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Chandler v. Dist. of Columbia

September 25, 2008

JOHNNY RAY CHANDLER, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on (1) the motion of the United States to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (2) plaintiff's motion for the entry of default against defendant the District of Columbia pursuant to Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, (3) the District of Columbia's request for the sanction of dismissal, and (4) various miscellaneous motions filed by the plaintiff.*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' papers and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant the United States' motion to dismiss; deny plaintiff's motion for entry of default against the District of Columbia and all of plaintiff's other pending motions; and deny the District of Columbia's request for the sanction of dismissal.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

In 2006, pro se plaintiff Johnny Ray Chandler, Sr. was housed at the District of Columbia Department of Corrections Central Detention Facility ("D.C. Jail"). He alleges that on October 5, 2006 he fell while attempting to climb into the top bunk bed in his cell, thereby injuring his neck and lower back. See Notice of Removal of a Civil Action, Ex. A, Complaint at 1-2 (June 5, 2007). On June 5, 2007, Mr. Chandler initiated this action by filing suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In his original complaint, he attributed his injuries to the District of Columbia's failure to install ladders on its bunk beds and charged the District with "the tort of negligence and personal injury." Id. at 1. Mr. Chandler subsequently moved for entry of default against the District of Columbia on the ground that the District failed to file an answer to his complaint. The District of Columbia opposed that motion and (in a separate motion) asked the Court to dismiss Mr. Chandler's complaint as a sanction for submitting a misleading affidavit in support of his motion for entry of default. The District of Columbia has yet to file any other motion seeking dispositive relief.

Soon after he initiated his suit against the District, Mr. Chandler amended his complaint to add Unity Health Care, Inc. ("Unity") as a defendant. It appears that Mr. Chandler was examined and treated by Unity after his fall at the D.C. Jail. At that time, says Mr. Chandler, Unity negligently failed to provide him with pain medication. See U.S. Mot., Ex. B, Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint and Supplement the Pleadings at 1 ("I was not given any medication for pain.... Therefore, the staff of Unity Health Care were negligent in treating my injuries.").

When Mr. Chandler added Unity as a defendant, Unity was a grantee of the United States Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS") and was considered a federally supported health center. See U.S. Mot., Ex. D., Letter from A. Michelle Snyder to Vincent Keane, Executive Director of Unity Health Care, Inc. (Dec. 19, 2005). Thus, "[b]y operation of [the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. § 233(g)-(n)], Unity [was] deemed to be an employee of the United States... for purposes of [medical malpractice] liability." U.S. Mot. at 1 n.1. This means that Mr. Chandler's claim against Unity is a claim against the United States subject to the strictures of the Federal Tort Claims Act. See id. Accordingly, on November 6, 2007, the United States (1) substituted itself for Unity as a defendant in this case, and (2) removed this action from the Superior Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2679(d)(1) and (2). See id. The United States then moved to dismiss Mr. Chandler's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Mr. Chandler's tort claims against the United States because Mr. Chandler failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They may hear only those cases entrusted to them by a grant of power contained in either the Constitution or in an act of Congress. See, e.g., Loughlin v. United States, 393 F.3d 155, 170 (D.C. Cir. 2004); Hunter v. District of Columbia, 384 F. Supp. 2d 257, 259 (D.D.C. 2005); Srour v. Barnes, 670 F. Supp. 18, 20 (D.D.C. 1987) (citing City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 511 (1973)). Although pro se complaints are held to a less stringent pleading standard than complaints drafted by attorneys, see Wright v. Foreign Service Grievance Board, Civil Action No. 06-0526, 2007 WL 2219317, at *4 (D.D.C. Aug. 3, 2007), all plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. See Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence v. Ashcroft, 339 F. Supp. 2d 68, 72 (D.D.C. 2004). A court must accept all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true when evaluating a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, see United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 327 (1991), but in some circumstances it may also consider any undisputed facts in the record, or "the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." Herbert v. Nat'l Academy of Sciences, 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

III. DISCUSSION

A. United States' Motion to Dismiss

The United States moved to dismiss Mr. Chandler's complaint on December 14, 2007. Mr. Chandler did not respond to this motion. Thus, on August 5, 2008, this Court issued an Order pursuant to Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d 507 (D.C. Cir. 1988), advising Mr. Chandler of the consequences of failing to respond to a dispositive motion. A copy of that Order was mailed to Mr. Chandler at the address on file with the Court. It was later returned as undeliverable. The Court thereafter discovered that Mr. Chandler was housed at a different facility. Thus, on August 25, 2008, the Court issued an identical Order advising Mr. Chandler of the consequences of failing to respond to the United States' motion. A copy of that Order--which instructed Mr. Chandler to respond to the United States' motion by September 9, 2008--was mailed to Mr. Chandler's new address. Mr. Chandler's copy of the August 25, 2008 Order has not been returned, and Mr. Chandler has failed to file an opposition to the United States' motion.

1. Dismissal for Failure to Respond

As this Court advised Mr. Chandler in its August 25, 2008 Order, see Chandler v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 07-2010, Order at 1 (D.D.C. Aug. 25, 2008) (citing Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d at 509), failure to respond to a dispositive motion may result in the district court granting the motion and dismissing the case. The United States' motion to dismiss has been pending before this Court for many months. Mr. Chandler--normally a prolific filer--has failed to oppose it. ...


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