Magistrate Determines Wrongful Death Suit Over Maine Drowning Should Be Dismissed

A federal magistrate has recommended that a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Bangor for the death of a man who drown earlier this year, be dismissed.

Peter Manuel, 22, jumped into the Kenduskeag River while fleeing from Bangor police officers on March 2. Bangor firefighters responded and both police and firefighters tried to help him but he refused until he disappeared into the icy waters. His body was found three months later.

Manuel’s father, Gary, filed the suit last August accusing the State of Maine, the City of Bangor, the Bangor Police Department, four individual police officers, and the Bangor Fire Department of harassing his son and his entire family, conspiracy, retaliation, and wrongful death along with an assortment of federal allegations. The suit was filed pro-se (without legal counsel).

U.S. District Court Magistrate John C. Nivison ruled last Friday that the allegations are insufficient to support a claim of wrongful death (or any other actionable claim for that matter). Among the conclusions:

  • Plaintiff alleges Defendants have retaliated against him and his family members because Plaintiff previously filed several lawsuits against Defendants.
  • Plaintiff contends Defendants deprived Plaintiff and his family of certain benefits, opportunities and property.
  • Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants unfairly treated his son, Peter, and as a result, are responsible for Peter’s death.
  • Plaintiff asserts that in the early morning hours of March 2, 2018, near a nightclub in Bangor, members of the Bangor Police Department, without probable cause, chased Peter into the Kenduskeag Stream, where he lost his life by drowning or exposure to the elements.
  • Plaintiff alleges the incident is the culmination of a long history of oppression directed at his family.
  • Although a pro se plaintiff’s complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim.
  • To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy.
  • Plaintiff’s allegations, however, are conclusory and are insufficient to support an actionable claim.
  • Plaintiff has not asserted any facts that would support a false arrest or excessive force claim.
  • Plaintiff’s complaint lacks any facts that would support a claim of bias on any basis.
  • Plaintiff has failed to allege facts that would support an equal protection claim. Plaintiff’s conspiracy claim thus necessarily fails.
  • Plaintiff’s has failed to allege sufficient facts to support a housing discrimination claim.
  • Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that would support a finding that the interaction between the Bangor Defendants and Peter Manuel, or any other member of Plaintiff’s family, was informed or influenced in any way by a disability of a family member.
  • Plaintiff cites various provisions of federal criminal law. To the extent Plaintiff seeks to institute criminal proceedings, Plaintiff does not have standing to pursue criminal charges against Defendants.
  • Plaintiff’s complaint does not identify any racketeering activity or associated harm.
  • Plaintiff cites the Federal Tort Claim Act in his complaint. Because Defendants are not federal officers, the Federal Tort Claim Act is not applicable.
  • Given that Plaintiff has not stated a claim within this Court’s federal question jurisdiction, and given the lack of any apparent basis for the exercise of diversity jurisdiction, the Court lacks jurisdiction to consider Plaintiff’s state law claim(s).
  • Plaintiff … cannot prevail in federal court on federal claims asserted against the State, absent waiver of immunity. Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that would support a finding of waiver.

The matter will now be forwarded to U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker for a final ruling. Here is a copy of the decision: Manuel v. Bangor DECISION

Here is a copy of the original complaint: Manuel v. Bangor COMPLAINT ONLY

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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