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Nickens v. District of Columbia

March 16, 2009

CHRISTOPHER NICKENS AND PATRICIA NICKENS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND MAYOR ADRIAN FENTY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs, Christopher and Patricia Nickens, brought suit against defendants, the District of Columbia and Mayor Adrian Fenty in his official capacity, alleging that Mr. Nickens was mistreated and that his constitutional rights were violated while he was incarcerated in the District of Columbia Jail. The matter is now before the Court on the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment and Mayor Fenty's motion to dismiss. After careful consideration of the parties' papers, the relevant case law and statutes, and the entire record in the case, the Court will grant both motions.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

During all times relevant to this matter, Christopher Nickens was incarcerated in District of Columbia Department of Corrections ("DOC") facilities. See Compl. ¶ 4. Prior to May 2007, Mr. Nickens was incarcerated in the Correctional Treatment Facility ("CTF"). See id. ¶ 9. Mr. Nickens alleges that at this time he was exempted from being placed in a top bunk bed due to his diabetes and hypertension. See id. ¶ 8. On May 11, 2007, the DOC transferred Mr. Nickens to the District of Columbia Jail. See id. ¶¶ 9-10. According to Mr. Nickens, jail personnel assigned him to a top bunk bed despite his repeated requests for a bottom one. See id. ¶ 10.

On May 14, 2007, Mr. Nickens fell while he was trying to get down from his top bunk bed. See Complaint ¶ 12. He alleges that he sustained severe head, neck, back, and arm injuries when he landed on the cement floor. See id. ¶¶ 12--15. Although the jail personnel provided medical treatment to Mr. Nickens, according to him, they did not then assign him to a bottom bunk bed. See id. ¶ 16.

Plaintiffs assert four claims against the defendants: (1) negligent supervision of inmates; (2) negligent training of staff and agents; (3) a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for the failure to train and supervise; and (4) a violation of the Eighth Amendment for deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The District of Columbia has moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).*fn2 The District of Columbia also argues that plaintiff may not pursue his claim for punitive damages, because punitive damages are not available against the District of Columbia. In addition, the District argues that Mrs. Nickens does not have standing to sue. Mayor Fenty moves to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that the Mayor is an inappropriate defendant and that Mrs. Nickens does not have standing to sue.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff Patricia Nickens's Standing to Sue

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, with the ability to hear only cases entrusted to them by a grant of power contained in either the Constitution or in an act of Congress. See, e.g., Beethoven.com LLC v. Librarian of Congress, 394 F.3d 939, 945 (D.C. Cir. 2005); A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v.Kempthorne, 493 F. Supp. 2d 34, 42 (D.D.C. 2005). A federal court has no subject matter jurisdiction where the plaintiff lacks standing. See A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v. Kempthorne, 493 F. Supp. 2d at 41-42 (citing Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d 854, 855 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). Accordingly, the Court will treat both defendants' motions to dismiss Patricia Nickens's claims for lack of standing as seeking dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See id. (citing Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence v. Ashcroft, 339 F. Supp. 2d 68, 72 (D.D.C. 2004)).

In order to establish her standing to sue, Mrs. Nickens must show, at an "irreducible constitutional minimum": (1) that she has suffered an injury in fact - the invasion of a legally protected interest; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendants' conduct (a causal connection); and (3) that a favorable decision on the merits likely will redress the injury to her. See id.; see also Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000) (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)). "The alleged injury in fact must be concrete and particularized and actual or imminent, not conjectural, hypothetical or speculative." A.N.S.W.E.R. v. Kempthorne, 493 F. Supp. 2d at 42 (citing Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 180-81; Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. at 560-61; Worth v. Jackson, 451 F.3d at 858; Sierra Club v. EPA, 292 F.3d 895, 898 (D.C. Cir. 2002)). If Mrs. Nickens cannot meet all three prongs of this test, the Court must dismiss her claims for lack of standing.

There are no allegations in the complaint relating to any injury allegedly suffered by Mrs. Nickens as a result of her husband's fall from the top bunk. In fact, Mrs. Nickens is not mentioned in the complaint other than in the caption. Although plaintiffs argue in their opposition brief that Mrs. Nickens suffered emotional distress as a result of her husband's fall, this is not one of the allegations in the complaint, nor are there any allegations in the complaint which would support such a claim. Accordingly, the Court concludes that Mrs. Nickens has not alleged that she suffered an injury in fact, and she therefore does not have standing to sue in her own name. She will be dismissed as a plaintiff.*fn3

B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies under the PLRA

The District of Columbia argues that Mr. Nickens failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In relevant part, the PLRA provides:

No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such ...


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