the
restraints, defendant Tully appeared.
Saintcome requested that
Corindina, rather than Tully, remove the restraints.
He did so
because of a prior verbal confrontation with Tully, when the
officer allegedly denied him a meal that satisfied his religious
dietary restrictions and Tully made derogatory remarks about
plaintiff’s Islamic faith.
According to the complaint, when Saintcome requested that
Corindina remove his restraints, Tully slammed his head into the
cell wall and pushed him onto the bunk where his head hit the
Perrin then allegedly entered the cell and elbowed
Saintcome four times in the face before Corindina intervened and
commanded Tully to leave, at which time Tully allegedly engaged
in another tirade of racial and religious epithets.
On October 14, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging
violations of his civil rights against Officers Tully and
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a defendant may move
to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted.
Rule 12(b)(6) requires that a complaint
contain “sufficient factual matter” to state a claim for relief
that is actionable as a matter of law and “plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 667 (2009) (quoting Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570(2007)).
A claim is
facially plausible if, after accepting as true all nonconclusory factual allegations, the court can draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged. Ocasio–Hernandez v. Fortuno–Burset, 640 F.3d
1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).
Defendant claims that the complaint should be dismissed
because 1) defendants’ alleged use of force did not rise to the
level of a deprivation of a constitutional right, 2) defendants
are shielded by qualified immunity, 3) plaintiff’s cause of
action is not properly pled and 4) plaintiff’s state law claims
cannot be sustained.
Plaintiff has claimed a deprivation of a
civil right and seeks money damages.
In order to sue an
official acting under color of law for money damages for
deprivation of a constitutional right, the sole remedy available
under federal law is found in 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
To succeed on a § 1983 claim for excessive force against a
pretrial detainee, the plaintiff must show that the defendant
purposely or knowingly used objectively unreasonable force
against him. Miranda-Rivera v. Toledo-Davila, 813 F.3d 64, 70
(1st Cir. 2016).
The reasonableness of the force used
Where, as here, a plaintiff alleges that excessive force
was used by corrections officers on an incarcerated pretrial
detainee, the Supreme Court has held that the appropriate
standard of review is objective reasonableness. Kingsley v.
Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473–74 (2015).
To prevail in such
an action, plaintiff must show that the offending officer
“purposely or knowingly used [force] against him[, which] was
objectively unreasonable” and the court must take into account
whether the action was needed to “preserve internal order and
discipline.” Id. at 2473.
For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, all well-pled
factual allegations are taken as true. Ocasio-Hernandez, 640
F.3d at 12.
Given that Saintcome was restrained at the time of
the incident, a factfinder could plausibly infer that the
alleged acts of Tully and Perrin did not constitute an
objectively reasonable use of force.
Furthermore, plaintiff has
alleged that the motivation for the force was racial and
religious animus on the part of Tully, rather than a desire to
preserve order and discipline.
Thus, plaintiff has properly
stated a claim of excessive force against both defendants.
When a pretrial detainee makes an allegation of excessive
force, there is an open question concerning the specific civil
right which has been infringed. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
386, 395 (1989).
The Court in Graham reserved the question of
whether the Fourth Amendment’s protection of arrestees against
excessive force extends to pretrial detainees, or whether such
claims should be analyzed under Fourteenth Amendment due
The 1st Circuit has yet to resolve the question but some
district courts within the Circuit have analyzed the issue under
the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures.
See Miranda-Rivera, 813 F.3d at 70; see also Rivera–García v.
Román–Carrero, 938 F.Supp.2d 189, 198–99 (D.P.R. 2013)
(rejecting application of Fourteenth Amendment due process
protection for arrestee).
For the purpose of this motion, we
accept as pled the plaintiff’s uncontested claim that the civil
right implicated in this instance of purported excessive force
was his right to be free of unreasonable seizure.
Defendants maintain that the use of force described in the
complaint cannot rise to the level of a constitutional violation
because the quantum of force used was de minimis.
that contention, they cite the Supreme Court’s holding in Hudson
v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 9-10 (1992) and a string of subsequent
Those cases are inapposite, however, because they deal with
the Eighth Amendment’s bar on corrective punishment of convicts.
Because, at the time of the incident, plaintiff was not
convicted of a crime but rather was a pre-trial detainee, it is
the Fourth, not the Eighth, Amendment that is implicated.
proper standard in this case is to examine whether, in the
context of the incident, the level of force used against
Saintcome was objectively reasonable. See Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at
An attempt to quantify the harm suffered by plaintiff has
little bearing on whether the force was necessary or reasonable.
Taking these facts as true, plaintiff has pled facts that
plausibly constitute a claim of excessive force.
plaintiff’s cause of action will not be dismissed on these
Defendants’ immunity defense
Section 1983 is the sole method under federal law to sue
for money damages for the deprivation of constitutional rights
against individuals who would otherwise be protected by Eleventh
Amendment sovereign immunity. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).
However, § 1987 does not allow
for awards of money damages against officials acting in their
official capacities, as they are not “persons” as defined by the
Defendants contend that by identifying defendants
as corrections officers, plaintiff has brought this action
against them in their official capacities, and therefore they
are protected by sovereign immunity.
That contention is
Although all parties are required to adhere to the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has
held that the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff are to be read
liberally. Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 188 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir.
Plaintiff is explicit in his complaint that he is
bringing suit against Tully and Perrin solely “in their
individual capacities”, rendering them susceptible to suit for
To the extent that they are sued in an individual capacity,
defendants are provided no shield of immunity by the Eleventh
Amendment, and plaintiff’s claims will not be dismissed on that
The sufficiency of plaintiff’s complaint
To prevail on a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for excessive force,
a plaintiff must show that a person acting under color of state
law subjected them to a deprivation of rights secured by the
constitution. See Will, 491 at 64.
Defendants contend that
because 1) plaintiff did not specifically invoke § 1983 and
2) there exists no independent cause of action under the
Fourteenth Amendment, plaintiff’s pleading was insufficient and
must be dismissed.1
Federal pleading rules call for “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
They do not, however, require
that a plaintiff enumerate every statute empowering their cause
of action. Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S. Ct. 346, 347
A cursory review of plaintiff’s complaint reveals that he
has properly pled the elements of a § 1983 claim for excessive
A finder of fact could plausibly determine that the
force used against Saintcome was not objectively reasonable
Plaintiff has clarified in his memorandum in opposition to defendants’ motion
to dismiss that his complaint is meant to allege a cause of action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983.
given the allegation that he was restrained and compliant at the
The Supreme Court has held that it is sufficient for a
plaintiff to plead facts sufficient to demonstrate substantive
There is no requirement to invoke § 1983 by rote
in order to state such a claim. See id.
Accordingly, defendants’ motion to dismiss under Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(6) will be denied.
Plaintiff’s state law claims
Defendants, anticipating dismissal of the federal claim in
this case, have asked this Court to dispose of the state law
claims as well.
Federal courts have supplemental jurisdiction to adjudicate
pendent state claims arising from the same case or controversy
as a plaintiff’s federal claims. 18 U.S.C. § 1367.
Court finds that plaintiff has sufficiently pled facts which
plausibly allege a cause of action under § 1983, plaintiff’s
state tort claims will be considered as well. See RodriguezReyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 58 (1st Cir. 2013)
(reversing summary judgment on federal claim and reinstating
state law claims).
For that reason, defendants’ motion to
dismiss the state law claims will be denied.
Plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel
Plaintiff requests that counsel be appointed to aid him in
preparation of his claim.
That request will be denied.
litigants have no constitutional right to counsel. Cookish v.
Cunningham, 787 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1986).
A district court has
discretion, however, to appoint counsel to indigent civil
litigants in “exceptional circumstances” based upon the kind and
complexity of factual and legal issues involved and the ability
of the individual bringing it 1) to conduct whatever factual
investigation is necessary and 2) to present his or her case.
Id. at 2–3.
“Exceptional circumstances” warranting the appointment of
counsel for the plaintiffs are lacking in this case. See id. at
The plaintiff is already familiar with the facts of this
case and therefore no lengthy investigation is required.
Moreover, his case does not present complex or novel questions
At this nascent stage the Court finds plaintiff capable
of proceeding pro se.
Accordingly, plaintiff’s motion to appoint counsel is
For the foregoing reasons,
1) plaintiff’s motion for appointment of counsel (Docket
No. 16) is DENIED, and
2) defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6) (Docket No. 14) is DENIED.
/s/ Nathaniel M. Gorton______
Nathaniel M. Gorton
United States District Judge
Dated November 8, 2017
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