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Smith v. District of Columbia

December 16, 2009

ANGELA J. SMITH, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF GILBERT SAMPSON SMITH, JR., AND AS GRANDMOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF KIANNA SMITH, MINOR DAUGHTER OF GILBERT SAMPSON SMITH, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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 that houses inmates in the custody of the District's Department of Corporations. Angela Smith, personal representative of Mr. Smith's estate, brings this action against the District of Columbia, alleging that the District "deliberately failed to treat or provide treatment for the serious and life threatening medical problems being suffered by the deceased." Compl. ¶ 15. She asserts claims for the following: (1) violation of the Eighth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) negligent provision of medical care; (3) survival on behalf of both herself and Gilbert Smith's daughter; and (4) wrongful death.

Before the Court is [7] defendant District of Columbia's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment. Upon careful consideration of the District's motion, the parties' several memoranda and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, the Court will grant the District's motion.

BACKGROUND

Gilbert Smith, Jr. was incarcerated at the Correctional Treatment Facility in the District of Columbia for seven months. Compl. ¶ 12. The Corrections Corporation of America 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 Unity Healthcare, Inc. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 8.

Prior to being incarcerated, Gilbert Smith "was partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair as a result of gunshot wounds." Compl. ¶ 11. 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. ¶ 12. She alleges, however, that the District 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. ¶ 13. In so doing, Ms. Smith asserts that it "failed to comply with established standards of care." Compl. ¶ 13.

Gilbert Smith was released from custody at the Correctional Treatment Facility in May 2007. Compl. ¶ 11. He died on January 19, 2008, allegedly as a result of injuries and damages suffered while incarcerated. Compl. ¶ 30. Plaintiff Angela Smith brought this action as personal representative of Mr. Smith's estate, and as next friend of Mr. Smith's daughter. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 7.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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").

ANALYSIS

I. Section 1983 Claim for Violation of the Eighth Amendment

Municipalities, like the District of Columbia, do not enjoy absolute immunity from section 1983 liability. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). They may be held liable "where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989). But municipalities are not liable under section 1983 pursuant to a theory of "[r]espondeat superior or vicarious liability."

Id.; see also Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95. Therefore, "[u]nder Monell, municipalities are liable for their agents' constitutional torts only if the agents acted pursuant to municipal policy or custom." Warren v. Dist. of Columbia, 353 F.3d 36, 38 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see also Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. The "first inquiry in any case alleging municipal liability under ยง 1983 is the question whether there is a direct causal ...


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