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Sheppard v. United States

April 12, 2007

KEVIN LAMONT SHEPPARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Kevin Sheppard ("the plaintiff"), a resident of Maryland and a former inmate of the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas ("Leavenworth"), brings this action against the United States of America ("the defendant") under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) (2000). Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 2, 5, 11. The plaintiff alleges that employees of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"), acting within the scope of their employment, negligently detained him in Leavenworth for approximately ten months after his release was ordered by another member of this Court. Id. ¶¶ 9-14. The plaintiff also alleges that employees of the United States Marshals Service ("USMS"), acting within the scope of their employment, "failed to take the necessary steps to transmit or transfer the order to the necessary parties to ensure [the] [p]laintiff's timely release." Id. ¶ 10. Currently before the Court is the defendant's motion to dismiss this case pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(3) or, in the alternative, to transfer this case to an appropriate venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1404(a) and 1406(a) (2000) ("Def.'s Mot.").*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court dismisses the plaintiff's claim against the USMS for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and transfers this action to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.

I. Factual Background

The plaintiff alleges the following facts in support of his complaint. On August 12, 1996, Judge Royce Lamberth of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia sentenced the plaintiff to a term of 121 months incarceration in federal prison. Compl. ¶ 7. On December 6, 2002, after the plaintiff had served over five years of this ten-year sentence, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia filed an unopposed motion to reduce the plaintiff's sentence pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35(b). Id. ¶ 8. Judge Lamberth granted this motion on December 12, 2002, issuing a Judgment and Commitment Order wherein the plaintiff's sentence was reduced to time served and he was placed on supervised release for a term of five years. Id. ¶ 9; see also Def.'s Mot., Exhibit ("Ex.") 1 (December 12, 2002 Judgment In a Criminal Case) ("Order") at 1-3. The plaintiff contends that a copy of this Order was taken by Judge Lamberth's courtroom clerk to the Office of the United States Marshal in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on that same day, but that the USMS did not enter the Order into its computer log-thus allowing it to be processed and transmitted to the BOP and, specifically, to the Leavenworth detention facility, where the plaintiff was incarcerated-until December 20, 2002, eight days later. Compl. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Opp. at 20-21.

On the morning of December 15, 2002, an automated "Program Review Report" concerning the plaintiff was generated by a BOP computer at Leavenworth.*fn2 Pl.'s Opp. at 5, 21 (stating that "the report was generated from an institutional computer on 12/15/2002 at 8:55:07"); see Pl.'s Opp., Ex. 12 (December 15, 2002 Program Review Report). This report listed the plaintiff's projected release date as November 19, 2004. Id. The plaintiff was also interviewed by his case manager at the Leavenworth facility on December 15, 2002. Compl. ¶ 11. The plaintiff alleges that the case manager "did not review or verify his release date" at that time, nor did he "take [any] other steps to ensure that [the] [p]laintiff was released in accordance with Judge Lamberth's order."*fn3 Id. The plaintiff was not released from custody until October 7, 2003. Id. ¶ 12. He commenced the present action two and a half years later, on May 6, 2006. Id. at 1.

On July 31, 2006, the defendant moved to dismiss this case, arguing, inter alia, that the District of Columbia is an improper venue for the litigation of this action, because (1) the plaintiff resides in Maryland and (2) both "the alleged failure to release [the] [p]laintiff" and "the alleged negligent acts" complained of by the plaintiff occurred in Leavenworth, Kansas. Def.'s Mem. at 11-12. In the alternative, the defendant argues that even if the Court finds that venue in this District is proper, "considerations of convenience and justice weigh in favor of transferring this action" to the District of Maryland or the District of Kansas. Id. at 13. In response, the plaintiff asserts that venue is proper in this judicial district because "the eight day delay in the processing of Judge Lamberth's order" by USMS employees occurred in the District of Columbia. Id. at 21.

II. Standards of Review

A. Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

The Court, acting sua sponte, may dismiss all or part of a plaintiff's complaint "for failure to state a claim if it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff[] can prove no set of facts that would entitle [him] to relief." Cicippio-Puleo v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 353 F.3d 1024, 1031-32 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). In so doing, the Court "must treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant [the] plaintiff[s] the benefit of all reasonable inferences [that can be derived] from the facts alleged." Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). However, the Court need not accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint or "legal conclusion[s] couched as . . . factual allegation[s]." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see also M.K. v. Tenet, 99 F. Supp. 2d 12, 17 (D.D.C. 2000) (stating that "[b]are conclusions of law and sweeping and unwarranted averments of fact will not be deemed admitted" for the purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion) (citing Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1254 (D.C. Cir. 1987)). The Court may only consider the facts alleged in the complaint, any documents attached as exhibits, and matters about which the Court may take judicial notice in making a determination pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 (D.C. Cir. 1997). A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002).

B. Dismissal or Transfer for Improper Venue

In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of proper venue under Rule 12(b)(3), "the Court accepts the plaintiff['s] well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff['s] favor, and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff['s] favor." Quarles v. Gen. Inv. & Dev. Co., 260 F. Supp. 2d 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also 2215 Fifth St. Assocs. v. U-Haul Intern., Inc., 148 F. Supp. 2d 50, 54 (D.D.C. 2001) (stating that courts will grant a 12(b)(3) motion if "facts [are] presented that . . . defeat [the] plaintiff's assertion of venue") (citation omitted). "Because it is the plaintiff's obligation to institute the action in a permissible forum, the plaintiff usually bears the burden of establishing that venue is proper." Freeman v. Fallin, 254 F. Supp. 2d 52, 56 (D.D.C. 2003) (citations omitted). If the Court concludes that venue is improper, it must either dismiss the action or, "if it be in the interest of justice, transfer [it] to any district or division in which it could have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a) (2000). The decision whether to dismiss or transfer is committed to the "sound discretion" of the Court. Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

A. The Plaintiff's Claim Against the USMS

The gravamen of the plaintiff's complaint can be easily parsed into two distinct claims: First, that the USMS employees in Washington, D.C., negligently failed to transmit the December 12, 2002 Order to BOP employees in Kansas until December 20, 2002, Compl. ¶¶ 18-22, and second, that BOP employees in Kansas negligently failed to release the plaintiff in accordance with the reduced sentence mandated by the December 12, 2002 Order until October 7, 2003, id. ¶¶ 13-18. For the following reasons, the ...


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