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Martineau v. Antilus

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

June 22, 2017

Joshua Martineau,
v.
George Antilus, Opinion, 2017 DNH 127

          ORDER

          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Joshua Martineau alleges that, while he was awaiting trial, three corrections officers assaulted him in his cell at the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections (“Jail”). Martineau brings suit against the officers and Hillsborough County, alleging various state and federal claims. Hillsborough County moves for judgment on the pleadings on all claims asserted against it. Martineau objects. On May 8, 2017, the court heard oral argument on Hillsborough County's motion. For the reasons that follow, Hillsborough County's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The standard of review of a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is the same as that for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Frappier v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 750 F.3d 91, 96 (1st Cir. 2014) (quoting Marrero-Gutierrez v. Molina, 491 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2007)). Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true, construe reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, and “determine whether the factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint set forth a plausible claim upon which relief may be granted.” Foley v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 772 F.3d 63, 71 (1st Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Judgment on the pleadings is proper ‘only if the uncontested and properly considered facts conclusively establish the movant's entitlement to a favorable judgment.'” Zipperer v. Raytheon Co., 493 F.3d 50, 53 (1st Cir. 2007) (quoting Aponte-Torres v. Univ. of P.R., 445 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2006)).

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Defendant Hillsborough County owns and operates the Jail in Manchester, New Hampshire. In November 2013, Martineau was a pretrial detainee at the Jail. At that time, defendants Sergeant George Antilus, Corrections Officer Joshua Caisse, and Corrections Officer Spencer Vrouhas (collectively, “Officers”) worked at the Jail and, as such, were employed by Hillsborough County.

         On November 3, 2013, the Officers approached Martineau's cell and claimed that he was yelling and banging. Martineau alleges that he was not yelling and banging and did not pose a threat to anyone when the Officers assaulted him. Antilus sprayed mace in Martineau's face several times; Caisse and Vrouhas then held Martineau down while Antilus pulled down Martineau's underwear and sprayed his genitals and rectum with mace. After that, Caisse and Vrouhas placed Martineau in arm and leg restraints and kicked, punched, and kneed him and slammed his head against the cement floor.

         The Officers did not clean Martineau or get him medical treatment, but instead moved him to a “safety cell” to wait in restraints. Doc. no. 1-1 at ¶ 16. Later that night, a nurse examined Martineau and noted that he had a bloody nose, an abrasion on his nose, a cut above his eye, and a lump on the back of his head. The nurse placed Martineau on “neurological watch” from November 3 through November 4. See Id. at ¶ 19.

         After the medical examination, the Officers removed Martineau's mace-soaked clothes and conducted a nude contraband search. The Officers told Martineau that “they had to teach all of [the inmates] a lesson that they were not messing around with [the inmates], ” and Vrouhas asked Martineau how his “balls and ass were feeling.” Id. at ¶ 22. Martineau remained in restraints until November 5 and was not allowed to shower or clean the mace off his body during that time. The Officers later taunted Martineau about the November 3 incident, and one of the Officers bragged to Martineau that he had received a promotion for “beating [his] ass.” Id. at ¶ 30.

         On October 6, 2016, Martineau filed a complaint in state court against the Officers and Hillsborough County. Defendants removed the case to this court and Hillsborough County now moves for judgment on the pleadings on the three claims asserted against it. See doc. no. 9.

         DISCUSSION

         Martineau alleges that Hillsborough County is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because it maintained a policy or custom that caused the deprivation of his constitutional rights (Count III). He also asserts two state law claims against the county, one based on respondeat superior (Count VI) and the other for negligent supervision, training, and retention (Count VII). The court analyzes Martineau's § 1983 claim before turning to his state law claims.

         I. Section 1983 Claim

         In Count III of his complaint, Martineau brings a claim against Hillsborough County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that a county policy or custom caused the deprivation of his constitutional rights. Hillsborough County argues that Martineau has not alleged sufficient facts to state a policy or custom claim under § 1983.

         Municipalities cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Rather, a plaintiff who brings a § 1983 action against a municipality must “identify a municipal ‘policy' or ‘custom'” that was the cause of and “‘moving force' behind the injury alleged.” Haley v. City of Boston, 657 F.3d 39, 51 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Bd. of Comm'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997)). “[U]nlike a policy, which comes into existence because of the top-down affirmative decision of a policymaker, a custom develops from the bottom-up.” Baron v. Suffolk Cty. Sheriff's Dep't, 402 F.3d 225, 236 (1st Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). To be actionable, the custom or practice must “be so well-settled and widespread that the policy making officials of the municipality can be said to have either actual or constructive knowledge of it yet did nothing to end it.” Walden v. City of Providence, 596 F.3d 38, 57-58 (1st Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Martineau's complaint is not a model of artful pleading, as Count III itself contains conclusory statements and merely recites the elements of a Monell claim. See doc. no. 1-1 at ¶¶ 42-44. However, Martineau alleges that one of the Officers bragged about being promoted for “beating [his] ass.” Doc. no. 1-1 at ¶ 30. Construed generously, this allegation permits a reasonable inference that Hillsborough County decisionmakers knew about the alleged assault and ratified it by promoting one of the Officers because of it. Cf. St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988) (recognizing that where “the authorized policymakers approve a subordinate's decision and the basis for it, their ratification would be chargeable to the municipality because their decision is final”).

         At this early stage, the court finds that the complaint contains sufficient facts to allege a plausible Monell claim against Hillsborough County. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged”). The court will be in a better position to address the ultimate viability of Martineau's Monell claim on a more complete record at the ...


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