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Spotts v. United States

June 23, 2008

KELVIN ANDRE SPOTTS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, 438 current and former inmates at the United States Penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas ("USP Beaumont"), filed this action against Defendant, the United States of America, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C §§ 2671, 1346(b), et seq. The gravamen of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") is that Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") officials acted negligently by failing to evacuate USP Beaumont prior to the landfall of Hurricane Rita on September 24, 2005. SAC ¶¶ 225-44.*fn1 Plaintiffs further allege that BOP agents failed to properly supply the prison during the month that followed, and that during that time inmates were forced to live in substandard conditions and suffered various physical and emotional injuries as a result. Id. Defendant has filed a Motion to Transfer Venue to the Eastern District of Texas, in which Defendant argues that venue does not lie in the District of Columbia and that the Eastern District of Texas is a more convenient venue. Plaintiffs oppose Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue.

Upon searching consideration of the parties' briefs, the exhibits attached thereto, the relevant statues and case law, and the entire record herein, the Court finds that venue for this case does not lie in the District of Columbia and that, in the alternative, the Eastern District of Texas is a more convenient venue for litigating this case. As such, the Court shall grant Defendant's [9] Motion to Transfer Venue to the Eastern District of Texas. Further, the Court notes that Plaintiffs have filed a [26] Motion and [27] Supplemental Motion for Joinder of additional plaintiffs in this action, which are currently pending on the docket in this case. In light of the Court's decision to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Texas, the Court shall deny each of those Motions without prejudice so that Plaintiffs may refile them, if appropriate, upon transfer to the Eastern District of Texas.

I. BACKGROUND

The 438 Plaintiffs in this action are, or were as of September 24, 2005, inmates at USP Beaumont.*fn2 Although the Second Amended Complaint in this action focuses on the alleged actions of officials of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Plaintiffs' Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Transfer Venue reads as if the BOP was the Defendant in this action, see Pls.' Opp'n at 1, the only Defendant actually named in Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint is the United States of America, see SAC, Caption.

Plaintiffs allege that on September 20, 2005, Plaintiff Kelvin Spotts approached Tim Outlaw, then the Warden of USP Beaumont, to request that the inmates at USP Beaumont be moved to another facility in light of news reports concerning Hurricane Rita's approach. SAC ¶ 41. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs allege, "[BOP] Director Harley Lappin, Assistant Director Bruce Sasser, Assistant Director Joyce Conley (responsible for emergency preparedness), South Central Regional Director Geraldo Maldonado and Warden Tim Outlaw . . . jointly decided" not to relocate inmates to other prisons before or after the arrival of Hurricane Rita. Id. ¶¶ 48, 54, 147. On September 24, 2005, Hurricane Rita made landfall and passed over the Beaumont area. SAC ¶¶ 75-89, Ex. B (Tracking Map of Hurricane Rita).*fn3 Plaintiffs allege that from that date until October 25, 2005, they lacked sufficient water, food, hygienic materials, ventilation, medical attention, toilets, clean clothing and lighting. SAC ¶ 68. Plaintiffs further allege that, as a result, they suffered numerous physical and emotional injuries. Id. ¶¶ 98-224.*fn4

Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint asserts that each of the 438 Plaintiffs in this action exhausted their administrative remedies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) before filing their claims with this Court. SAC ¶¶ 6B-7.*fn5 Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that most of their claims have been denied, and that in all cases, the Plaintiff filed a tort claim at least six months ago as to which no action has been taken. Id. ¶ 7. See generally 28 U.S.C. § 2675(a) ("The failure of an agency to make final disposition of a claim within six months after it is filed shall . . . be deemed a final denial of the claim for purposes of this section"). Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint also alleges that staff and officers at USP Beaumont have attempted to interfere with Plaintiffs' attempts to exhaust their administrative remedies by filing tort claims. Id. ¶¶ 276-85.

Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint in this action on January 9, 2008. That Complaint included 57 Plaintiffs. See Compl., Caption. On March 5, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint in which they added additional Plaintiffs. See generally Amended Compl. As noted above, on April 1, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint, which appears to be unopposed. The Court treats that Second Amended Complaint as the operative pleading in this case, as does Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue. Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint includes seven claims: (1) Negligence (SAC ¶¶ 225-34); (2) Reckless Disregard for Welfare/Deliberate Indifference (Id. ¶¶ 235-44); (3) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Id. ¶¶ 245-53); (4) Cruel and Unusual Punishment (as a Constitutional Tort) (Id. ¶¶ 254-61)*fn6 ; (5) Malfeasance, Misfeasance and Nonfeasance (Id. ¶¶ 262-75); (6) Malice through Denial of Access to Courts (Id. ¶¶ 276-85); and (7) Wrongful Death (Id. ¶¶ 286-88). Plaintiffs seek $250,000 in damages for each living Plaintiff and $2,000,000 in damages for each of the two deceased Plaintiffs. Id. at 96 ¶ 8.

Defendant filed its Motion to Transfer Venue on April 21, 2008, Plaintiffs filed their Opposition on April 29, 2008, and Defendant filed its Reply on May 8, 2008.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Defendants argue that venue in this case is improper in the District of Columbia, and that this Court should therefore transfer this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). When a case is filed in the wrong federal judicial district, the district court in which the action is filed "shall dismiss, or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). In considering a motion to dismiss for lack of venue, "unless contradicted by an evidentiary showing, 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." Jyachosky v. Winter, No. Civ. A. 04-01733, 2006 WL 1805607, * 1 (D.D.C. Jun. 29, 2006) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Under 28 U.S.C.§ 1406(a), the decision whether to transfer or dismiss "rests within the sound discretion of the district court."*fn7 Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Taylor v. FDIC, 132 F.3d 753, 768 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (citing FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 484-86 (1994)).

Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 789 (D.C. Cir. 1983) (citations omitted).

Defendant alternatively argues that, even if this Court concludes that venue might lie in the District of Columbia, the Court should nevertheless exercise its discretion to transfer this case to the Eastern District of Texas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), which states that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). As with §1406(a), the Court is afforded broad discretion to decide whether transfer from one jurisdiction to another is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). SEC v. Savoy Indus. Inc., 587 F.2d 1149, 1154 (D.C. Cir. 1978) (quoting Norwood v. Kirkpatrick, 349 U.S. 29, 32 (1955)). The decision to transfer is made by an "individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness . . . ." Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964).

The Court must therefore initially determine whether venue in the District of Columbia is proper for Plaintiffs' claims, before turning to the threshold question under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1404(a) of whether this action "might have been brought" in the Eastern District of Texas. Id. at 616. In an action ...


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