Pavilonis v. King

Decision Date11 July 1980
Docket NumberNo. 79-1614,79-1614
PartiesAnne M. PAVILONIS, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Edward J. KING et al., Defendants, Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Anne M. Pavilonis on brief pro se.

Francis X. Bellotti, Atty. Gen., and Stephen S. Ostrach, Asst. Atty. Gen., Boston, Mass., on brief for appellees, Edward J. King, et al.

Jerome Medalie, Steven A. Cohen and Widett, Slater & Goldman, P. C., Boston, Mass., on brief for appellee, Kenneth G. Ryder.

Before COFFIN, Chief Judge, CAMPBELL and BOWNES, Circuit Judges.

BOWNES, Circuit Judge.

Anne M. Pavilonis appeals from the dismissal of two civil rights actions she filed against various people connected with the Boston schools. She also challenges the district court's entry of an order enjoining her from filing any lawsuit in the federal district court of Massachusetts and prohibiting the clerk of court from accepting for filing any paper submitted by her without authorization by a district judge.

Pavilonis' first lawsuit was commenced on December 9, 1977, by a complaint against the then Governor Michael Dukakis, Boston School Committee President Kathleen Sullivan, and Solomon Lewenberg School Principal William I. O'Connell. The body of the complaint read, in its entirety, as follows:

1. This is an action to redress the deprivation under color of a law of the state of Massachusetts of a right secured to plaintiff by Article V Amendment 14 of the Constitution of the United States. Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court by 28 U.S.C. Section 1343.

2. Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1986 to recover damages for defendant's failure to prevent a wrong mentioned in 42 U.S.C. Section 1985, which defendant knew was about to occur and which defendants had the power to prevent, as hereinafter more fully appears. Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court by 28 (U.S.C.) Section 1343.

The second complaint, filed on December 19, 1977, was nearly identical, but named Northeastern University President Kenneth G. Ryder as an additional defendant. 1

When Pavilonis moved for appointment of counsel, these cases were referred to a magistrate. Consulting the district court docket, the magistrate found five other complaints filed by Pavilonis, against various defendants including Michael Dukakis and Kenneth Ryder, in which the same language contained in paragraph 2 of the instant complaints was used, apparently without significant elaboration. 2 Of the opinion that the two complaints before him, even read liberally, were "completely devoid of any information that would assist the defendants . . . (in) answer(ing)," were "completely violative of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure," 3 and "appear(ed) frivolous," the magistrate denied the motions for appointment of counsel. Finding that Pavilonis had filed "numerous unsupported actions" that placed an undue burden on the court and deprived other legitimate litigants of a hearing, the magistrate also recommended that she be restricted from filing new actions without permission of a district judge.

Pavilonis filed objections to the magistrate's recommendation, stating that she found the "U.S.C.A. Procedure" for filing a complaint "vague," and indicating that she had interpreted Commentary 1 to Rule 8 as allowing specific facts to be furnished separately. She also asserted that, when served by certified mail, the defendants were furnished sufficient information to enable them to respond to the complaint. In the district court records are copies of letters sent by Pavilonis to the defendants, advising defendants Dukakis, Sullivan and O'Connell that they were being sued for denying her sons "due process of the (Massachusetts) Racial Imbalance Law" by failing to provide them transportation (and in the case of Dukakis, by failure to implement programs and services required by Massachusetts laws, chapters 622 and 636), and advising defendant Ryder that he was being sued for denying Pavilonis due process by withholding federal monies from her.

The district judge approved the magistrate's recommendation and, on April 12, 1978, issued an order enjoining Pavilonis from filing new lawsuits without permission of a judge of the District Court of Massachusetts, and ordering the clerk to refuse to file additional papers submitted by her without such permission. The district court, on September 25, 1978, refused to vacate its April 12 order. Thereafter, it denied Pavilonis permission to file two documents: (1) a "motion to dismiss" the city defendants' motion to dismiss, in which she alleged the defendants arbitrarily denied her equal protection of chapters 622 and 636 of Massachusetts law and demanded the implementation of a unitary school system and damages, and (2) a "motion to obtain a ruling" that forced bussing to an inferior school was a deprivation of equal protection of the right to property, assured by the above-cited Massachusetts laws. On September 11, 1979, the complaints were dismissed, and Pavilonis appealed. 4

We have little difficulty upholding the district court's dismissal of the complaints. Although pro se complaints are to be read liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 595-596, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972), these complaints are so hopelessly general that they could give no notice of Pavilonis' claims. Even if the letters sent to the defendants could properly be read along with the complaints, they did little to flesh out Pavilonis' allegations. And, although the magistrate's report alerted Pavilonis to the deficiencies in her allegations, the documents she tendered for filing in the months afterward were hardly informative and no curative amendments of the complaints were effected. 5 Thus, Pavilonis' pleadings never met the minimum standards applicable to civil rights cases:

Complaints based on civil rights statutes must do more than state simple conclusions; they must at least outline the facts constituting the alleged violation.

Fisher v. Flynn, 598 F.2d 663, 665 (1st Cir. 1979). See Leonardo v. Moran, 611 F.2d 397, 398 (1st Cir. 1979); Kadar Corp. v. Milbury, 549 F.2d 230, 233 (1st Cir. 1977). Dismissal was therefore warranted. 6

Whether Pavilonis was properly enjoined from filing additional pleadings or new lawsuits without permission from a district judge is a closer question. In recommending an injunction against her filing new actions without permission, the magistrate relied on Rudnicki v. McCormack, 210 F.Supp. 905 (D.R.I.1962), appeal dismissed sub nom. Rudnicki v. Cox, 372 U.S. 226, 83 S.Ct. 679, 9 L.Ed.2d 714 (1963), and Rudnicki v. Department of Massachusetts Attorney General, 362 F.2d 337 (1st Cir. 1966). In Rudnicki v. McCormack, such an injunction was entered against a plaintiff who had filed "baseless, vexatious, and repetitive" suits against judges, judicial officers, and attorneys, in an effort to relitigate cases that had been dismissed. 410 F.Supp. at 907-09. The court ruled that it had equitable and supervisory power to protect the defendants from harassment and the court itself from the burden of processing frivolous and unimportant papers. Id. at 909-11. In Rudnicki v. Department of Massachusetts Attorney General, we noted the existence of the injunction against Rudnicki and upheld the district court's denial of leave to file a new action. 362 F.2d at 338. More recently, a similar injunction was entered against another litigant who had filed complaints comprised of vituperative attacks against judges who had ruled against him; upholding the district court's refusal to allow a new complaint of a similar ilk to be filed, we said, "The law is well established that it is proper and necessary for an injunction to issue barring a party, such as appellant, from filing and processing frivolous and vexatious lawsuits." Gordon v. United States Department of Justice, 558 F.2d 618 (1st Cir. 1977).

While we reject Pavilonis' argument that enjoining litigation is unconstitutional, see id., we do not think her case fits into the classic Rudnicki-Gordon mold. Those cases, like many others from other jurisdictions, involved plaintiffs bent on reopening closed cases and evidently also intent on harassing defendants, often judges who had ruled against them. 7 Here, the magistrate determined only that Pavilonis had filed "numerous unsupported" actions, using the same deficient complaints. It does not appear that Pavilonis was attempting to reopen closed cases; according to the magistrate's report, when injunctive relief was recommended at least four of Pavilonis' five other lawsuits were still pending. Likewise, although Pavilonis is obviously dissatisfied with the Boston school system and certain individuals connected with it, it is not clear that her litigation was malicious and designed to harass. Furthermore, it is possible that her use of the same complaint in several cases resulted from a misunderstanding of Rule 8, rather than a desire to mask repetitive litigation or to make response by the defendants difficult.

Nevertheless, Pavilonis' lawsuits were at least to some extent duplicative; for example, in the two cases now on appeal, she sued certain defendants twice in two weeks and there is no apparent difference between the actions. In addition, all her complaints suffered from the same deficiencies. Faced with a situation where its docket was being burdened and defendants were being called upon to answer multiple, impenetrable complaints, the district court was justified in taking action. Although the entry of a broad injunction, pertaining to all pleadings and future lawsuits, 8 was a drastic measure, we are not convinced the...

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