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Pisani v. McConnell

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

April 24, 2014

Carol Pisani
v.
Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., et al.

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Carol Pisani has filed a complaint, document no. 2, against Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA" or "the administration"). Because Pisani is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, the matter is before the court for preliminary review to determine, among other things, whether the complaint fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, " 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), or "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from relief, " 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii). Also before the court are three miscellaneous motions Pisani has filed in conjunction with her complaint.

When determining whether a pro se complaint states a claim, the court must construe the complaint liberally. See Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) (citation omitted). To survive preliminary review, the complaint must 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). To determine plausibility, the court treats as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, and construes all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the plaintiff's favor. See Ocasio-Hernández v. Fortuño-Burset , 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir.2011).

Background

In 2007, Pisani filed suit against several defendants, including Richard L. Van Iderstine, a one-time employee of the NHTSA. Pisani's 2007 case was based upon allegations that the NHTSA misappropriated an invention that she had shown, in confidence, to one or more NHTSA employees. Judge McConnell dismissed Pisani's complaint against Van Iderstine "without prejudice for failure to effectuate service in a timely manner." Pisani v. Van Iderstine, C.A. No. 07-187M, 2011 WL 2680744, at *1 (D.R.I. July 8, 2011). There is no indication in Pisani's complaint in this case that she made any further attempt to effectuate service on Van Iderstine.

Pisani has now sued Judge McConnell and the NHTSA. Using the vehicle of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, she asserts that Judge McConnell violated her right to due process by "violating and disrupting" her 2007 case, which she also claims was "botched and ruined" by Judge McConnell's actions. She further asserts that the NHTSA violated her right to due process by failing to help her locate Van Iderstine or by interfering with her effort to serve him with the complaint in her 2007 case.

In terms of relief, Pisani seeks judgments against the NHTSA and Judge McConnell. With regard to relief against the NHTSA, she seeks an accounting of royalties she should have earned from those with whom the NHTSA had wrongfully shared her invention. With respect to both defendants, she seeks as damages in this case the damages she would have been awarded in her 2007 case, but for the malfeasance of those defendants.

Discussion

As a preliminary matter, the court notes that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is a vehicle for bringing civil-rights actions against persons acting "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia." Because there is nothing in Pisani's complaint to suggest that either of the defendants was acting under color of state law when committing the acts that, in Pisani's eyes, deprived her of her right to due process, § 1983 is not an appropriate vehicle for bringing Pisani's claims to court. However, in light of the court's obligation to construe Pisani's complaint liberally, the court will presume that the claims before it are Bivens claims. As the court of appeals for this circuit has recently explained:

A Bivens action is a civil action brought against agents of the United States, deriving its name from Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388 (1971). "This implied cause of action is the federal analog to § 1983 suits against state officials." Soto-Torres v. Fraticelli , 654 F.3d 153, 158 (1st Cir. 2011).

Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor , 723 F.3d 91, 94 n.1 (1st Cir. 2013) (parallel citations omitted).

A. Claims Against NHTSA

Pisani has not sued any individual employee of the NHTSA; she has sued the administration itself. But, it is well established that a Bivens action may not be asserted against a federal agency, only individual federal agents. See FDIC v. Meyer , 510 U.S. 471, 484-85 (1994); see also Chiang v. Skeirik , 582 F.3d 238, 243 (1st Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). So, to the extent that Pisani seeks money damages from the FHTSA, her claim against the administration is subject to dismissal. See id. (affirming trial court's dismissal, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), of Bivens claim that named no individual governmental officers). To the extent that Pisani seeks equitable relief from the FHTSA, in the form of an accounting, that request is subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim, see 28 U.S.C. § ...


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