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Hazel v. Lappin

May 15, 2009

BOBBY E. HAZEL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARLEY G. LAPPIN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

For the reasons discussed below, the Court will transfer this action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a federal prisoner, brings this action against four officials or employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") under Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging that their actions or failures to act violate rights protected under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff identifies the defendants as Harley Lappin, the BOP's Director, Joe Driver, Warden of the Hazelton United States Penitentiary in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia ("USP Hazelton"), Jeff Boyles, Administrator of its infirmary, and Jorge S. Vazquez, a medical doctor there. See Compl. ¶¶ 5-7. For purposes of this Memorandum Opinion, the Court presumes that plaintiff sues these defendants in both their official and individual capacities.

Generally, plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to provide adequate treatment for his medical ailments, which include hepatitis C and resulting damage to his liver, jaundice, gallstones, urinary tract infections, and pain, and failed to provide the diet prescribed by his doctors. He demands compensatory and punitive damages.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Sovereign Immunity

Defendants move to dismiss on the ground that sovereign immunity bars plaintiff's claims against the BOP and against Lappin, Driver, Boyles and Vazquez in their official capacities. See Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot.") at 5-6.

1. Claims Against Lappin, Driver, Boyles and Vazquez in their Official Capacities

"Official capacity suits . . . generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent," such that "an official capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). Accordingly, the Court treats these claims as if they were brought against the federal government directly, and will dismiss Lappin, Driver, Boyles and Vazquez in their official capacities as parties to this action. See, e.g., Price v. District of Columbia, 545 F. Supp. 2d 89, 95 (D.D.C. 2008).

2. Plaintiff's Claims Against the BOP

"It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction." United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). Such consent may not be implied, but must be "unequivocally expressed." United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 33-34 (1992). The United States has not waived its sovereign immunity for constitutional tort claims. See Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 477 (1994) (stating that sovereign immunity precludes claims for damages against the United States government for constitutional violations brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act). In addition, sovereign immunity extends to governmental agencies such as the BOP and to their employees where the employees are sued in their official capacities. See id. at 483-86. "Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature," id. at 475, and absent a waiver of sovereign immunity, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to entertain plaintiff's claims for money damages against the BOP or against the federal government officials sued in their official capacities here. See id.; Clark v. Library of Congress, 750 F.2d 89, 101-02 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Meyer v. Reno, 911 F. Supp. 11, 18 (D.D.C. 1996).

B. Personal Jurisdiction

Driver, Boyles, and Vazquez move to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction.* ...


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