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Hayes v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 13, 2016

Cynthia Hayes, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMIT P. MEHTA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Cynthia Hayes was brutally beaten by a fellow inmate while detained at the Correctional Treatment Facility ("CTF") in Washington, D.C. Plaintiff now seeks to hold the operator of that facility, Defendant Corrections Corporation of America, liable for her injuries under two theories: (1) negligence and (2) violation of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1]Before the court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. After evaluating Plaintiff's Complaint under the standards set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), for the reasons explained below, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In August 2014, Plaintiff was incarcerated at CTF in Washington, D.C., and placed in the general population. Am. Compl., ECF No. 4, ¶ 13. Also placed in the general population was inmate Kalutte Barnes. Id. Barnes suffered from a mental illness that, according to Plaintiff, made her so unstable that she presented a threat of violence and serious bodily injury to other inmates. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Barnes previously had been hospitalized at St. Elizabeth's Hospital-a psychiatric facility-because of her mental health condition. Id. ¶ 19(e).

         On or about August 1, 2014, Barnes viciously attacked Plaintiff and other general population inmates. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. The beating, among other things, caused Plaintiff to suffer traumatic glaucoma in her left eye and to undergo two weeks of treatment in the infirmary. Id. ¶ 16. Additionally, Plaintiff has had to undergo prophylactic treatment for HIV prevention and frequent HIV testing. Id. She continues to receive medical and mental health treatment and has incurred medical expenses because of the attack. Id.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendant has moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The factual allegations in the complaint need not be "detailed"; however, the Federal Rules demand more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). If the facts as alleged fail to establish that a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, a court must grant defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Am. Chemistry Council, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 922 F.Supp.2d 56, 61 (D.D.C. 2013).

         In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept a plaintiff's "factual allegations . . . as true, " Harris v. D.C. Water & Sewer Auth., 791 F.3d 65, 68 (D.C. Cir. 2015), and "construe the complaint ‘in favor of the plaintiff, who must be granted the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Hettinga v. United States, 677 F.3d 471, 476 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). The court need not accept as true, however, "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, " Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986), or "inferences . . . unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint, " Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Negligence Claim

         Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's negligence claim must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege facts that would give rise to the plausible inference that Defendant was aware, before the attack, that Barnes was mentally unstable and prone to violence. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 6, at 4. Defendant's argument, however, is premised on an incorrect reading of the law. Citing Board of Trustees of the University of District of Columbia v. DiSalvo, 974 A.2d 868, 870-71 (D.C. 2009), Defendant asserts that a heightened showing of foreseeability is required when, as here, an injury results from an intervening criminal act. See Def.'s Mot. at 4. However, as explained in Wilkins v. District of Columbia, 879 F.Supp.2d 35, 40 (D.D.C. 2012), District of Columbia law "does not employ the heightened foreseeability standard when analyzing the government's duty to protect inmates from assault. Instead, [it] applies ‘an ordinary negligence standard, ' under which an assaulted prisoner must establish an applicable standard of care, deviation from that standard, and injury proximately caused by the deviation." Id. (quoting Hughes v. District of Columbia, 425 A.2d 1299, 1302 (D.C. 1981)).

         Plaintiff's Complaint alleges sufficient facts to support each of those three elements. First, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant owed her a duty of care to protect her from "potentially mentally unstable and violent inmates." Am. Compl. ¶ 22. Such a duty is recognized under District of Columbia law. See Wilkins, 879 F.Supp.2d at 41 (observing that District of Columbia law imposes a duty to exercise reasonable care in the protection and safekeeping of prisoners). Second, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant deviated from that standard of care by classifying and placing Barnes in the general population, even though it knew or, importantly, should have known, that she was mentally unstable and prone to violence. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant deviated from the standard of care by failing to remove her from the general population. Am. Compl. ¶ 24(b). Although Defendant contends that Barnes' mental health assessment and placement in the general population were the responsibility of the facility's medical care contractor, Unity Healthcare, see Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 14, at 2-3, at the motion to dismiss stage, the court must treat as true Plaintiff's allegation that such responsibility fell on Defendant.

         Finally, reading the Complaint favorably to Plaintiff, it is plausible to infer that Defendant's failure to fully grasp Barnes' dangerousness and its placement of her in the general population were the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injuries. To be sure, even under an ordinary negligence standard, foreseeability of the injury must be considered. See Wilkins, 879 F.Supp.2d at 42. However, so long as "the danger of an intervening negligent or criminal act should have been reasonably anticipated and protected against, " a defendant shall be held responsible for a breach of the duty of care. Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Here, Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant, at a minimum, "should have known" that Barnes was mentally unstable and prone to violence. Am. Compl. ΒΆ 14. It is plausible to infer from the Complaint that Defendant, which ran and operated CTF, would have had access to information about the reason for Barnes' present incarceration; her past criminal history; and her mental health history. It is reasonable to infer that, with the benefit of discovery, Plaintiff may be able to show ...


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