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Taylor v. Vermont State Senior Trooper David Schaffer

United States District Court, D. Vermont

February 10, 2015

RHONDA TAYLOR, Individually and as Personal Representative of the estate of MACADAM LEE MASON, by and through its Administratrix, RHONDA TAYLOR, Plaintiffs,
v.
VERMONT STATE SENIOR TROOPER DAVID SCHAFFER[1], in his individual and official capacities; VERMONT STATE POLICE DET. SGT. DAVID ZORN, in his individual and official capacities; COL. THOMAS L'ESPERANCE, COMMANDER OF THE VERMONT STATE POLICE, in his individual and official capacities; and COMMISSIONER KEITH FLYNN, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR LEAVE TO FILE SUPPLEMENTAL PLEADINGS (Docs. 7, 11, 14)

J. GARVAN MURTHA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Macadam Lee Mason died after Defendant David Shaffer, a Vermont State Police officer, deployed a taser against him on June 20, 2012. Mason's mother, Rhonda Taylor, brings suit on behalf of his estate for violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, common law assault and battery, and common law negligence. In her personal capacity, Taylor brings claims for parental loss of consortium and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants moved to dismiss these claims. (Doc. 7.)

Plaintiff Taylor subsequently moved for permission to file supplemental pleadings. (Doc. 11.) The supplemental materials support her argument that she was in fact the administratrix of Mason's estate at the time she filed her Complaint. After the Civil Division of the Orange County Superior Court reappointed her administratrix of Mason's estate, Taylor again moved to file supplemental pleadings. (Doc. 14.) Defendants oppose both motions. (Docs. 13, 21.)

Based on the following, Taylor's Motions for Leave to File Supplemental Pleadings (Docs. 11, 14) are GRANTED. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

II. Background

The facts are taken from the Complaint. On June 20, 2012, Macadam Lee Mason died after Defendant David Shaffer, a Vermont State Police ("VSP") officer, deployed a taser against him. (Doc. 1 (Compl.) ¶ 4.) The Complaint alleges that Mason suffered from a seizure disorder due to traumatic brain injury (Id. ¶¶ 20-21) and several other diagnosed mental disorders (Id. ¶¶ 22, 34, 35).

On June 19, 2012, Mason suffered a seizure. (Id. ¶ 23.) The next day he exhibited erratic behavior and called his mental health case worker to report he was having a difficult time and experiencing suicidal ideations. (Id. ¶ 26.) The case worker told Mason to call his neurologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center ("DHMC"). (Id. ¶ 27.) DHMC later called VSP to report a call from an unidentified man who had stated he wanted to slit his throat in the back yard. (Id. ¶ 28-29.) A reverse phone check indicated the caller was Mason, who was at the home of Theresa Davidonis, his life partner. (Id. ¶ 30.) DHMC asked the police the check on Mason's welfare. (Id. ¶ 21.) Mason subsequently called DHMC a second time and informed them if police came to his location he hoped they would shoot him. (Id. ¶ 33.) DHMC reported this to VSP. (Id.)

In response to the first call from DHMC, VSP dispatched three troopers, Defendant Trooper Jacob Zorn, Trooper Abigail Drew, and Trooper Charles Schulze, to Davidonis' home to conduct a welfare check on Mason. (Id. ¶ 38.) The police called Davidonis and requested she return to her home. (Id. ¶ 41.) Davidonis told the police no one should be in her house (Id. ¶ 42) and there were no guns at her home (Id. ¶ 43). When she arrived at home she informed Troopers Drew and Schulze of Mason's seizure the previous day and told them he needed to be left alone. (Id. ¶ 46.) She asked VSP to leave the property and told them she would take care of Mason. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.) After Davidonis returned to work, VSP continued to watch her home (Id. ¶ 65), calling her to report someone was in her house. (Id. ¶ 64.) Davidonis again told the police to leave Mason alone, as this was the best response to his "post-epileptic seizures." (Id. ¶ 67.) Davidonis returned when VSP told her they would enter her home if she did not return as soon as possible. (Id. ¶ 68.)

Defendant Trooper Shaffer, who had dealt with Mason in the past, arrived at 6:20 p.m. (Id. ¶¶ 71, 73.) Shaffer had read the report stating the welfare check on Mason was prompted by a call from DHMC indicating Mason was in the midst of a mental health episode. (Id. ¶ 70.) Zorn instructed Shaffer to help set up a perimeter of the residence. (Id. ¶ 73.) In the perimeter, Shaffer observed Mason walking out of the woods. (Id. ¶ 78.) Shaffer approached Mason with his M4 rifle aimed at Mason and requested he show his hands. (Id. ¶ 80.) He ordered Mason to lie down on the ground, and Mason slowly complied. (Id. ¶ 84.) When Shaffer approached Mason, Mason got up and swore at Shaffer, stating "Why don't you just go ahead and shoot me?" (Id. ¶ 85.) Shaffer then switched from his rifle to an X26 Taser. (Id. ¶ 86.) Shaffer claims Mason was walking toward him with his right hand flipping him off and his left hand clenched (Id.), but Davidonis and her son, Eriks Davidonis, claim Mason walked toward Shaffer with his hands in the air (Id. ¶ 87.) Shaffer claims he felt threatened by Mason, and shot Mason in the chest with his taser. (Id. ¶ 89.) Mason immediately collapsed and VSP handcuffed him, only to remove the handcuffs in order to perform CPR on him. (Id. ¶¶ 111-16.) Shaffer called for EMT and paramedic assistance at 6:23 p.m. (Id.) After being taken to the hospital, Mason died at 7:40 p.m. (Id. ¶ 127.)

Plaintiff Taylor, Mason's mother, was originally appointed administratrix of Mason's estate without objection, but on February 20, 2014 the Probate Division of Orange County Superior Court removed her and appointed Corinna Megalhaes, the mother of Mason's child. (Doc. 7-1.) Taylor contested this decision, and on November 3, 2014 the Civil Division of Orange County Superior Court entered an order affirming Taylor's continuous appointment as administratrix of Mason's estate. (Doc. 14-2.)

III. Discussion

Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint, principally on the ground that Taylor lacked standing to file it. (Doc. 7.) Taylor opposes the Motion to Dismiss and moves to allow supplemental pleadings in opposition. (Docs. 11, 14). The supplemental pleadings support her assertion she was the ...


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