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Ruffin v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 31, 2015

LEVI RUFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TANYA S. CHUTKAN, District Judge.

Pending before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion to transfer. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, and for the following reasons, the court denies Defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts taken from the Complaint are assumed to be true on a motion to dismiss. Plaintiff Levi Ruffin was formerly an inmate at the United States Prison in Canaan, Pennsylvania ("USP Canaan"). (Compl. ¶ 10). During an appointment with a dental hygienist in May 2012, his dental treatment plan was updated to include a plan for extraction of a partially erupted wisdom tooth, tooth #32. In September 2012, he saw the Chief Dental Officer for USP Canaan, Dr. Rosalind Hartland, and complained of severe pain in his wisdom tooth on his right side. Dr. Hartland observed that tooth #32 had caries below the bone and that the tooth was impacted. She diagnosed Ruffin with "dental caries extending into pulp" and recommended removal of the tooth. ( Id. ¶ 14). Dr. Hartland prescribed two medications for Ruffin to take in the interim, but Ruffin alleges it was not enough to adequately relieve his pain. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-18).

Not having received the requested extraction, Ruffin complained repeatedly to USP Canaan Health Services about his dental pain, but received no additional treatment. ( Id. ¶¶ 19-20). In November 2012, two months after Dr. Hartland requested an oral surgeon perform the extraction, Ruffin's name was approved to be put on a list for treatment by an outside specialist in oral surgery. ( Id. ¶ 21). In the ensuing month, Ruffin filed two administrative grievances to attempt to get treatment. ( Id. ¶¶ 22-24). The warden at USP Canaan responded to the second grievance by advising Ruffin that he was on a list for treatment by an outside specialist and was scheduled for an evaluation. Around the same time, Ruffin complained to a health administrator "that the hole in his mouth is stinking, bleeding daily, and could be infected." ( Id. ¶ 26).

On December 13, 2012, Ruffin had another appointment with Dr. Hartland to receive unrelated fillings. He complained of pain in his tooth again, and Dr. Hartland diagnosed him with the same condition in tooth #32. ( Id. ¶¶ 27-30). Dr. Hartland did not attempt to treat his pain or have the tooth removed, but offered Ruffin a 30-day pureed diet. ( Id. ¶ 31). Ruffin declined, and a nurse allegedly hit the back of his hands with a clipboard. That same day, Ruffin filed an administrative appeal of his prior grievances.

Around this same time, Ruffin was transferred to a different facility in Philadelphia. Ruffin saw a dentist at that facility, who diagnosed Ruffin's tooth #32 as "bucally inclinded [sic] with curved root, " noted that Ruffin was "in severe pain, " and that he "was seen in another institution but was not able to get treatment." ( Id. ¶¶ 39-40). That dentist referred Ruffin for further treatment. Shortly after this appointment, in late January 2013 Ruffin filed another administrative appeal complaining that it had been two months since he was approved to see a specialist but he had not been treated and was still in pain.

Ruffin was later transferred back to USP Canaan, where on May 21, 2013 he was called to the dental clinic to have tooth #32 extracted. Ruffin, however, declined the extraction. He claims that because he was less than a month away from being released, he preferred to wait until his release so he could have the tooth extracted by a provider of his own choosing. ( Id. ¶ 48). After he was released, he sought dental treatment, and had tooth #32 extracted at Water Brook Dental in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2013. ( Id. ¶ 52).

Ruffin filed the instant Complaint in April 2014 against the United States for negligence in violation of the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), and against Dr. Hartland for violating the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative to transfer the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania. After Defendants filed their motion, Ruffin voluntarily dismissed Dr. Hartland from the case, leaving the FTCA claim against the United States as the sole remaining claim. The United States argues that the case should be transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania because the acts which gave rise to Ruffin's claim occurred there, or, if the court retains the case in this district, that it should dismiss Ruffin's claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

a. Transfer

A case may be transferred to another venue "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice...." 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). "Section 1404(a) is intended to place discretion in the district court to adjudicate motions for transfer according to an individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'" Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988) (quoting Van Dusen v. Barrack, 376 U.S. 612, 622 (1964)). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that transfer of the action is proper. Devaughn v. Inphonic, Inc., 403 F.Supp.2d 68, 71 (D.D.C. 2005).

In deciding a motion to transfer venue under § 1404(a), a court must first determine whether the transferee district is one where the action "might have been brought, " 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and then must balance the private and public interests involved in the proposed transfer to determine "whether the defendant has demonstrated that considerations of convenience and the interest ...


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