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Watkins v. Holt

August 10, 2006

JOSEPH WATKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RONNIE HOLT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Dkt. # 15-16, 18, 23

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.*fn1 The Court will dismiss the complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a District of Columbia prisoner who currently is in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). Compl. at 2. He alleges that defendants were negligent in calculating his sentence, such that he remains in custody long past its expiration. See Amd. Compl. at 1. Plaintiff contends that his current incarceration violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See id. at 4-5. He brings this action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), see 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., demanding damages of $75,000,000.00 for "mental anguish and emotional stress," false imprisonment, personal injury and personal property loss resulting from his continued wrongful incarceration.*fn2 Amd. Compl. at 2, 5; see Compl., Ex. D (June 9, 2005 Memorandum regarding Administrative Tort Claim No. TRT-NER-2005-01396); Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment ("Defs.' Mot."), Ex. 1 (Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death signed January 5, 2005).

II. DISCUSSION

A complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The ruling on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff properly has stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The factual allegations of the complaint must be presumed to be true and liberally construed in plaintiff's favor. See, e.g., United States v. Phillip Morris, Inc., 116 F.Supp. 2d 131, 135 (D.D.C. 2001). The Court, however, is not obligated to draw an inference that is not supported by the facts presented. Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

Generally, the FTCA provides that the "United States shall be liable [for tort claims] in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." 28 U.S.C. § 2674(a). It operates as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, rendering the United States amenable to suit for certain, but not all, tort claims. See, e.g., Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 6 (1962). "Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit." Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994).

A. The FTCA does not Apply to Constitutional Torts and False Imprisonment

The FTCA does not waive the United States' sovereign immunity for constitutional torts that may be committed by its employees. See 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1), (2); Meyer v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 929 F.Supp. 10, 13 (D.D.C. 1996); Kline v. Republic of El Salvador, 603 F.Supp. 1313, 1316-17 (D.D.C. 1985). To the extent that plaintiff demands relief for defendants' violations of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, these claims must be dismissed. "[T]he United States simply has not rendered itself liable under [the FTCA] for constitutional tort claims." Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. at 478; see Zakiya v. United States, 267 F.Supp. 2d 47, 56 (D.D.C. 2003) (dismissing prisoner's claims of alleged deprivation of constitutional rights). Nor does the FTCA authorize relief for a claim of false imprisonment. By its terms, the FTCA does not apply to "[a]ny claim arising out of . . . false imprisonment." 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h).

B. Plaintiff's Challenge to his Current Custody Sounds in Habeas

Notwithstanding plaintiff's having chosen the FTCA as the jurisdictional basis of this suit, it is clear that his claims sound in habeas. "[T]he essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a person in custody upon the legality of that custody, and that the traditional function of the writ [of habeas corpus] is to secure release from illegal custody." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973). For a prisoner who "is challenging the very fact or duration of his physical imprisonment, and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to immediate relief or a speedier release from that imprisonment, his sole federal remedy is a writ of habeas corpus."

Id. at 500; see Razzoli v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 230 F.3d 371, 375 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (habeas relief "exclusive even when a non-habeas claim would have a merely probabilistic impact on the duration of custody"); see also Chatman-Bey v. Thornburgh, 864 F.2d 804, 809-10 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (habeas as appropriate vehicle for federal prisoner arguing "that he is being deprived of the chance to secure his release . . . by unlawfully being declared ineligible for parole consideration").

Insofar as plaintiff demands immediate release from his current custody, his sole remedy is through a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which names the warden as the respondent, filed in the district where he is incarcerated.*fn3 See Rumsfeld v. Padilla, 542 U.S. 426, 434-35 (2004) (confirming that proper respondent in habeas action is petitioner's warden); Stokes v. United States Parole Comm'n, 374 F.3d 1235, 1239 (D.C. Cir. 2004)(district court "may not entertain a ...


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