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Mathis v. Geo Group

February 28, 2008

KEITH MATHIS ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GEO GROUP, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

Document Nos. 5, 29

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTIONS TO TRANSFER

I. INTRODUCTION

This case comes before the court on the defendants'*fn1 motions to transfer the case to the Eastern District of North Carolina. The plaintiffs filed a proposed class-action lawsuit on behalf of past, present and future prisoners at Rivers Correctional Institute ("Rivers") who are dependent on the institution for medical, dental and mental health care. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants, owners and operators of Rivers, failed to provide adequate care and reasonable accommodations for disabled prisoners in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791 et seq.; and state contract and tort law. In the alternative, the defendants request that the court transfer this suit to the Eastern District of North Carolina, the district in which the Rivers is located, because the events giving rise to the claims occurred there, the evidence is prevalent there, and the majority of prospective witnesses reside there. The court agrees that transferring the case furthers the interests of justice and grants the defendants' request.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Title XI of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, entitled the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (the "Revitalization Act"), requires the Bureau of Prisons to incarcerate "at least 50 percent of the District of Columbia sentenced felony population" in "private contract facilities." Pub. L. No. 105-33, 111 Stat. 251 (1997). Rivers is one such private contract facility, which defendant GEO Group ("GEO") owns and operates pursuant to a contract with its co-defendant the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"). Compl. ¶ 21. In 1998, the plaintiffs allege that GEO entered into a contract with BOP to house prisoners at Rivers (the "Rivers Contract"). Id. ¶ 31. Since its opening in 2001, thousands of D.C. felony offenders have been incarcerated at Rivers, which currently houses 1,300 prisoners. Id. ¶ 32. The plaintiffs contend that the defendants have neglected their contractual obligations, which require GEO to provide medical, dental and mental health care and require the BOP to ensure that appropriate care is being provided. Id. ¶¶ 31, 33-35 (listing types of reports and other documents GEO must submit to the BOP pursuant to the Rivers Contract).

On June 28, 2007, ten named plaintiffs, who are current or former prisoners at Rivers, brought suit against the defendants -- GEO, the BOP and its director -- on behalf of all former, present and future prisoners at Rivers. Id. ¶ 40. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants "are deliberately indifferent to Plaintiffs' serious medical needs, [which] . . . perpetuates a health care delivery system . . . that is so grossly inadequate as to violate the legal rights of the Plaintiffs . . . ." Id. ¶ 38. Specifically, the plaintiffs assert that (1) the staffing, training and supervision of the health care system is "[w]holly insufficient"; (2) the access to health care, including access to medication, is "habitually and indiscriminately denied"; (3) there are extreme delays in receiving the medication provided; (4) there are no protocols for handling highly contagious outbreaks; (5) there is no effective quality control procedure or adequate grievance processing department; and (6) disabled prisoners are "denied access to [] programs, services, facilities, and activities." Id.

¶¶ 38, 51. These failures, the plaintiffs contend, violate the Eighth Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act and state contract and tort law. Id. ¶¶ 62-89. They request that the court permanently enjoin the defendants from continuing sub-standard health care practices and award monetary damages, including punitive damages and attorneys' fees. Id. at 46-48.

GEO responded to the plaintiffs' complaint on July 26, 2007 by filing a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and to transfer the case to the Eastern District of North Carolina, the district in which Rivers is located. See generally GEO Group's Mot. to Dismiss and to Transfer ("GEO's Mot."). Approximately two months later, the BOP and its director, Harley Lappin, filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, or in the alternative, to transfer the case to the Eastern District of North Carolina. See generally Fed. Defs.' Mot. The plaintiffs, in turn, filed a motion to certify the class. The court now turns to the motions to transfer.

III. ANALYSIS

Generally, a court should decide questions of personal jurisdiction before questions of venue. Cameron v. Thornburgh, 983 F.2d 253, 257 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (citing Leroy v. Great W. United Corp., 443 U.S. 173 (1979)). Where a "sound prudential justification" exists, a court may consider venue without deciding the question of personal jurisdiction. Id. Accordingly, because "it provides an easier resolution of the case," the court focuses first on the question of venue. Id.

A. Legal Standard for Venue Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) and Transfer Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a)

Rule 12(b)(3) instructs the court to dismiss or transfer a case if venue is improper or inconvenient in the plaintiffs' chosen forum. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(3). When federal jurisdiction is not premised solely on diversity, 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) controls venue, establishing that venue is proper in:

(1) a judicial district where any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same State, (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (3) a judicial district in which any ...


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