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Banks v. York

September 17, 2007

SIMON BANKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
S. ELWOOD YORK, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ellen Segal Huvelle United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss filed on behalf of certain officials and employees of the District of Columbia and the Corrections Corporation of America.

I. BACKGROUND

All the claims set forth in plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint ("3d Am. Compl.") arise from his incarceration at the Central Detention Facility ("D.C. Jail"), which is operated by the District of Columbia Department of Corrections ("DOC"), and the Correctional Treatment Facility ("CTF"), a District of Columbia facility which is operated by the Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA"). Plaintiff brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District of Columbia, CCA, and nine individual defendants for alleged violations of rights protected by the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.*fn1 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff also asserts claims for negligent supervision and training against certain of the individual defendants under District of Columbia law. Id. ¶¶ 89-104.*fn2

A. Overdetention

In 2004, plaintiff was detained pursuant to four misdemeanor contempt orders issued by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 82; see Banks v. United States, 926 A.2d 158 (D.C. 2007) (affirming conviction of criminal contempt). On or about June 23, 2004, plaintiff was transferred to the custody of Alexandria, Virginia authorities pursuant to a detainer. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 167, 173. According to plaintiff, DOC staff failed to credit the six months he served in Virginia, thus miscalculating his sentence and his release date. Id. ¶¶ 21-23. Plaintiff was released from the D.C. Jail on April 28, 2006, allegedly 39 days past the date on which he should have been released. Id. ¶¶ 20, 23, 64. He claims to have "suffered anxiety, loss of freedom, loss of liberty and damages as a result of the overdetention." Id. ¶ 67.

Plaintiff attributes this overdetention not only to "the collapse of the Department of Corrections' inmate management system," 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 65, but also to the "deliberate indifference by Defendant District of Columbia [and] Devon Brown." Id. ¶ 56 According to plaintiff, defendants' alleged failure to train and supervise employees responsible for ensuring the timely release of prisoners not only was negligent, but also violated the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. See id. ¶¶ 90-97, 106-14, 129, 151-60.

B. Dental Care

Plaintiff alleges that, in May 2005, corrections officers "confiscated and destroyed [his] dental crown protecting some 7 teeth." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 71. Without the crown's protection, he states that his teeth were chipped and his gums became infected. Id. ¶¶ 75-76. The DOC's dental unit treated plaintiff with "pain medicine and antibiotics to alleviate the pain and suffering," id. ¶ 76, and offered to pull the affected teeth, id. ¶ 74; however, plaintiff alleges that defendants' "egregious, gross negligence, and reckless indifference" in failing to replace the crown and otherwise to provide proper treatment resulted in the removal of four teeth. Id. ¶ 77. He alleges that the loss of his teeth has resulted in damage to his gums, disfigurement of his face, infection, pain, and anxiety. Id. ¶ 78. In addition, he alleges that defendants Pane and Abdulwahab, the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Health and DOC's Medical Director, respectively, were aware of and were deliberately indifferent to the harm plaintiff would suffer as a result of the failure to provide proper dental care. See id. ¶¶ 79-81. He also alleges that CCA "deprived [him] of dental care needed to save [his] teeth from destruction, and further caused the [] harm to [his] teeth, [] gums, [] jaw], [] physical looks, and [] ability to eat, consume and digest food, resulting in the Plaintiff having to have root canals and removal of teeth." Id. ¶ 181.

C. Conditions of Confinement

Plaintiff's amended pleading also contains a virtual laundry list of prison conditions that he complains constituted a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 176. According to plaintiff, the D.C. Jail's population exceeded its capacity; its medical and nutritional staff was insufficient; its showers are defective and unsanitary; its law library lacked resources and staff; there were not enough correctional officers to maintain security; violent felons commingled with pre-trial misdemeanants; the grievance process was defective; reading materials were not available; there was no recreational equipment in the unit where plaintiff was housed; mattresses and blankets were infested with roaches; only one desk and one chair were available in each two-man cell; the commissary did not stock certain items; plaintiff was denied nail clippers; there were regular sewage backups; dental care was not available; staff opened legal mail outside of the inmates' presence; bunk beds without ladders posed a safety hazard for elderly inmates; no health and safety inspections of the D.C. Jail were conducted; no rehabilitative courses were available; and the heating and ventilation system was defective. Id.

Plaintiff also alleges that while detained at the CTF from September 2005 through February 2006, he was "expose[d] to cold temperatures . . . , causing the Plaintiff to suffer pain, colds, and harsh living conditions, that violated the Plaintiff's rights pursuant to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Id. ¶ 182.

D. Extradition to Virginia

Plaintiff alleges that on or about June 23, 2004, defendants caused his transfer to the custody of Alexandria, Virginia authorities, 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 167, even though he "had not waived his constitutional right to an extradition hearing and to protest the legal validity and authenticity of the detainer order." Id. ¶ 169. He asserts that defendants knew or had reason to know of his request for an extradition hearing, and that his transfer occurred because of defendants' "wanton/reckless disregard and [] reckless indifference to the rights of the Plaintiff." Id. ¶ 172.

E. Confinement at the D.C. Jail

Because of plaintiff's age and low custody level, he was initially housed at CTF "where [his] cell was never locked, and [he] was allowed to leave his cell at all times excepting Count Times and Lockdowns." 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 83. Notwithstanding his eligibility for placement at CTF, upon his return from the custody of the Alexandra, Virginia authorities, plaintiff was housed at the D.C. Jail. Id. ¶¶ 84-86. There, plaintiff was housed in a unit "where the Plaintiff suffered regular lockdowns, extreme restrictions on liberty, recreation, commissary, visitation, telephone privileges and cost." Id. ¶ 86. According to plaintiff, defendants' failure to reassign him to CTF caused him to suffer "humiliation, los[s] of liberty, undue hardship and deprivation of privileges." Id. ¶ 87. In addition, plaintiff was commingled with inmates charged with or convicted of murder and other violent offenses. Id. ¶ 88.

For these and other claims, plaintiff demands damages in excess of $125 million. 3d Am. Compl. at 48-49 (Prayer for Relief).

II. DISCUSSION

A. The District of Columbia Defendants' Motions Will Be Granted In Part and Denied In Part Without Prejudice

There are two motions to dismiss filed on behalf of the District of Columbia defendants.*fn3

The first [Dkt. #55] is filed on behalf of Anthony Williams, Gregory Pane, and Norma Tally who are, respectively, the former Mayor of the District of Columbia, the Director of the Department of Health, and a DOC Captain. The second [Dkt. #60] is filed on behalf of Devon Brown, Edward Reiskin, and Gloria Nelson who are, respectively, the DOC Director, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, and the DOC's Director of Records. Both motions essentially make the same arguments. For convenience, the Court refers to the Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint [Dkt. #55] as "Williams Mot." and to the Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint [Dkt. #60] as "Brown Mot."

1. Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)

The District of Columbia defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that it fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted.

A complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations. See Krieger v. Fadely, 211 F.3d 134, 136 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993)). However, a complaint must include "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court presumes the truth of the factual allegations of plaintiff's complaint and liberally construes these allegations in plaintiff's favor. EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 625 (D.C. Cir. 1997). These factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (internal citations omitted). The Court need not "accept inferences drawn by plaintiff[] if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). At this stage of the proceedings, "[t]he issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether [he] is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

2. Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a complaint must allege facts sufficient to show that the conduct of which plaintiff complains (1) was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. See, e.g., West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). "[A] municipality can be found liable under § 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue." City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)) (emphasis in original). A "plaintiff[] alleging municipal liability under section 1983 may not be held to a heightened pleading standard." Atchinson v. District of Columbia, 73 F.3d 418, 421 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citing Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 163-69). "[A] municipality's liability under section 1983 . . . cannot rest on a respondeat superior theory," id. at 420, such that a municipality "cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeaser." Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. The District of Columbia is therefore subject to liability under § 1983 only "when an official policy or custom causes the complainant to suffer a deprivation of a constitutional right." Carter v. District of Columbia, 795 F.2d 116, 122 (D.C. Cir. 1986). The policy or custom itself must be the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694); City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 817 (1985) (plaintiff must show course deliberately pursued by city establishing affirmative link between city's policy and alleged constitutional violation). "[A] city's inaction, including its failure to train or supervise its employees adequately, constitutes a policy or custom under Monell when it can be said that the failure amounts to deliberate indifference towards the constitutional rights of persons in its domain." Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433, 441 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

3. Claims Against Brown and Nelson

Defendants Brown and Nelson are sued in both their official and individual capacities. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9, 13. "As a general rule, government officials may be sued in their individual capacities for constitutional violations only if they are directly responsible for the alleged violations." Caldwell v. Hammonds, 53 F. Supp. 2d 1, 9 (D.D.C. 1999); see Arnold v. Moore, 980 F. Supp. 28, 33-34 (D.D.C. 1997); Price v. Kelly, 847 F. Supp. 163, 169 (D.D.C. 1994), aff'd, 56 F.3d 1531 (D.C. Cir. 1995). These defendants seek dismissal of the complaint against them in their individual capacities because the pleading "fails to allege any specific unconstitutional or improper act/conduct was committed by these defendants." Brown Mot. at 8-9.

Admittedly, the factual allegations of the amended complaint are vague and inartfully pleaded. However, mindful that a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is designed only to test the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations, the Court concludes that plaintiff adequately alleges defendant Brown's involvement in the events giving rise to this civil action. Brown is alleged to have violated plaintiff's rights by refusing to transfer him from the D.C. Jail to CTF and by failing to train DOC employees under his supervision in such a way as to prevent plaintiff's overdetention. See 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 86-87, 106-14.

To the extent that plaintiff seeks to hold defendants Brown liable for the unconstitutional actions or omissions of his subordinates on a theory of respondeat superior, however, such a theory cannot survive. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 (respondeat superior liability cannot form the basis of liability for a § 1983 claim); Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 258 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (complaint naming Attorney General and BOP Director as defendants based on theory of respondeat superior, without allegations specifying their involvement in the case, does not state Bivens claim).

Nelson, like Brown, is alleged to have failed to train, monitor, and discipline the DOC employees charged with ensuring plaintiff's release on the appropriate date. 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 86-87, 106-14. Although Nelson is sued only in her capacity as the Director of the DOC Office of Records, id. ¶ 13, she did not assume that position until several weeks after plaintiff's release from jail. Brown Mot. at 22. Having taken office after plaintiff's release, Nelson cannot have caused his overdetention and cannot be liable under Section 1983. See Haynesworth v. Miller, 820 F.2d 1245, 1259 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (affirming dismissal of Bivens action against police chief who "took office . . . as the events in question drew to a close," as "no corrective action on his part could have aided [plaintiff] since the harm he asserts had already taken place"), abrogated on other grounds by Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss the claims against defendant Nelson in her individual capacity.

4. Inadequate Dental Care

Defendants argue that plaintiff fails to state a constitutional claim for inadequate medical care. See Williams Mot. at 8-11; Brown Mot. at 10-13.

The District of Columbia is obligated to provide medical care for the prisoners in its custody. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976). A successful Eighth Amendment claim for the denial of medical care must satisfy both parts of a two-pronged test. Pryor-El v. Kelly, 892 F. Supp. 261, 266 (D.D.C. 1995). Plaintiff first must show that the alleged deprivation is sufficiently serious to be considered cruel and unusual. A medical need is considered serious if it either is diagnosed by a physician as mandating treatment or is so obvious that a lay person easily would recognize the necessity of a doctor's attention. Cox v. District of Columbia, 834 F. Supp. 439, 441 (D.D.C. 1992). Next, plaintiff must allege that a government official acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. See Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 303 (1991). A "prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth Amendment . . . unless the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be ...


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