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Hinton v. United States

June 2, 2010

KENNETH HINTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colleen Kollar-kotelly United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for summary judgment and plaintiff's opposition thereto. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny defendant's motion to dismiss, and will grant in part and deny in part defendant's summary judgment motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FCTA"), see 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-80, against the United States of America, and his claims arise from medical treatment rendered by two ophthalmologists employed by Unity Health Care, Inc. ("UHC") while plaintiff was incarcerated at the District of Columbia's Central Detention Facility ("D.C. Jail").*fn1 See Compl. ¶¶ 2-3, 7. Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Marc Berry examined his eyes on November 15, 2006, prescribed eyeglasses, and told him that he would receive his eyeglasses in four to six weeks. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. He further alleges that he did not receive his eyeglasses after waiting more than six weeks, and subsequently Dr. Jualenda Boschulte examined his eyes on July 9, 2007. Id. ¶ 10. Dr. Boschulte, too, prescribed eyeglasses for plaintiff, id., but plaintiff alleges that the eyeglasses he received were "not in compliance" with the prescriptions the doctors wrote. Id. ¶ 11. Plaintiff demands compensatory damages "for the injuries he has suffered from November 15, 2006 and August 16, 2007 when [UHC] failed to provide [him] with his prescription glasses as ordered by the ophthalmologists[.]" Id. ¶ 12. He claims to have "developed symptoms of blurred vision[], sore eyes, eye pains, insomnia, cephalagia, fatigue and [post-traumatic stress disorder]" as a result of UHC's alleged "lack of diligence and medical malpractice." Id. ¶ 13; see id. ¶¶ 12-18.

Defendant set forth a more detailed sequence of events. Review of the medical chart reveals that, on November 15, 2006, Dr. Berry examined plaintiff's eyes, diagnosed myopia and presbyopia, and prescribed eyeglasses for which plaintiff was to be fitted. Def.'s Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of its Mot. to Dismiss the Compl. or, Alternatively, for Summ. J. ("Def.'s Mem."), Ex. F (Chart Summary) at 69-70. Plaintiff was released from the D.C. Jail on December 13, 2006, 28 days after Dr. Berry's examination, to an Arlington County, Virginia detainer. Id., Ex. A (August 27, 2007 Memorandum for J&C File from C.J. Epley, Classification Computation Specialist, Designation & Sentence Computation Center, Federal Bureau of Prisons). "Because [plaintiff] was released . . . on December 13, 2006, he was unable to be fitted for eyeglasses prior to his release." Id., Ex. B (Narrative of Jualenda Boschulte, M.D.) at 1. Plaintiff was returned to the D.C. Jail on April 3, 2007, id., Ex. A, at which time he underwent a medical examination, id., Ex. F at 71-76. On April 23, 2007, plaintiff complained to medical staff that he needed eyeglasses, and he requested an appointment for an eye examination. Id., Ex. F at 79-80. On June 4, 2007, Dr. Boschulte evaluated plaintiff, at which time he reported that he had not received the eyeglasses prescribed in November 2006.*fn2 Id., Ex. B at 1. Dr. Boschulte diagnosed "a minor refractive error and recommended him for eyeglass fitting." Id.; see id., Ex. F at 83-84. The fitting took place on July 9, 2007, id., Ex. B at 1, and Dr. Boschulte ordered the eyeglasses on July 10, 2007, id. Plaintiff received the eyeglasses either on August 6, 2007, id., or on August 16, 2007, Compl. ¶ 11, prior to his transfer to federal custody on August 22, 2007. Def.'s Mem., Ex. B at 1.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Dismissal Under Rule 12(b)(6)

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint 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)). A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) does not test a plaintiff's likelihood of success on the merits; rather, it tests whether a plaintiff properly has stated a claim. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not required to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must offer "more than labels and conclusions" to provide "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Or as the Supreme Court more recently stated, "[t]o 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). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id., 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Defendant argues that plaintiff fails to state a claim under the FTCA, Def.'s Mem. at 8-10, because UHC owed plaintiff no duty of care prior to Dr. Boschulte's examination on June 4, 2007, id. at 8. Defendant maintains that UHC was unable to provide plaintiff's eyeglasses following Dr. Berry's examination through no fault of its own -- plaintiff's release from the D.C. Jail -- and, therefore, it had no duty to provide him continuing care between December 13, 2006 and his return to custody. See id. at 8-9. In the alternative, defendant argues that "[p]laintiff's account of the causation of his claimed injuries is "facially implausible." Id. at 10. According to defendant, plaintiff alleges that he suffered injuries only from November 15, 2006 until August 16, 2007, the day he received his eyeglasses, id., and dismisses this proposition as "simply absurd." Id.

Plaintiff counters that "[t]here is no reason why the Court should not accept [p]laintiff's contentions within the Complaint [because he] has clearly stated a claim." Pl.'s Opp'n at 4. He argues that the Court "can and should draw the reasonable inference that [d]efendant is liable to [p]laintiff for the alleged misconduct because [d]efendant did not directly refute many of [p]laintiff's contentions." Id. "[W]hen ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)) (other citations omitted). In addition, the Court must liberally construe the allegations of a pro se litigant's complaint. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Careful review of the complaint satisfies the Court that plaintiff adequately alleges that UHC owed plaintiff a duty, that UHC breached that duty, thereby causing the alleged injuries set forth in the pleading. Defendant's motion to dismiss will be denied.

B. Summary Judgment Under Rule 56

1. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (stating that Rule 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial"). A material fact is one "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "If material facts are at issue, or, though undisputed, are susceptible to divergent inferences, summary judgment is not available." Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citing Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 856 F.2d 309, 314 (D.C. Cir. 1988)); see Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (stating that summary judgment is not appropriate "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party").

The party opposing a motion for summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [her] pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (holding that the nonmoving party "must do more that simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the ...


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