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Gonsalves v. State

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

December 12, 2017

TAJA GONSALVES, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, STATE POLICE DEPARTMENT, CAPITOL POLICE DEPARTMENT, NEIL LAIRD, alias, ROBERT TELLA, alias, ROBERT PACHECO, alias, each individually and in their official capacities as police officers in the Rhode Island Capitol Police, ROBERT MARCHAND, alias, individually and in his official capacity as an officer in the Rhode Island State Police, ANN ASSUMPICO, alias, in her capacity as the Commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety and the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, JOSEPH T. LITTLE, alias, individually and in his capacity as the Chief of the Rhode Island Capitol Police, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants Robert Pacheco's and Joseph T. Little's, in their Individual and Official Capacities, Motion To Dismiss (“Motion”). (ECF No. 18.) Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the Motion with respect to Pacheco and GRANTS without prejudice the Motion with respect to Little.

         I. Background

         On July 29, 2016, Plaintiff Taja Gonsalves went to the Providence Regional Family Center (“Center”) for an appointment with an employee of the Department of Human Services (“DHS”) regarding benefits for herself and her three children. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11, 19, ECF. No. 1.) Rhode Island Capitol Police are assigned to the Center to carry out duties such as locking and unlocking the main entrance, staffing the metal detector, and monitoring the building's occupancy as per the State Fire Marshall. (Id. ¶¶ 14- 15.) On this day, Defendants Neil Laird, Robert Tella, and Robert Pacheco, all members of the Rhode Island Capitol Police, were posted to the Center. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendant Little is the Chief of the Capitol Police. (Id. ¶ 6.)

         When Plaintiff arrived at the Center, the front doors were locked. (Id. ¶ 21.) Laird opened the door and informed Plaintiff that no one could enter the building because it was over capacity and would be shut down by the Fire Marshall. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff informed Laird that she had an appointment with DHS and asked if he could inform DHS staff that she had arrived for her appointment. (Id. ¶ 25.) Laird refused. (Id. ¶ 26.) In additional interactions with Laird when Plaintiff attempted to enter the building, Laird similarly informed Plaintiff that she would be denied entry. (Id. ¶¶ 31-33, 36-41.)

         When Plaintiff entered the Center after the front doors were unlocked, Laird was standing near the metal detector, Pacheco was in the area near the metal detector, and Tella was on break in the back of the Center. (Id. ¶¶ 46, 49-52.) As Plaintiff approached the metal detector, Laird informed her that she would be arrested. (Id. ¶¶ 53-54.) Then, Pacheco radioed Tella and told him to come to the front. (Id. ¶ 54.) Once Tella came out of the back office, Plaintiff alleges that Laird and Tella used excessive force when they arrested her. (Id. ¶¶ 58-69.)

         Describing her arrest, Plaintiff alleges that Laird grabbed her right arm and twisted it sharply behind her back, which caused her severe pain and an audible popping sound from her shoulder. (Id. ¶ 59.) Plaintiff alleges that she screamed out in pain and said that she was not resisting arrest, which was followed by Laird slamming her face and chest into the desk adjacent to the metal detector. (Id. ¶¶ 60-61.) Plaintiff further avers that Laird and Tella forced handcuffs onto her left wrist, over a brace she had been wearing for medical treatment, pulled both of her arms behind her back, and tightened the handcuffs so excessively that her fingers turned blue. (Id. ¶¶ 62-63.) After being handcuffed, Plaintiff asserts that Laird and Tella pushed and shoved her through the reception area and waiting room of the Center, with her arms pulled up at an angle that caused her pain, which was exacerbated by the height difference between her and Laird. (Id. ¶¶ 64-66.) During this pushing and shoving, Plaintiff alleges that Laird or Tella, or both, squeezed her upper left arm with enough force to break the birth control device implanted therein, and that Laird and Tella pushed her hard enough to cause her to fall to the floor. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68.) Ultimately, Laird and Tella brought Plaintiff to a small room at the back of the Center, where Plaintiff claims that Laird pushed her into a chair.[1] (Id. ¶ 69.)

         Plaintiff has since asserted claims through 42 U.S.C § 1983 for retaliatory arrest in violation of the First Amendment, false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and excessive force and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.[2] Relevant to this particular motion are the claims brought through § 1983 for Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations for excessive force brought against Pacheco, and First and Fourth Amendment violations brought against Little.

         II. Legal Standard

         While deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court “accept[s] the truth of all well-pleaded facts and draw[s] all reasonable inferences therefrom in the pleader's favor.” García-Catalán v. United States, 734 F.3d 100, 102 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 44 (1st Cir. 2012)). “[H]er claim must suggest ‘more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Id. at 102- 03 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In other words, “the claim must be ‘plausible on its face.'” Id. at 103 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). In determining plausibility, “the reviewing court [must] draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Additionally, “the complaint must be read as a whole.” Id. (citing A.G. v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 78-79 (1st Cir. 2013)). Moreover, the “plausibility inquiry properly takes into account whether discovery can reasonably be expected to fill any holes in the pleader's case.” Id. at 104-05 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Pacheco

         Defendants argue that the allegations in the Complaint are too tenuous and insufficient to support excessive-force claims against Pacheco because of his mere bystander presence. (Defs. Robert Pacheco's and Joseph T. Little's Mem. in Supp. of Mot. To Dismiss (“Defs.' Memo”) 6-7, ECF No. 18.) However, while Plaintiff's allegations against Pacheco are slight, when viewed in context of the alleged events as a whole, Plaintiff's allegations suffice at the motion-to-dismiss stage. (See Compl. ¶¶ 4, 18, 51, 55.)

         “An officer who is present at the scene and who fails to take reasonable steps to protect the victim of another officer's use of excessive force can be held liable under section 1983 for his nonfeasance.” Gaudreault v. Municipality of Salem, 923 F.2d 203, 207 n.3 (1st Cir. 1990). However, “[h]is mere presence at the scene, without more, does not . . . render him legally responsible . . . for the actions of a fellow officer.” Calvi v. Knox Cty., 470 F.3d 422, 428 (1st Cir. 2006) (citing Gaudreault, 923 F.2d at 207 n.3). Similarly, a “police officer cannot be held liable for failing to intercede if he has no ‘realistic opportunity' to prevent an attack.” Gaudreault, 923 F.2d at 207 n.3. (quoting O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 11-12 (2d Cir. 1988)). Although, “[a] ...


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