Padmanabhan v. Bd. of Registration in Med., 21-P-401

CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts
Docket Number21-P-401
Decision Date13 June 2022



No. 21-P-401

Appeals Court of Massachusetts

June 13, 2022

Summary decisions issued by the Appeals Court pursuant to M.A.C. Rule 23.0, as appearing in 97 Mass.App.Ct. 1017 (2020) (formerly known as rule 1:28, as amended by 73 Mass.App.Ct. 1001 [2009]), are primarily directed to the parties and, therefore, may not fully address the facts of the case or the panel's decisional rationale. Moreover, such decisions are not circulated to the entire court and, therefore, represent only the views of the panel that decided the case. A summary decision pursuant to rule 23.0 or rule 1:28 issued after February 25, 2008, may be cited for its persuasive value but, because of the limitations noted above, not as binding precedent. See Chace v. Curran, 71 Mass.App.Ct. 258, 260 n.4 (2008).


The plaintiff, Bharanidharan Padmanabhan, M.D., Ph.D., appeals from a Superior Court judgment dismissing his complaint against the Board of Registration in Medicine (board) for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted. We affirm.


The complaint, the allegations of which we take as true, Curtis v. Herb Chambers I-95, Inc., 458 Mass. 674, 676 (2011), asserted that in 2017, the board indefinitely suspended the plaintiff's license to practice medicine. In 2019, this court decided Bloomstein v. Department of Pub. Safety, 96 Mass.App.Ct. 257 (2019), which held that a State


agency had violated certain procedural provisions of G. L. c. 30A, § 11 (7) & (8), in suspending Bloomstein's construction supervisor license. Id. at 258, 261-262. The plaintiff here, believing that the board had committed the same or similar procedural violations in suspending his medical license, petitioned the board to reinstate his license. After some time passed without the board doing so, the plaintiff filed an action seeking damages for violations of his constitutional rights and for "consciously tortious" actions.

On the board's motion to dismiss, a judge ruled that the plaintiff's Federal constitutional claims, asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and his State constitutional claims, asserted under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA), G. L. c. 12, §§ 11H, 111, failed because the board is not a "person" within the meaning of either of those statutes and thus retained sovereign immunity to liability thereunder. The judge further ruled that because the board was a public employer under the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act (MTCA), G. L. c. 258, it retained sovereign immunity from intentional tort claims. This appeal followed.


We review the sufficiency of the complaint de novo. Curtis, 458 Mass. at 676. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that the board is not the type of State entity that is


immune from liability under § 1983 or the MCRA, or immune from intentional tort liability under the MTCA. We are unpersuaded.

1. Constitutional claims.

It is settled that "[a]n agency of the Commonwealth is not a 'person' subject to suit for monetary damages under § 1983." Laubinger v. Department of Revenue, 41 Mass.App.Ct. 598, 601 (1996), citing Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989) .[2]Likewise, as to the MCRA, "the Commonwealth, including its agencies, is not a 'person' subject to suit pursuant to G. L. c. 12, § 11H." Williams v. O'Brien, 78 Mass.App.Ct. 169, 173 (2010). See Commonwealth v. ELM Med. Lab., Inc., 33 Mass.App.Ct. 71, 75-80 & n.9 (1992) (MCRA did not waive sovereign immunity of State agencies).

Here, the board is a State agency exercising delegated legislative authority. See Levy v. Board of Registration & Discipline in Med., 378 Mass. 519, 522-526 (1979) (evaluating board's action based on principles generally applicable to public administrative agencies).[3] "The [b]oard . . . is a state


agency," and thus is entitled to the Commonwealth's immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution against suit in Federal court.[4] Bettencourt v. Board of Registration in Med, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 721 F.Supp. 382, 384 (D. Mass. 1989), aff'd, 904 F.2d 772 (1st Cir. 1990). "[T]he doctrine of sovereign immunity bars the recovery of damages from the [b]oard, and the [b]oard members and their staff in their official capacities." Bettencourt v. Board of Registration in Med, of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 904 F.2d 772, 781 (1st Cir. 1990) .[5]

Numerous statutory provisions show that the board is a State agency. Under G. L. c. 13, § 10, the board's members are appointed by the Governor, who may remove them "for neglect of duty, misconduct, malfeasance or misfeasance in office."[6] Under


G. L. c. 13, § 9 (a.), the board serves in the Department of Public Health. Under G. L. c. 13, § 10A, the board's proposed regulations may be reviewed and approved or disapproved by the Commissioner of Public Health (commissioner). A variety of other statutes control the board's activities. See G. L. c. 13, § 9B; G. L. c. 112, §§ 2, 3-9B.

The plaintiff nevertheless asserts that G. L. c. 112, § 1, provides the defendant board with "statutory independence from the State," because that statute provides that the commissioner "supervises" the work of various other boards of registration, but merely "consults with" the chair of the defendant board. In view of the other statutes cited above, the words of G. L. c. 112, § 1, create no such independence.


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