United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Jon W. Larochelle, Jr., Plaintiff
N.H. Department of Corrections; Jennifer L. Goduti; Scott Harrington; and Michael McAlister, Defendants Opinion No. 2015 DNH 218
Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
Jon Larochelle is currently an inmate at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, New Hampshire. At all times relevant to this proceeding, however, he was on parole status, under the supervision of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections. He claims that his assigned alcohol and drug counselor, defendant Jennifer Goduti, coerced him into a sexual relationship and provided him with both alcohol and controlled substances. According to Larochelle, Goduti’s maintenance of a sexual relationship with him (as well as supplying him with both drugs and alcohol), while simultaneously acting as his state-appointed alcohol and drug counselor, was not only unethical, but also violated his common law and constitutionally protected rights.
In his amended complaint, Larochelle advances claims directly against Goduti for alleged violations of his constitutional rights and various common law torts. He also advances claims against the New Hampshire Department of Corrections and several of its employees, asserting that those defendants (the “State Defendants”) are both vicariously liable for Goduti’s wrongful conduct and independently liable for their own negligent failure to properly train and supervise her. The State Defendants move to dismiss all claims advanced against them, asserting that none states a viable cause of action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Larochelle objects.
For the reasons stated, the State Defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.
Standard of Review
When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court must “accept as true all well-pleaded facts set out in the complaint and indulge all reasonable inferences in favor of the pleader.” SEC v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436, 441 (1st Cir. 2010). Although the complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), it must allege each of the essential elements of a viable cause of action and “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and internal punctuation omitted).
In other words, “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Instead, the facts alleged in the complaint must, if credited as true, be sufficient to “nudge [plaintiff’s] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 570. If, however, 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.” Tambone, 597 F.3d at 442.
Accepting the factual allegations set forth in plaintiff’s amended complaint as true - as the court must at this juncture - the relevant background is as follows. During the period of time relevant to this litigation, plaintiff was on parole status and under the supervision of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (“DOC”). During most of that time, he was subject to “active supervision, ” which meant that he had to meet routinely with his parole officer and submit to breath, blood, and/or urinalysis testing for the presence of illegal or prohibited substances, including drugs and alcohol. And, of course, any violation of the conditions of his parole carried the risk of re-incarceration.
Jennifer Goduti was a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, employed by the DOC and working in the Manchester, New Hampshire, field service office. Scott Harrington was the Chief Probation and Parole Officer for the DOC in Manchester and, according to plaintiff, supervised the Manchester field office and its employees. Michael McAlister was the Director of Field Services for the DOC and, according to plaintiff, was responsible for supervising all DOC field service offices, including the one in Manchester.
In the fall of 2011, Goduti was assigned to act as plaintiff’s “Case Counselor/Case Manager” and began working with him as his alcohol and drug counselor. At some point early in their relationship, Goduti reportedly told plaintiff that, “I have control over the drug addicts that walk into the office, ” and “whatever advice I give to the parole officer, that’s what they go with.” Amended Complaint (document no. 16) at para. 36.
Plaintiff suggests that this was an implicit threat that if he failed to adhere to her instructions (or, presumably, if he refused to succumb to her demands), she would see to it that he was sent back to prison.
Plaintiff says that after performing an initial evaluation of him, Goduti learned that he has been a chronic substance abuser for most of his adult life and, among other things, is a heroin addict. He claims that by virtue of the authority vested in her by the DOC, as well as her knowledge of the intimate details of his medical and personal history, Goduti exercised significant control over him. He also alleges that, during the course of her supervision and counseling of him, Goduti:
1. Informed him that she was physically/sexually attracted to him;
2. Repeatedly contacted him by telephone and text messaging to set up meetings outside the parole field office;
3. On at least one occasion, provided plaintiff with a controlled substance and alcohol;
4. Began a sexual relationship with plaintiff, during which she sexually harassed, exploited, and assaulted him; and
5. Engaged in at least some of her inappropriate sexual contact with plaintiff at her place of work.
Id. at paras. 46-55. Plaintiff says that because he was on parole, he feared that he would be re-incarcerated if he did not comply with Goduti’s demands. And, he claims Goduti took advantage of, and abused, the authority she had over him. In short, plaintiff says he was coerced into maintaining a sexual relationship with Goduti. Moreover, says plaintiff, although Goduti’s inappropriate sexual relationship with him was known to others, the State Defendants did not investigate the matter nor did they do anything to intervene.
In his fifteen-count amended complaint, plaintiff advances numerous common law and constitutional claims against the various defendants. Currently at issue are the seven counts advanced against the State Defendants.
There are two means by which the State Defendants might be liable to plaintiff. First, they might be directly liable for their own individual negligence or malfeasance. Plaintiff advances claims of that sort in counts eleven, twelve, thirteen, and fifteen of his amended complaint. Second, as Goduti’s employer, the State Defendants might be vicariously liable for her torts, provided they were committed while she was acting within the scope of her employment. See generally Restatement (Third) Agency, § 7.03 (“Principal’s Liability”). ...