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Larochelle v. N.H. Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 5, 2017

Jon W. Larochelle, Jr., Plaintiff
N.H. Department of Corrections; Jennifer L. Goduti; Scott Harrington; and Michael McAlister, Defendants


          Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge.

         Jon Larochelle claims that while he was on parole status and under the supervision of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, his assigned alcohol and drug counselor, defendant Jennifer Goduti, coerced him into a sexual relationship. He says she did so, at least in part, by threatening to send him back to prison and by plying him with drugs and alcohol. In his amended complaint, Larochelle advanced 15 claims, in which he asserted that various defendants (including Goduti) violated his common law and constitutionally protected rights.

         By prior order, the court dismissed all but one of Larochelle's claims against the State Defendants - Chief Parole and Probation Officer Scott Harrington, his direct supervisor, Director of Field Services, Michael McAlister, and the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (the “NHDOC”). Specifically, the court dismissed Larochelle's claims that the State Defendants are vicariously liable for Goduti's wrongful conduct, as well as his claims that those defendants are liable for having failed to properly supervise Goduti and for having negligently trained (and retained) her as an employee - failures Larochelle claimed proximately caused violations of various constitutional rights. What remains against those defendants is a single common law negligence claim, in which Larochelle asserts that the State Defendants knew or should have known that Goduti was “either engaged in a sexual relationship with [Larochelle] or was sexually harassing him.” Amended Complaint (document no. 16), at para. 166. And, says Larochelle, those defendants “negligently breached their duty to enforce the rules and regulations” of the Department of Corrections and negligently failed to investigate Goduti's improper relationship with him. Id. at para. 167.

         The State Defendants now move the court for summary judgment on Larochelle's negligence claim. Larochelle objects. For the reasons discussed, the State Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

         Standard of Review

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is “obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” Block Island Fishing, Inc. v. Rogers, 844 F.3d 358, 360 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In this context, a factual dispute “is ‘genuine' if the evidence of record permits a rational factfinder to resolve it in favor of either party, and ‘material' if its existence or nonexistence has the potential to change the outcome of the suit.” Rando v. Leonard, 826 F.3d 553, 556 (1st Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). Consequently, “[a]s to issues on which the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, that party may not simply rely on the absence of evidence but, rather, must point to definite and competent evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Perez v. Lorraine Enters., 769 F.3d 23, 29-30 (1st Cir. 2014). In other words, if the nonmoving party's “evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, ” no genuine dispute as to a material fact has been proved, and summary judgment may be granted. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986) (citations omitted).

         So, to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must support his or her factual claims with evidence that conflicts with that proffered by the moving party. See generally Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). It naturally follows that while a reviewing court must take into account all properly documented facts, it may ignore a party's bald assertions, speculation, and unsupported conclusions. See Serapion v. Martinez, 119 F.3d 982, 987 (1st Cir. 1997). See also Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (“When opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.”).


         Jon Larochelle is 38 years old, has an extensive criminal history, and has been in prison for approximately seven of the last ten years. He has had a chronic substance abuse addiction for most of his adult life and has, most frequently, abused heroin. Amended Complaint at paras. 42-43. Although he is currently incarcerated, at all times relevant to this proceeding, he was on parole status, under the supervision of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections.

         In the fall of 2011, Larochelle was released on parole from the Northern N.H. Correctional Facility, where he had been serving a sentence of approximately 18 months for a parole violation (for drug use/drug dealing). Gerard Lagasse (not a defendant) was assigned to be Larochelle's parole officer. Lagasse worked out of the Manchester Field Services Office, under the supervision of Scott Harrington, the Chief Parole and Probation Officer in the Manchester Office. Harrington, in turn, reported to Director of Field Services, Michael McAlister.

         Almost immediately after his release on parole, Larochelle overdosed on heroin. He was revived by his mother and transported to Elliot Hospital. Nevertheless, the decision was made not to charge him with a violation of the terms of his parole. Instead, Officer Lagasse contacted Goduti, a licensed alcohol and drug counselor, to see if she could arrange an emergency referral to a residential drug treatment program. Although Goduti often worked out of the Manchester Field Services Office, she was not employed by that office, nor was she supervised by defendants Harrington or McAlister. Instead, she was employed by a separate state department: Community Corrections.

         Goduti met with Larochelle, who told her that he did not believe he needed or would benefit from residential treatment. Goduti apparently concurred and agreed to refer him to an “Intensive Outpatient Program” at the Farnum Center. But, Larochelle did not meaningfully participate in that program. And, he continued to use various controlled substances, including heroin, cocaine, and what he called a “benzo” anti-anxiety medication given to him by his mother.

         On January 17, 2012, Larochelle was arrested by Manchester Police Officers and detained at the Valley Street Jail. He was released from jail on March 6, 2012, and returned to the community (apparently because neither Goduti nor any employees of the NHDOC were able to secure him a place in a residential drug treatment program). Goduti was, however, able to secure another place for him in the Farnum Center's Intensive Outpatient Program, while he waited for a bed in a residential program. On March 21, 2012, Goduti reported that she attempted to contact Larochelle by telephone, but noted that she was unable to do so because his voicemail box was full (which, based upon Larochelle's prior conduct, she thought was purposeful).[1]She also noted that the Farnum Center had notified her that Larochelle failed to complete his intake forms. Finally, she noted that “client would benefit from attending IOP until he gets into [a] residential” drug treatment program. For his part, Larochelle continued to be non-compliant with the terms of his parole, failed to follow instructions given to him by various NHDOC employees, and appears to have intentionally made himself unavailable by telephone.

         On May 16, 2012, despite testing positive for opiates, Larochelle was accepted into the Farnum Center's residential drug treatment program. He was, however, quickly expelled from that program, after it was discovered that he had smuggled heroin into the facility and provided “false urine tests [by] using a device hidden in his pants.” Goduti immediately sought, and soon obtained, a bed for Larochelle at Serenity House. He was, however, quickly discharged from that program as well, this time for abusing prescriptions medications. In July, he was arrested and admitted to using heroin and cocaine. He continued to struggle with efforts at drug abstinence and various treatment programs throughout the summer and fall of 2012.

         In February of 2013, Larochelle was admitted into a residential drug treatment program at Keystone Hall. Seven days later, however, he was expelled for having smuggled Suboxone into the treatment facility and distributing it to four other residents. That same day - February 13, 2013 - Goduti reported that she received a call from Larochelle, who said he was suicidal and planning to overdose. At her deposition, Goduti testified that Larochelle called her to report that he had been kicked out of the most recent treatment center - something he feared would finally prompt NHDOC officials to revoke his parole. Deposition of Jennifer (Goduti) Dearborn (document no. 53-6) at 115. And, he said that he wasn't going back to prison, so he planned to kill himself. Goduti told him that she had to call an ambulance for him, but he responded, “No, the cops are going to come. I'm going to get arrested.” Id. Goduti then contacted Larochelle's mother to see if she could help, but learned that she was too far away to provide any assistance. According to Goduti, the relevant facts unfolded as follows:

[Larochelle's Mother said] You know, “can you bring him to the ER?”
I said, “I can't bring him to the ER. I'm not bringing him to the ER.”
And she said, “Okay. I'll come meet you there. I'm just going through the ...

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