James v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts et al
Chief Judge Patti B. Saris: MEMORANDUM AND ORDER entered granting 10 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis; granting 11 Motion for Leave to proceed in forma pauperis. If Plaintiff wishes to proceed with this action, she must, within thirty-five (35) days from the date of this Order, show cause in writing why this action should not be dismissed, or, in the alternative, file an Amended Complaint which cures the pleading deficiencies of the original complaint. (PSSA, 4)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
CAILIN JAMES, et al.,
MASSACHUSETTS, et al.,
Civ. Action No. 17-12346-PBS
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
January 8, 2018
For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the
plaintiff’s renewed motions to proceed in forma pauperis and
directs her to show cause in writing why this action should not
be dismissed, or, in the alternative, file an amended complaint.
Cailin James (“James”) brings this action on behalf of
herself and her three minor children alleging, among other
things, that in custody disputes before the Massachusetts courts
they were subjected to discrimination based upon mental
See Complaint (“Compl.”).
The first-page of the
complaint states that the action is brought pursuant to the
Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act and
lists nine “related” cases from other federal district courts .1
purported related cases are identified on the first page of
the complaint as: District of New Jersey Karen Wolf et al v.
State of New Jersey, et al 2:2017-cv-0272; Southern District of
New York Susan Skipp v. State of Connecticut 17-8440; Northern
See Compl. at ¶ 10 (plaintiff hopes to go to Multi district
litigation with the other federal cases listed); see also id. at
p. 28-p. 30.
The case caption of the complaint lists as defendants the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Attorney General
Maura Healey, and to “see attached” for the full list of the
The body of the complaint identifies 56
defendants including the biological father of plaintiff’s
children, several Massachusetts state court judges and state
court employees, attorneys practicing in Massachusetts, several
DCF offices, the Georgetown and West Newbury Police Departments,
several school principals, and several counseling and family
service entities and their employees.
Id. at ¶¶ 37-92.
The complaint consists primarily of a recounting of events
surrounding the plaintiff's contact with the various defendants
during divorce and child custody proceedings as well as her
unsuccessful efforts to have certain judges recused, certain
District of California Melissa Barnett v. State of California
17-05514; Northern District of California Florence Broyer v.
State of California 17-6063; District of Oregon Coral Theil v.
State of Oregon 2017-1722; District of Oregon Davi Sanchez v.
State of Washington 2017-01669; District of Oregon Donja Bunnel
v. State of Oregon 2017-1786; Middle District of Alabama
Miranda Mitchell v. State of Alabama 2017-cv-768; and Middle
District of Oklahoma Lisa Knight v. State of Oklahoma 17-1250.
witness testimony barred and certain state court proceedings
Plaintiff alleges that in 2012 she obtained a “Separation
Agreement” that she contends was discriminatory and unfair
because it “was highly bias to father and should not have been
allowed by Judge Abber.”
Compl. at ¶¶ 14, 15.
She alleges that
the agreement “incorporated a disparate marital asset
disbursement, unfair property disbursement, and parenting plan
with bargained-for terms,” id. at ¶ 14, and that it provided her
with “with child support, primary residential custody – as a
result of father’s assault and battery on Ms. James in January,
2011, which left her with permanent spinal injury and PTSD, and
alimony – and joint legal custody – made under threat by father
and counselors for father, causing extreme duress – the parties
children: L.K., N.K., and J.K.”
For relief, plaintiff seeks an unspecified amount of
compensatory and punitive damages as well as $250,000
reimbursement for expenses she incurred.
Compl., Relief at ¶¶
She also seeks “[i]njunctive relief [to] honor the
Separation Agreement dated 5/12 as a permanent order” and to
“declare all orders and judgments between 5/12 and [the] present
legally null and void.”
Id., Relief at ¶¶ 10, 11.
Additionally, she seeks to have this court (1) declare that
“Defendants” have violated the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, (2)
enjoin “Defendants, their officers, agents and employees, and
all other persons in active concert or participation with
Defendants, as well as any successors or assigns” from engaging
in discriminatory policies and practices against individuals
based on their disabilities,” (3) order “Defendants” to modify
their policies and practices and promptly remedy the alleged
statutory violations; (4) terminate “Defendants’ federal
financial assistance” and “assess a civil penalty against
and (5) award attorneys’ fees and costs.”
Relief at ¶¶ 1-11.
In the body of the complaint, plaintiff
states that a “mitigating measure and remedy would require the
restoration of Plaintiff children to Plaintiff mother, per
enforcement of [the judgment of divorce].” Compl. at p. 47 (¶
Plaintiff’s Renewed Motions to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
Plaintiff’s renewed motions to proceed in forma pauperis
Because plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis,
her complaint is subject to screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
Screening of the Complaint
Because the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, her
complaint is subject to screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
This statute authorizes federal courts to dismiss actions in
which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without prepayment of fees if
the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief.
See 28 U.S.C.
When examining the sufficiency of the pleadings, the court
considers whether the plaintiff has pled “enough facts to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
“A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted).
accepts as true the factual allegations of the complaint, draws
all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff that are
supported by the factual allegations, and determines whether the
complaint, so read, sets forth a claim for recovery that is “
‘plausible on its face.”
Eldredge v. Town of Falmouth, 662 F.3d
100, 104 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (quotation marks omitted)).
A plaintiff's complaint need
not provide an exhaustive factual account, only a short and
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). However, the allegations
must be sufficient to identify the manner by which the defendant
subjected the plaintiff to harm and the harm alleged must be one
for which the law affords a remedy. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Legal conclusions couched as facts and “threadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678. See also Ocasio–Hernandez v. Fortuno–Burset, 640
F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(d)(1) imposes the
additional pleading requirement that “[e]ach allegation must be
simple, concise and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1). “The
purpose of a clear and distinct pleading is to give defendants
fair notice of the claims and their basis as well as to provide
an opportunity for a cogent answer and defense.” See Belanger v.
BNY Mellon Asset Management, No. 15-cv-10198-ADB, 2015 WL
3407827 (D. Mass. May 27, 2015).
In conducting this review of the complaint, a pro se
plaintiff such as James is entitled to a liberal reading of her
allegations, even when such allegations are inartfully pled. See
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972); Rodi v. New Eng.
Sch. of Law, 389 F.3d 5, 13 (1st Cir. 2004).
A pro se
litigant’s obligation to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure includes the requirement that a complaint complies
with the “short and plain statement” requirement.” See Koplow v.
Watson, 751 F. Supp.2d 317 (D. Mass. 2010) (dismissing pro se
complaint for failing to comply with Rule 8).
III. The Complaint Fails to Comply with Basic
Pleading Requirements of the Rules of Civil Procedure
Here, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted.
Plaintiff has not sufficiently
identified the alleged acts of misconduct by each of the
parties, and the Court will not credit her conclusory
Plaintiff challenges divorce and child custody proceedings,
but it is often unclear when the court proceedings occurred or
what type of proceedings these were.
many paragraphs of legal argument.
The complaint contains
The complaint refers
repeatedly to what the “Defendants” did to the “Plaintiffs” and
alleges that the situation is attributed to the actions “of the
commonwealth of Massachusetts et al.”
id. at ¶¶ 1, 3, 5-7, 17, 30-33, 39.
Compl. at ¶ 2, see also
The claims are primarily
asserted collectively against the defendants and it is often
impossible to cull out the causes of action asserted against
each of the defendants separately.
Further, Plaintiff makes
bald assertions that the Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ rights
under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, but apart from these
assertions she does not clearly link specific factual
allegations of wrongdoing against each Defendant.
assertions are often generalized and made as part of a general
description of her claims.
The claims are not set forth in a
fashion which would permit many of the Defendants to file a
It would be unduly burdensome for the
Defendants to parcel out or identify the precise grounds upon
which each claim is based.
Under the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the onus is on the Plaintiff to submit a Complaint
which sets forth, in an organized fashion, each claim she seeks
Plaintiff has not alleged “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.
Additionally, it appears that at least some of the
Defendants may be immune from the relief that plaintiff seeks.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). In the Prayer for Relief,
plaintiff seeks, among other things, compensatory and punitive
However, a state judge is absolutely immune from civil
liability for damages for acts performed in his or her judicial
See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967).
Judicial immunity is an immunity from suit for damages, not just
from an ultimate assessment of damages. See Mitchell v. Forsyth,
472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).
To the extent Plaintiff brings suit
against state judges for alleged tortious conduct taken in an
administrative capacity, this Court does not know whether
plaintiff is suing the judges here for administrative acts or
judicial acts or any other kinds of acts, because the complaint
does not provide enough factual allegations about what plaintiff
claims the defendants each did.
Order to Show Cause or Amend Complaint
In light of the foregoing, this action will be dismissed in
35 days unless Plaintiff demonstrates good cause in writing why
this action should not be dismissed, or, in the alternative,
files an Amended Complaint which cures the pleading deficiencies
If Plaintiff files an amended complaint, she must set
forth, with clarity, the alleged misconduct of each party and
focus on the facts, rather than on legal argument. This should
include concise, clear statements of the unlawful actions that
plaintiff alleges occurred, timelines for when these events
happened, and information about which defendants committed the
As an amended complaint completely replaces the original
complaint, see Connectu LLC v. Zuckerberg, 522 F.3d 82, 91 (1st
Cir. 2008), the plaintiff should repeat in any amended complaint
any allegations in the original complaint that she wishes to be
part of the operative complaint.
Failure to comply with these directives or to provide a
sufficient show cause response or amended complaint will result
in dismissal of this action.
No summonses shall issue pending
further Order of the Court.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby Ordered that:
The motions [ECF Nos. 10, 11] for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis are granted.
If Plaintiff wishes to proceed with this action, she must,
within thirty-five (35) days from the date of this Order, show
cause in writing why this action should not be dismissed, or, in
the alternative, file an Amended Complaint which cures the
pleading deficiencies of the original complaint.
No summons shall issue pending further Order of the Court.
/s/ Patti B. Saris
PATTI B. SARIS
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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