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Joyner v. Reno

December 7, 2006

RICHARD JOYNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANET RENO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff commenced this action alleging several violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000), negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against various federal and District of Columbia agencies and their officers. Amended Complaint ("Amend. Compl.") ¶¶ 19, 25-28. Currently before the Court is the Federal Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn1 For the reasons set forth during the September 29, 2006, status conference, and as further discussed below, the Court will again transfer this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.*fn2

I. Background

This Court has previously set forth an extensive discussion of the facts of this case in its earlier memorandum opinion. Joyner v. District of Columbia ("Joyner I"), 267 F. Supp. 2d 15, 16-17 (D.D.C. 2003). It is helpful, nonetheless, to briefly review the facts again here along with the procedural history of the case.

Frank Joyner was an inmate in the United States Prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania ("USP Lewisburg"), beginning in May 1986. Id. at 17. In August 1997, he was allegedly murdered by other inmates. Id. The plaintiff, Richard Joyner, as personal representative of the estate of decedent Frank Joyner, brought this action against the various defendants alleging failure to properly care for and protect the decedent while he was an inmate at USP Lewisburg. Amend. Compl. ¶ 20.

This case was originally filed in this Court on August 16, 2000. Docket Entry ("Dkt.") 1. The plaintiff originally asserted claims only against the District of Columbia and USP Lewisburg. Pl.'s Mem. at 2. In November 2001, both defendants moved for dismissal. Joyner I, 267 F. Supp. 2d at 15. The motion of USP Lewisburg also contained an alternative motion to transfer the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Mem. at 2-3. The plaintiff was then granted leave to file an amended complaint, dkt. 36, and he subsequently filed claims against several additional defendants, including various District of Columbia officials; former Attorneys General Janet Reno and John Ashcroft; Scott Dodrill, the warden at USP Lewisburg; and several unnamed defendants who were employees at USP Lewisburg. Amend. Compl. at 2. These additional defendants were named as defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Id.

On June 2, 2003, this Court dismissed the District of Columbia and the named District of Columbia officials as defendants because the District of Columbia retained no discretion over where its prisoners convicted of felonies are placed and owe no duty of care to prisoners placed in facilities that it does not operate. Joyner I, 267 F. Supp. 2d at 18. With the District of Columbia and its officials no longer parties to this action, the Court determined that this matter should be transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Id. at 16. This Court reasoned that transfer to that district was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) (2000),*fn3 because most, it not all of the witnesses are located there and the operative events occurred in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, which is located in that district. Joyner I, 267 F. Supp. 2d at 20-21. This Court concluded that transfer to that district was further warranted because it was likely that the unnamed guards were Pennsylvania residents, and the institutional records would be found in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Id. at 21. Additionally, the prison where the decedent was allegedly murdered is in that district, and the suit no longer had any connection to the District of Columbia because the claims against the local government and its officers had been dismissed. Id. Therefore, this Court concluded that in the interest of justice and for the convenience of the parties, transfer of this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania was proper. Id.

For the next two years, this action remained in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Eventually, the District Judge presiding over this action in the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an order, sua sponte, to show cause why the case should not be transferred back to this Court. Joyner v. Federal Bureau of Prisons ("Joyner II"), No. 04CV489, 2005 WL 3088371, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2005). Unconvinced by the plaintiff's response that the case should remain in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the District Judge, on December 13, 2005, transferred this action back to this Court. Order Transferring Venue, Dec. 13, 2005.

In his transfer order, the Judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded that before a judge may transfer a case under § 1404(a), the judge must first determine whether an applicable statute of limitations would require dismissal of the action in the potential transferee Court. This assessment, the Judge opined, is required by the text of § 1404(a), which provides that "a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Joyner II, 2005 WL 3088371, at *3. Although the Judge stated that it was unclear which state's law (Pennsylvania or the District of Columbia) applies to this case because it is a federal question case, id. at *4, he concluded that if Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations applied, the case would have to be dismissed as untimely filed, and thus under § 1404(a) it could not have been brought in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Id. Based on this analysis, the Pennsylvania Judge transferred the case back to this Court. Id.

II. Discussion

The proceedings conducted in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, in addition to the transfer of this action back to this Court, also resulted in a narrowing of the contested issues because the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act while the case was in that district. Joyner II, 2005 WL 3088371, at *3 n.1. Therefore, all that now remains in this action are the plaintiff's Bivens claims against defendants Reno, Ashcroft, Dodrill, and the several unnamed defendants. Fed. Def.'s Mot. at 3. In the motion currently pending before the Court, the federal defendants argue that dismissal of these remaining claims is proper because: (1) the plaintiff cannot pursue a Bivens action against the defendants in their official capacities due to sovereign immunity; (2) the individual defendants have not been properly served with process; (3) this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over all of the remaining defendants; (4) the doctrine of respondeat superior cannot serve as the basis for a Bivens claim; (5) all of the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; and (6) venue is not proper in this Court. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will abstain from reaching the merits of this motion. Rather, in the interest of justice, this Court will again transfer this action to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. To explain its reasoning for again transferring this case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Court will begin by analyzing the memorandum opinion and order returning the case here.

A. The Middle District of Pennsylvania Decision

As indicated, this case was originally transferred by this Court to the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Joyner I, 267 F. Supp. 2d at 20-21. That Court, however, believing that the transfer was in error, sent the case back to this Court. In deciding to do so, the Pennsylvania Court first noted that "a threshold question to consider is whether the action 'might have been brought' in the proposed transferee district, the Middle District of Pennsylvania. If this limitation is met, the court must then weigh a list of factors." Id. (internal citations omitted). The Pennsylvania Court then suggested that "the learned District Judge [(this Judge)], likely through inadvertence, disregarded the above-referenced dictates of § 1404(a) in transferring this case." Joyner II, 2005 WL 3088371, at *3. In applying what it deemed to be the proper test, the Pennsylvania Court first concluded that in the absence of a federal statute of limitations, a state's statute of limitations controlled. Id. The Court then noted that while it was unclear which jurisdiction's statute of limitations controlled-the District of Columbia or Pennsylvania-under the applicable Pennsylvania statute of limitations, the case would have been untimely filed. Id. (noting that Pennsylvania has a two-year statute of limitations). Therefore, the Court found that because this action was filed after the expiration of the applicable Pennsylvania statute of limitations period, the case could not have originally been brought in Pennsylvania and this Court therefore erred in transferring the case to that Court. Id. The reasoning of the Pennsylvania Court is flawed and contrary to clear case authority in three key respects.

First, the Pennsylvania Judge has interpreted ยง 1404(a) in a manner inconsistent with the statute and existing case law. Second, even if the Pennsylvania Court's interpretation were correct, which this Court concludes it is not, the Judge failed to faithfully apply his own interpretation. And finally, the Pennsylvania Judge's order transferring this case back to this Court appears to rely solely on his belief that this Court's transfer order was in error and fails to ...


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