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Joyner v. District of Columbia

June 2, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton, United States District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on the Federal Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, or, in the Alternative, for Transfer ("Fed. Def.'s Mot.") and the District of Columbia's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and to Dismiss the Complaint ("D.C. Def.'s Mot."). The plaintiff, in both his individual and personal representative capacities, has asserted several claims against the defendants, including the deprivation of civil rights, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, arising from the death of his father while he was incarcerated at the United States ("U.S.") Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP Lewisburg").*fn1 Upon consideration of these motions, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the District of Columbia ("D.C.") and its named officials as parties and transfer this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

I. Factual Background

The plaintiff is the son and personal representative of the estate of Frank Joyner, Jr., and has brought suit against D.C., the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and numerous individuals who were employed by these defendants.*fn2 In September 1976, Frank Joyner was sentenced in Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") to an aggregate term of incarceration of forty-five years on one count of rape and one count of sodomy, see Federal Defendants' Response to February 12, 2003 Order ("Fed. Def.'s Resp.") ¶ 1, and was originally incarcerated at the Lorton Reformatory ("Lorton"), see The Defendant District of Columbia's Supplemental Brief in Support of its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("D.C. Supp. Brief") at 4. In February 1983, while at Lorton, Frank Joyner and several other inmates took several D.C. Department of Corrections staff members hostage. Fed. Def.'s Resp. ¶ 2. In March 1984, Frank Joyner was convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia of one count of kidnaping and six counts of assault on a correctional officer with a deadly weapon. Joyner was sentenced to terms of incarceration of fifteen years on the kidnaping charge and five years each on the other counts, with these sentences designated to run concurrently, but consecutively to his previously imposed sentence. Id. ¶ 4. Thereafter, Frank Joyner was placed into the Federal Bureau of Prisons' ("BOP") system and sent to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion, Indiana ("USP Marion") on October 14, 1983, where he remained until May 30, 1986. Id. ¶¶ 3,6. Frank Joyner was then transferred to a lower security prison at USP Lewisburg, based on the recommendation of the Warden at USP Marion and his representations that Joyner"has maintained an excellent institutional adjustment as evidenced by him not receiving any incident reports... [,] receives very good work reports from his immediate work detail supervisors... [,] has established a good working rapport and is not considered a management problem at [USP Marion]. Id., Exhibit ("Ex.") D ¶ 2. (May 19, 1986 Request for Transfer). Frank Joyner remained at USP Lewisburg until August 1997, when he was murdered by other inmates. Fed. Def.'s Resp. ¶ 6.

II. Standard of Review

The federal government has sought dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3) and 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for transfer to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The D.C. defendants have sought dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) and for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). The Court's consideration of the defendants' motions, namely the defendants' responses to this Court's February 12, 2003 Order, has led it to consider matters outside of the pleadings. Upon realizing that it would have to consider such matters in order to first resolve whether D.C. was a proper party, the Court notified the parties that it was going to do so and granted them an opportunity to supplement the record with any additional material pertinent to a motion made under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn3 See May 15, 2003 Order. Therefore, this Court will begin its examination of whether D.C. is a proper party by examining the plaintiff's claims under Rule 56.

Under Rule 56, summary judgment is generally appropriate when"the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In assessing a summary judgment motion, the Supreme Court has explained that a trial court must look to the substantive law of the claims at issue to determine whether a fact is"material", Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and must treat a"genuine issue" as"one whose resolution could establish an element of a claim or defense and, therefore, affect the outcome of the action", Sanders v. Veneman, 211 F. Supp. 2d 10, 14 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

While it is generally understood that when considering a motion for summary judgment a court must"draw all justifiable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor and accept the nonmoving party's evidence as true," Greene v. Amritsar Auto Serv. Co., 206 F. Supp. 2d 4, 7 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255), the non-moving party must establish more than"[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position", Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. To prevail on a summary judgment motion, the moving party must demonstrate that the non-moving party"fail[ed] to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The District of Columbia Circuit has stated that the non-moving party may not rely solely on mere conclusory allegations. Greene v. Dalton, 164 F.3d 671, 675 (D.C. Cir. 1999); Harding v. Gray, 9 F.3d 150, 154 (D.C. Cir. 1993). Thus,"[i]f the evidence is merely colorable..., or is not significantly probative,..., summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

III. Legal Analysis

(A) Should the District of Columbia and its Named Officials be Dismissed as Parties?

The Court will begin its legal analysis of the defendants' motions by considering whether D.C. and its named officials should be dismissed as defendants in this case. D.C. asserts that because it did not have custody of Frank Joyner at the time of his death, it is not liable for his injuries and thus is not a proper defendant in this matter. See D.C. Def.'s Mot. at 4. D.C. also argues that the United States Attorney General ("Attorney General"), and not D.C., was responsible for the transfer of this prisoner to USP Lewisburg. Id. at 5. They reason that the authority to accept or refuse any prisoner presented for placement in a federal facility resides solely with the Attorney General, and therefore any harm resulting from the placement of the decedent would have been caused by the actions of the Attorney General.

Custody of prisoners who are sentenced in D.C. is vested in the Attorney General pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-201.26 (2001), which reads in pertinent part:

All prisoners convicted in the District of Columbia for any offense... shall be committed, for their terms of imprisonment, and to such types of institutions as the court may direct, to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States or his authorized representative, who shall designate the places of confinements where the sentences of all such persons shall be served. The Attorney General may designate any available, suitable, and appropriate institutions, whether maintained by the District of Columbia government, the federal government... or whether within or without the District of Columbia. The Attorney General is also authorized to order the transfer of any such person from one institution to another if, in his judgment, it shall be for the well-being of the prisoner, or relieve overcrowding or unhealthful conditions in the institution where such prisoner is confined, or for other reasons.

Based upon this section of the D.C. Code, it is clear that the discretion as to where prisoners are placed is vested solely in the Attorney General, not in the D.C. Department of Corrections. D.C. recognizes that it owes a duty of care to those persons housed in facilities it operates, but asserts that no such obligation exists in the instant case because at the time of his demise ...

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