Troncoso v. Middlesex Sheriff's Office et al
Judge Richard G. Stearns: ORDER entered granting 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis; denying 3 Motion to Appoint Counsel. If Troncoso would like to proceed with this action, he must file an amended complaint that complies with the parameters set forth above. The amended complaint must be filed within 42 days of the date of this order (Friday, May 25, 2018). Failure to comply with this order will result in dismissal of the case. [Copy of order mailed to Troncoso and MCI Cedar Junction treasurer on 4/13/2018.] (PSSA, 3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-10110-RGS
MANUEL E. TRONCOSO
MIDDLESEX SHERIFF’S OFFICE, et al.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
April 13, 2018
For the reasons stated below, the court will (1) grant the plaintiff’s
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis; (2) direct the plaintiff to file
an amended complaint; and (3) deny without prejudice the plaintiff’s
motion for appointment of counsel.
On January 19, 2018, pro se litigant Manuel Troncoso, who was
incarcerated at the Middlesex Jail and County House of Correction
(“MHOC”) at the time, filed a civil rights complaint in which he alleges that
he was unlawfully prevented from observing his religious beliefs. Troncoso
represents that he is Jewish. He claims that defendant Carole Cafferty, the
superintendent of MHOC, and her administration refused to (1) provide
him a copy of the Torah; (2) allow him to observe Shabbat according to
Jewish law; (3) allow him to possess certain religious items; (4) allow him
to celebrate Jewish holidays; and (5) provide an adequate religious meal.
Troncoso states that he brings this action under the Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc (RLUIPA), and the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb (RFRA).
Troncoso makes three other brief claims regarding the conditions of
his confinement at MHOC. Without identifying individual defendants, he
alleges that for approximately one year (1) he has been denied access to law
books and online legal research tools; (2) the temperature of his cell and
unit has been kept below 55 degrees and he has not been provided with
winter clothes; and (3) he has been in segregation without any opportunity
for outdoor physical exercise.
With his Complaint, Troncoso filed motions for leave to proceed in
forma pauperis and for the appointment of counsel. On March 7, 2018, he
filed a notice of change of address in which in informs the court that he is
now confined at MCI Cedar Junction.
Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis
Upon review of Troncoso’s motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis, the court concludes that he is without income or assets to prepay
the filing fee.
Accordingly, the court will grant the motion.
Troncoso has essentially been without funds for six months, no initial
partial filing fee is assessed. The $350 filing fee for this case shall be paid
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).
Review of the Complaint
Summonses have not issued pending the court’s preliminary review
of the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A. These
statutes authorize a federal court to dismiss an in forma pauperis or
prisoner complaint sua sponte if the claims therein are frivolous, malicious,
fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief
against a defendant who is immune from such relief.
See 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b). In conducting this review, the court liberally
construes the Complaint because the Troncoso is proceeding pro se. See
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). The court concludes that
Troncoso has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. If he
wishes to pursue this action, he must file an amended complaint.
RLUIPA and RFRA
RLUIPA provides, in relevant part:
No government shall impose or implement a land use
regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on
the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly
or institution, unless the government demonstrates that
imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or
(A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental
(B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that
compelling governmental interest.
42 U.S.C. § 2000cc(a)(1). However, the only relief available to a successful
RLUIPA plaintiff is injunctive or declaratory relief. Monetary damages are
not available against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or its employees
acting in an official capacity because the Commonwealth has not waived its
Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit from damages, and RLUIPA
does not explicitly allow for such damages. See Sossamon v. Texas, 563
U.S. 277, 293 (2011).
Further, personal capacity claims are not available
under RLUIPA. See Cryer v. Spencer, 934 F. Supp. 2d 323, 333 (D. Mass.
2013) (agreeing with cases from the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Tenth,
and Eleventh circuits that “personal capacity claims for monetary damages
under RLUIPA are barred”). 1
In the absence of the availability of monetary damages, it appears that
the court no longer has jurisdiction over the RLUIPA claim. Article III, § 2,
of the Constitution confines federal courts to the adjudication of “Cases” or
“Accordingly, ‘[t]o invoke the jurisdiction of a federal
court, a litigant must have suffered, or be threatened with, an actual injury
traceable to the defendant and likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial
decision.’” Chafin v. Chafin, 568 U.S. 165, 171-72 (2013) (alteration in
original) (quoting Lewis v. Cont’l Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477 (1990)).
There is “no case or controversy, and a suit becomes moot, when the issues
presented are no longer ‘live’ or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest
in the outcome.”
Id. at 172 (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). A claim is moot “when it is impossible for a court to grant any
effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.” Id. (quoting Knox v. Serv.
Employees, 567 U.S. 298, 307 (2012).
Here, Troncoso’s transfer to MHOC indicates that his case is moot.
Because he is no longer at MHOC, it would be impossible for this court to
The First Circuit has declined to rule on this issue. See Kuperman v.
Wrenn, 645 F.3d 69, 79 (1st Cir. 2011).
grant him “any effectual relief” even if he were able to prevail on his
RLUIPA claim. Monetary damages are unavailable, and any injunctive or
declaratory relief with regard to the defendants employed at MHOC would
have no effect on him whatsoever because he is no longer incarcerated
there. Further, he has moved from a county correctional facility to a prison
run by the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC). Therefore, the
person or persons who make decisions regarding the manner in which a
DOC prisoner can observe his faith operate separately from the decisionmakers at MHOC. Because the RLUIPA claim is moot, it is no longer a
“case” or “controversy” for purposes of Article III.
Troncoso also invokes RFRA. This statute was struck down by the
Supreme Court as unconstitutional as applied to states and subdivisions.
See City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 532 (1997) (holding that
Congress exceeded its enforcement powers under Section 5 of the
Fourteenth Amendment in passing the statute). “RLUIPA established the
same rule for these two limited areas [of land use and institutionalized
persons] that Congress had attempted to apply more broadly in the RFRA:
it prohibited state and local governments from placing a substantial burden
on religious exercise unless the government could show that it had a
compelling interest and that it had used the least restrictive means to
achieve that interest.” Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. City of
Springfield, 724 F.3d 78, 94 (1st Cir. 2013).
Troncoso’s claims concerning access to legal materials, the
temperature of his cell, and placement in segregation without access to
outdoor physical recreation also fail to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted. Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a
complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing
that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This means
that the complaint needs to provide each defendant “enough detail to
provide a defendant with ‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests, ’” Silverstrand Invs. v. AMAG Pharm., Inc.,
707 F.3d 95, 101 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Ocasio-Hernandez v. FortunoBurset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011)) (alteration in original), or, in other
words, the statement of the claim “must ‘at least set forth minimal facts as
to who did what to whom, when, where, and why,’” Calvi v. Knox County,
470 F.3d 422, 430 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Educadores Puertorriqueños en
Acción v. Hernandez, 367 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2004)). Although Troncoso
identifies the gist of his claims, he does not identify when the objectionable
conditions existed, how long they lasted, and how he was harmed by these
Further, Troncoso does not allege what each defendant did to cause
or sustain such condition. The court assumes that Troncoso brings these
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides that any “person,” acting
under the color of state law, who “subjects, or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof
to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. In other words, § 1983 is the mechanism by which a prisoner (or
other litigant) can bring a claim against a person acting under color of state
law for the violation of federal Constitutional rights, including a prisoner’s
right under the Eighth Amendment to be free from cruel and unusual
punishment. 2 Because “[i]t is well-established that ‘only those individuals
who participated in the conduct that deprived the plaintiff of his rights can
be held liable [under § 1983],’” Velez-Rivera v. Agosto-Alicea, 437 F.3d
146, 156 (1st Cir. 2006) (quoting Cepero-Rivera v. Fagundo, 414 F.3d 124,
129 (1st Cir. 2005)), Troncoso must allege facts from which the court can
A claim for a violation of First Amendment rights may also be brought
under § 1983, but Troncoso appears to limit his claim concerning his ability
to practice his faith to a claim under RLUIPA.
reasonably infer that a particular defendant was directly involved in the
alleged violation(s) of his rights under the Eighth Amendment.
Filing of an Amended Complaint
If Troncoso wishes to pursue this action, he must file an amended
complaint that cures the pleading deficiencies discussed above. Further,
the amended complaint must comply with the following parameters:
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he title of
the complaint must name all the parties.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). The claims
in a complaint must be set forth “in numbered paragraphs, each limited as
far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b).
As an amended complaint completely replaces the
original complaint, see Connectu LLC v. Zuckerberg, 522 F.3d 82, 91 (1st
Cir. 2008), Troncoso must repeat in the amended complaint any allegations
in the original Complaint that he wishes to be part of the operative
In accordance with Rule 8(a)(2), Troncoso must identify
the objectionable conduct of each defendant, providing enough detail to put
each defendant on notice of the factual basis of his claims and permitting
this court to reasonably infer from the allegations that the defendants are
liable to him. The factual allegations must describe specific actions rather
than merely assert legal conclusions.
Further, Troncoso must take care to present his amended complaint
in such a manner that it is clear what the alleged factual allegations and
legal claims are against each individual defendant. He cannot simply refer
to the defendants collectively where it cannot be reasonable inferred that all
the defendants engaged in the alleged misconduct. See, e.g., Atuahene v.
City of Hartford, 10 Fed. App’x 33, 34 (2d Cir. 2001) (“By lumping all the
defendants together in each claim and providing no factual basis to
distinguish their conduct, [plaintiff]’s complaint failed to satisfy [the]
minimum standard” of pleading under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).).
If Troncoso names more than one defendant, the claims
against them must “aris[e] out of the same transaction, occurrence, or
series of transactions or occurrences” and “and any question of law or fact
common to all defendants [must] arise in the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
Motion for Appointment of Counsel
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), the court “may request an attorney to
represent any person unable to afford counsel.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(1).
However, a civil plaintiff lacks a constitutional right to free counsel. See
DesRosiers v. Moran, 949 F.2d 15, 23 (1st Cir. 1991). Nearly all pro se
parties that institute litigation are untrained in the law and have no
experience in researching and preparing legal arguments. Troncoso must
demonstrate that exceptional circumstances warrant the appointment of
counsel. See id. In determining whether the appointment of counsel is
appropriate, a court must examine the total situation, focusing on the
merits of the case, the complexity of the legal issues, and the litigant’s
ability to represent himself. See id. at 24.
As discussed above, Troncoso has failed to state a claim upon which
relief may be granted. In the absence of a viable claim, the court cannot
conclude that exceptional circumstances exist that would justify the
appointment of pro bono counsel. The court will therefore deny the motion
For the foregoing reasons:
The motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, Dkt #2, is
granted. No initial partial filing fee is assessed. The entire $350 filing fee
shall be paid pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The clerk shall send a
copy of this order to the treasurer of the institution having custody of
If Troncoso would like to proceed with this action, he must file
an amended complaint that complies with the parameters set forth above.
The amended complaint must be filed within 42 days of the date of this
order (Friday, May 25, 2018). Failure to comply with this order will result
in dismissal of the case.
The motion for appointment of counsel, Dkt #3, is denied
/s/ Richard G. Stearns
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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