Bush v. Fantasia

Decision Date12 September 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 21-cv-11794-ADB
PartiesMICHAEL BUSH, et. al., Plaintiffs, v. LINDA FANTASIA, et. al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts



Plaintiffs[1] brought this suit to challenge the constitutionality of mask mandates implemented by the Town of Carlisle Board of Health (Carlisle BOH or “BOH”) and the Gleason Public Library (“Gleason Library” or “Library”) to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [ECF No. 21]. Plaintiffs opposed the motion, and the parties then filed additional briefing, supplemental notices of authority and responses thereto. See [ECF Nos. 23, 26, 28, 31 32]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion [ECF No. 21], is GRANTED.


The following facts are taken primarily from the complaint, [ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”)], the factual allegations of which are assumed to be true when considering a motion to dismiss, Ruivo v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 766 F.3d 87, 90 (1st Cir. 2014). As it may on a motion to dismiss, the Court has also considered “documents incorporated by reference in [the complaint], matters of public record, and other matters susceptible to judicial notice.” Giragosian v. Ryan, 547 F.3d 59, 65 (1st Cir. 2008) (alteration in original) (quoting In re Colonial Mortg. Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 20 (1st Cir. 2003)).

On August 25, 2021, the Carlisle BOH unanimously voted to adopt an indoor face mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pursuant to their authority under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, §§ 31, 104. [Compl. at 9, 13]; see also [ECF No. 1-2 at 7]. The vote was [i]n response to the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Carlisle and throughout Middlesex County, including break-through cases among those who have been fully vaccinated.” [ECF No. 1-2 at 7]. The mandate required face masks to be worn in “all indoor public spaces, or private spaces open to the public within the Town of Carlisle ....” [Compl. at 9, 13; ECF 1-2 at 7]. Individuals who are “unable to wear a face mask due to a medical condition or disability ....” were excluded from the mandate. [ECF 1-2 at 7]. In the face of the ongoing pandemic, the BOH renewed the mask mandate at public meetings held on October 6, 2021, November 17, 2021, and December 15, 2021. See [ECF No. 22 at 4-5; Compl. at 9].

Similarly, “throughout much of 2020 and 2021,” the Director of the Gleason Library, Martha Feeney-Patten (“Feeney-Patten”), also implemented a face mask requirement for Library visitors aged two and up “in consideration of . . . high usage [of the library] by as-yet-unvaccinated children and medically vulnerable individuals.” [Compl. at 10; ECF No. 1-2 at 4].

Starting in October 2020 and continuing into 2021, Plaintiff Michael Bush contacted Carlisle BOH Health Agent Linda Fantasia (Fantasia) and Feeney-Patten to protest the implementation of the mask mandates. [Compl. at 12; ECF No. 1-2 at 1-3]. He alleged that the mandates were unwarranted, that “the town officials' messaging about face masks had contributed to harassment and discrimination against people for whom face masks are medically inappropriate[,] and that he had been subjected to such discrimination himself due to the published face mask policies. [Id.]. Plaintiff Monica Granfield also alleges that, in October 2021, Library staff asked her to wear a face mask in accordance with the policy. [Compl. at 14]. The complaint does not allege any other instances in which any Plaintiff was ordered to comply with a mask mandate or denied access to a facility due to the mask mandates. Following up on his emails, Bush, with some of the other Plaintiffs co-signing, sent “Notice and Demand Letters” to Fantasia, Feeney-Patten, and Town Administrator Timothy Goddard (“Goddard”), which alleged that the mask mandates violated both federal and state law, were ineffective tools for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and that masks themselves were “harmful.” [ECF No. 1-2 at 8-26; Compl. at 13].

Ultimately, Plaintiffs, proceeding pro se, filed the instant action on November 4, 2021. See [Compl.]. They named as defendants the Town of Carlisle (“Carlisle”), Fantasia, Feeney-Patten, and Goddard, as well as Carlisle BOH Chair Anthony Mariano, and BOH Members Catherine Galligan, Jean Jasaitis Barry, Patrick Collins, and David Erickson. [Id.]. Put simply, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants did not have the authority to institute the mask mandates and that they violated Plaintiffs' rights under federal, state, and even international law by doing so. [Id. at 7, 17]. Plaintiffs request the Court declare the face mask policies “unlawful and void” and [o]rder that Defendants henceforth refrain from uninformed non-consensual medical experimentation and other religious or medical discrimination” and also ask for compensatory and punitive damages. [Id. at 17].

While this motion was pending, on February 23, 2022, the BOH rescinded the mask mandate at issue and replaced it with a mask advisory, and, on March 8, 2022, the Carlisle Select Board voted to support the BOH's decision. [ECF No. 28]. The Gleason Library has also adopted a similar policy, which does not require guests to wear masks but advises that masks are “strongly recommended[.] [ECF No. 32 ¶ 5; ECF No. 32-1].[2]


In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts, analyze those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Gilbert v. City of Chicopee, 915 F.3d 74, 76, 80 (1st Cir. 2019). [D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, but the complaint must set forth “more than labels and conclusions.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The alleged facts must be sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

“To cross the plausibility threshold a claim does not need to be probable, but it must give rise to more than a mere possibility of liability.” Grajales v. P.R. Ports Auth., 682 F.3d 40, 4445 (1st Cir. 2012) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A determination of plausibility is ‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.' Id. at 44 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). [T]he complaint should be read as a whole, not parsed piece by piece to determine whether each allegation, in isolation, is plausible.” Hernandez-Cuevas v. Taylor, 723 F.3d 91, 103 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 14 (1st Cir. 2011)). “The plausibility standard invites a two-step pavane.” A.G. ex rel. Maddox v. Elsevier, Inc., 732 F.3d 77, 80 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing Grajales, 682 F.3d at 45). First, the Court “must separate the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited).” Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012)). Second, the Court “must determine whether the remaining factual content allows a ‘reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' Id. (quoting Morales-Cruz, 676 F.3d at 224).

Because Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, the Court must generously construe the arguments in their complaint and briefing. Bahiakina v. U.S. Postal Serv., 102 F.Supp.3d 369, 371 (D. Mass. 2015) ([A] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed ....” (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007))). However, a pro se litigant still must comply with procedural and substantive law. Ahmed v. Rosenblatt, 118 F.3d 886, 890 (1st Cir. 1997). Dismissal of a pro se complaint is appropriate when the complaint fails to state an actionable claim. Muller v. Bedford VA Admin. Hosp., No. 11-cv-10510, 2013 WL 702766, at *3 (D. Mass. Feb. 25, 2013) (citing Overton v. Torruella, 183 F.Supp.2d 295, 303 (D. Mass. 2001)).


Defendants assert that dismissal of the complaint is warranted because the BOH had the statutory authority to implement the mandates, and that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under any count of their complaint.[3] See [ECF Nos. 22, 23].

A. Statutory Grounds for the Defendants' Mask Mandates

As a preliminary matter, the Court finds that the Carlisle BOH had the statutory authority to issue the mask mandates. Mass. Gen. Law ch. 111, § 31 provides that [b]oards of health may make reasonable health regulations” and further states that

If the board of health determines that an emergency exists, the board or its authorized agent, acting in accordance with section 30 of chapter 111, may, without notice of hearing, issue an order reciting the existence of the emergency and requiring that such action be taken as the board of health deems necessary to address the emergency.
Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, § 31.

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111, § 104 adds that [i]f a disease dangerous to the public health exists in a town, the selectmen and board of health shall use all possible care to prevent the spread of the infection and may give public notice of infected places by such means as in their judgment may be most effectual for the common safety.”

The issuance of a mask mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic was a decision properly made under this statutory authority. Plaintiffs' attempts to convince the Court that this statutory authority is too limited to include the instant circumstances (i.e., that Section 31 does not “pertain to infectious diseases transmitted between persons” or...

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