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Monsanto v. State

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

May 21, 2019

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, et al., Defendants.



         The Third-Party Defendants[1] ("Defendants") move to dismiss the Amended Third-Party Complaint brought against them by former Rhode Island State Trooper James Donnelly-Tajdor. ECF No. 88. The Court sets forth below its reasons for GRANTING the Motion to Dismiss.

         Factual Background

         Trooper Donnelly-Taylor arrested Lionel Monsanto after a traffic stop and brought him to the State Police cell block. According to Trooper Donnelly-Taylor,[2] Mr. Monsanto was "belligerent and verbally abusive throughout the traffic stop and while he was being transported to the barracks for booking." ECF No. 86 at ¶ 81. Mr. Monsanto's "behavior continued throughout the booking process." Id., at ¶ 82. "After booking, Trooper Donnelly-Taylor escorted [Mr.] Monsanto to a cell" during which Mr. Monsanto "repeatedly pulled his arm and body away from the trooper and repeatedly stated that he would not go into a cell willingly." Id. at ¶ 83-84. Mr. Monsanto "exhibited multiple behaviors over a prolonged period of time that escalated the level of threat he posed to the trooper and others." Id. at ¶ 87. "Upon passing through the cell door, Monsanto . . . slammed his elbow into the trooper's upper-arm, just below the shoulder, in an apparent attempt to strike the trooper's face with his elbow." Id. at ¶ 88. The trooper then "subdue[d Mr.] Monsanto, who was not handcuffed or otherwise restrained in any way, [to] prevent any further threat of harm." Id. at ¶ 90. Trooper Donnelly-Taylor then close-fist punched Mr. Monsanto six times. All the relevant conduct was caught on video-tape.

         Trooper Donnelly-Taylor filed charges against Mr. Monsanto including for assault. Id., at ¶ 92. A month later, the Rhode Island Attorney General's office dismissed the charges against Mr. Monsanto. Id. at ¶ 96.

         A state grand jury indicted Trooper Donnelly-Taylor for assaulting Mr. Monsanto. Trooper Donnelly-Taylor pleaded nolo contendere to the assault, admitting to the indictment's underlying facts and the use of excessive force. ECF No. 88-2 at 2-3. The judge "place[d] the case on file . . . [and ordered the Trooper to perform] 25 hours of community service." Id. at 6.

         Mr. Monsanto filed this suit against the State and Trooper Donnelly Taylor for violating his federal civil rights by using excessive force and for state law claims. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin refused to defend or indemnify Trooper Donnelly-Taylor individually for this incident, relying on Rhode Island Gen. Laws § 9-31-9, which states that "[t]he attorney general may refuse to defend an action referred to in § 9-31-8 if he or she determines that: (1) The act or omission was not within the scope of employment; (2) The act or the failure to act was because of actual fraud, willful misconduct, or actual malice. . . ."

         The Rhode Island Troopers' Association filed a grievance and for arbitration, alleging that Attorney General Kilmartin violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") with the Troopers' Association by not supplying Trooper Donnelly-Taylor with a defense and indemnity. Attorney General Kilmartin, in response to the grievance and arbitration request, filed a declaratory and injunctive relief complaint in the Rhode Island Superior Court seeking a determination that his decision to deny Trooper Donnelly-Taylor a defense and indemnification was proper and not an arbitrable matter. The Rhode Island Superior Court granted Attorney General Kilmartin's relief, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed.

         Procedural Background

         Mr. Monsanto sued the State, the State Treasurer (in his official capacity only), Trooper Donnelly-Taylor (individually and officially), Trooper Gregory Palmer (individually and officially), and Colonel Steven G. O'Donnell (individually and officially). ECF No. 26. Trooper Donnelly-Taylor answered the complaint and filed a Third-Party Complaint and cross-claims against his co-Defendants and adding claims against Governor Gina M. Raimondo (officially) and Attorney General Kilmartin (individually and officially). ECF No. 86.

         Mr. Monsanto dismissed his claims with prejudice against all the Defendants. ECF No. 81. The Defendants have now moved to dismiss Trooper Donnelly-Taylor's claims against them. ECF No. 88.

         Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Trooper Donnelly Taylor must present facts that make his claim plausible on its face. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To determine plausibility, the court must first review the complaint and separate conclusory legal allegations from allegations of fact. See Rodriguez-Reyes v. Molina-Rodriguez, 711 F.3d 49, 53 (1st Cir. 2013). Next, the court must consider whether the remaining factual allegations give rise to a plausible claim of relief. See id.

         To state a plausible claim, a complaint need not detail factual allegations, but must recite facts enough at least to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A pleading that offers "labels and conclusions" or "a formulative recitation of the elements of a caxise of action" will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557); see also Soto-Torres v. Fraticelli, 654 F, 2d 153, 159 (1st Cir. 2011) (holding that combined allegations, taken as true, "must state a plausible, not a merely conceivable, case for relief.").


         The Defendants move to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint under collateral estoppel, claiming that five of the eight counts were resolved by the Rhode Island Supreme Court's opinion in R.I. Troopers' Association. They also move for dismissal based on absolute and qualified immunity; that defamation is not properly pleaded; and that ...

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