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Barton v. Favreau

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

June 20, 2018

Joseph Barton, Plaintiff
v.
Peter Favreau, Defendant

          Jared J. Bedrick, Esq.

          Heather D. Neville, Esq.

          Matthew T. Broadhead, Esq.

          ORDER

          STEVEN J. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Joseph Barton brings this action against Peter Favreau, an investigator in the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General, seeking to recover damages for injuries he claims to have sustained when Favreau arrested him. Specifically, Barton claims Favreau violated his constitutionally protected rights to be free from both unreasonable seizures and excessive force. See generally 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Barton also advances state common law claims for assault/battery, false imprisonment, and "negligent administration of justice." Favreau moves to dismiss all of Barton's claims, asserting that the first three are barred by the rule articulated in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). As for Barton's final claim, Favreau says it fails to state a viable cause of action.

         For the reasons discussed, Favreau's 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.

         Background

         Accepting the factual allegations of Barton's complaint as true - as the court must at this juncture - the relevant background is as follows. During the midterm elections in 2014, Barton acted as a "poll challenger" at the Newmarket town hall, having been appointed to that position by the New Hampshire Republican Party. As he saw it, his job was to ensure compliance with a new state law that required voters to verify their residency by producing identity documents such as a driver's license or residency affidavit. According to Barton, he witnessed several new voter registrants who did not present appropriate documentation of their residence. Barton raised an objection with the supervisor of the checklist and the Town Clerk. In response, the Town Clerk told Barton that she would contact the Attorney General's office to resolve Barton's concerns.

         Later, the Town Clerk reported to Barton that she had spoken with a representative of the Attorney General's office who concluded that the procedures being employed at the polling place were consistent with New Hampshire law. Barton remained unsatisfied. Accordingly, the Town Clerk again contacted the Attorney General's office. An investigator, defendant Peter Favreau, was sent to look into the matter. After he arrived, Favreau spoke privately with Barton, in a room above the polling place. Their conversation was calm at first, but became heated (for which each blames the other). It culminated in Favreau arresting Barton for disorderly conduct. And, because Barton did not submit, but struggled with Favreau, he was also charged with simple assault, in violation of N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. ("RSA") 231-2-A, and resisting arrest, in violation RSA 642:2. Following a bench trial, Barton was acquitted of both disorderly conduct and simple assault, but convicted of resisting arrest.

         Barton appealed his conviction to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which described Barton's interaction with Favreau as follows:

After the investigator introduced himself to the defendant, the defendant asked the town clerk if he and the investigator could use the town council chambers to discuss the voting laws. The clerk led them upstairs to ...

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