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Smith v. Corrections Corporation of America

December 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge


This case arises from the death of Gilbert Smith, Jr., an inmate who was incarcerated at the Correctional Treatment Facility located in the District of Columbia. The Correctional Treatment Facility is a private prison owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA") that houses inmates in custody of the District's Department of Corporations. Angela Smith, personal representative of Mr. Smith's estate, brings this action against the Corrections Corporation of America.*fn1 She contends that CCA provided negligent medical care to Gilbert Smith while he was incarcerated, and offers that the injuries and damages he suffered as a result of CCA's negligence contributed to his death following his release from custody. Compl. ¶ 31. She asserts claims for the following: (1) negligent provision of medical care; (2) violation of the Eighth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) survival on behalf of both herself and Gilbert Smith's daughter; and (4) wrongful death.

Before the Court is [7] defendant CCA's motion to dismiss claims (1), (2), and (4), and [8] Ms. Smith's motion for leave to amend the complaint. Upon careful consideration of the parties' memoranda and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part CCA's motion to dismiss. The Court will deny Ms. Smith's motion to amend the complaint.


Gilbert Smith, Jr. was incarcerated at the Correctional Treatment Facility in the District of Columbia for seven months. Compl. ¶ 12. CCA operates the Correctional Treatment Facility pursuant to a contract with the District of Columbia and, Ms. Smith alleges, provides medical care and treatment there along with dismissed defendant Unity Healthcare, Inc.. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8; see also November 18, 2009 Order at 1.

Before being incarcerated, Gilbert Smith "was partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of gunshot wounds." Compl. ¶ 12. While in prison, these injuries, Angela Smith contends, prompted Gilbert Smith to make repeated "requests for medical care, treatment, and attention including, but not limited to, providing medication when ordered by his physicians, providing prompt and adequate dressing changes to prevent the formation and growth of decubitus sores, [and] providing sanitary cell conditions." Compl. ¶ 13; see also Compl. ¶¶ 19-21, 25-26. She alleges, however, that CCA failed to "provide a healthcare system that included prompt, proper, adequate, and reasonable medical care and treatment to all persons incarcerated under their care, custody, and supervision." Compl. ¶ 14. In so doing, Ms. Smith asserts that CCA "failed to comply with established standards of care." Compl. ¶ 14.

Gilbert Smith was released from custody at the Correctional Treatment Facility in May 2007. Compl. ¶ 12. He died on January 19, 2008, allegedly as a result of injuries suffered while incarcerated. Compl. ¶ 31. Plaintiff Angela Smith brought this action as personal representative of Mr. Smith's estate, and next friend of Mr. Smith's daughter. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7.


All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); accord Atherton v. Dist. of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bur. of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 21 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").


I. Negligent Provision of Medical Care

CCA seeks to dismiss of Ms. Smith's claim for negligent medical care because it "does not have . . . any authority or obligation to provide medical care to inmates." Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") [Docket Entry 7], at 4. Instead, according to CCA, "all medical care was provided by third-party vendors at all relevant times, pursuant to a contract with the District of Columbia." Id. It therefore contends that Ms. Smith cannot assert "an actionable medical negligence claim against CCA." Id. at 5.

The Court agrees. "CCA is a private prison operator which, pursuant to a contract with the District of Columbia, is charged with housing inmates at [the Correctional Treatment Facility]." Def.'s Mot. at 4. According to the operating agreement between the District and CCA, "[t]he District shall assume all liability for the provision of all medical services for inmates housed at the Facility and shall render such services in accordance with the Operating Standards . . . ." Id., Exhibit 3 (Modification #4 of the Operations and Management Agreement by and between the District of Columbia and CCA).*fn2 The operating agreement, then, conclusively demonstrates that CCA owed no duty as a matter of law to provide medical care to Gilbert Smith. ...

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