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Lath v. City of Manchester

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

April 17, 2018

Sanjeev Lath
v.
City of Manchester, NH; Gerard Dufresne; BMS CAT; and Amica Mutual Insurance Company

          ORDER

          Landya McCafferty, United States District Judge

         In a previous order, document no. 149, the court dismissed a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim asserted by Sanjeev Lath against the City of Manchester, New Hampshire (“City”), through the vehicle of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Specifically, the court ruled that Lath had not stated a claim for municipal liability under the principles set out in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). However, dismissal was without prejudice to Lath's moving for leave to amend his First Amended Complaint. Now before the court is Lath' motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) in which he proposes to assert, as Cause 1, a Monell claim against the City. For the reasons that follow, Lath's motion is denied and, as a consequence, the City, Gerard Dufresne, and all of Lath's claims against those two defendants are dismissed from this case.

         I. The Legal Standard

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, after the expiration of the time for amending a complaint as a matter of course, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1), leave to amend should be freely given “when justice so requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). That general rule applies “absent an apparent or declared reason such as ‘futility of amendment.'” Rife v. One West Bank, F.S.B., 873 F.3d 17, 20-21 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). For the purposes of a Rule 15(a)(2) analysis, “[f]utility means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Rife, 873 F.3d at 21 (quoting Glassman v. Computervision Corp., 90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks omitted). To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must “contain[] sufficient factual material to state a facially plausible claim.” Vargas-Colón v. Fundación Damas, Inc., 864 F.3d 14, 23 (1st Cir. 2017) (citing O'Shea ex rel. O'Shea v. UPS Ret. Plan, 837 F.3d 67, 77 (1st Cir. 2016)).

         II. Discussion

         In its previous order, the court explained to Lath that to state a cognizable Monell claim against the City, he “must clearly identify (1) the alleged unconstitutional conduct of the [City]'s employees; and (2) how the employees' conduct was the result of a policy or custom of the [City].” Doc. no. 149 at 5 (quoting Burnham v. Dudley Dist. Court, Civ. Nos. 15-40031-DHH & 15-40032-DHH, 2015 WL 5698418, at *2 (D. Mass. Sept. 28, 2015)). However, even when this court “view[s] all the factual allegations in [Cause 1 of Lath's proposed SAC] as true, [and] draw[s] all reasonable inferences in [his] favor, ” Vargas-Colón, 864 F.3d at 23, he does not state a plausible Monell claim.

         The court of appeals for this circuit has recently described the essential elements of a Monell claim:

In Monell . . . the Supreme Court taught that a “[l]ocal governing body . . . can be sued directly under § 1983 . . . [when it] unconstitutional[ly] implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” [436 U.S. at 690]. However, the Court went on to hold that
the language of § 1983, read against the background of the legislative history . . . compels the conclusion that Congress did not intend municipalities to be held liable unless action pursuant to official municipal policy of some nature caused a constitutional tort . . . . [I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.

Massó-Torrellas v. Mun. of Toa Alta, 845 F.3d 461, 468-69 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-94).

         With those principles in mind, the court turns to the Monell claim Lath asserts in his amended Cause 1. To begin, Lath alleges that various members of the Board of Directors of the Oak Brook Condominium Owners' Association “made several calls to the chief of police alleging that Lath was ‘threatening' other residents and was ‘mentally unstable.'” Doc. no. 152-1 at ¶ 7. He further alleges that one Board member “asked [the] Manchester Police [D]epartment [“MPD”] for a ‘wellness check, '” Id. at ¶ 8, and that “[s]imilar calls were made by board members, both past and present . . . where the board members alleged Lath to be ‘suicidal, '” Id. at ¶ 11.

         Thereafter, “when Officers Andrew Choi and Austin Goodman visited Lath upon a complaint of stalking from Gail Labuda, Choi stated in his report that ‘it has to be noted that Lath has been flagged as having a mental illness.'” Id. at ¶ 13. Lath alleges that similar notations appear in other reports generated by the MPD. This is the crux of Lath's Monell claim:

Such widespread practice, which has become so established within the departments of noting a person's disability or mental illness, and thereby characterizing them as “mental subject” or “unstable”, biases the officers' judgments, by not believing the person, in the narration of their version of events, or undermine their credibility ...

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