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Young-Bey v. Unity Medical Healthcare

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 21, 2016



          COLLEEN KOLLAR KOTELLY United States District Court Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 6.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At all times relevant to the Complaint, Unity Health Care, Inc. (“Unity”) was “a grantee of the Department of Health & Human Services (‘HHS') by operation of the Federally Supported Health Centers Assistance Act, ” Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 6-1 (“Defs.' Mem.”) at 1 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 233(g)-(n)), and provided medical care for detainees at the D.C. Jail, see Compl. ¶ 3; Decl. of Meredith Torres, ECF No. 9 (“Torres Decl.”) ¶ 6. Unity “was deemed eligible for Federal Tort Claims Act malpractice coverage effective January 1, 2014, and . . . its coverage has continued without interruption since that time.” Torres Decl. ¶ 5. Henry D. Marshall, M.D., Leslie Keck, M.D., and Genet Desta, M.D., were Unity employees, id. ¶ 6, who acted “within the scope of their respective employment as deemed employees of the Public Health Service at the time of the . . . incidents” alleged in the complaint, Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, Ex. A (Certification).[2]

         On September 2, 2015, the United States Marshals Service (“USMS”) transported plaintiff to the D.C. Jail “pursuant to a ‘writ ad test' issued by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.” Compl. ¶ 8; see id. ¶¶ 2, 9. He remained in the District's custody until October 6, 2015, when the USMS transported him to a correctional facility in Jessup, Maryland, where he was “held pending resolution of a criminal matter in the . . . Superior Court.” Defs.' Mem. at 2.

         According to plaintiff, he was experiencing “severe muscle spasms in [his] left pelvic and thigh areas, ” and treatment of his condition “with minor analgesic pain medicines and muscle relaxers” was not successful. Compl. ¶ 9. When plaintiff arrived at the D.C. Jail, he advised a “triage Physician Assistant” of his symptoms. Id. “During the ensuing days, [p]laintiff repeatedly complained to [Unity staff] of severe pain and muscle spasms.” Id. ¶ 10. He recounted an incident on September 4, 2015, when his “pain was so severe [he] was unable to walk for more than ten . . . steps, could not sit up[]right for more than [two] minutes and could not stand for more than [two to three] minutes without experiencing muscle spasms in his left leg, groin area and lower back.” Id. The pain allegedly caused plaintiff to collapse on his way to the visiting area, and he missed a meeting with his attorney. Id. ¶ 11. When plaintiff was taken to the infirmary, Dr. Desta allegedly “failed to physically examine [him], failed to order any diagnostic tests and failed to diagnose any cause for [his] severe muscle spasms[.]” Id. ¶ 13. Instead, Dr. Desta “prescribed . . . [M]otrin, ” id. ¶ 14, which did not relieve the pain, see id. ¶ 15.

         On September 8, 2015, Dr. Marshall “conducted a complete . . . neurological examination of [p]laintiff's left leg, thigh as well as the range of motion in both legs.” Id. ¶ 16. In addition to Motrin, plaintiff was prescribed Toradol and Flexeril, id., and x-rays were taken of his left hip, pelvic region and lumbar spine. Id. ¶ 17. At a follow-up clinic visit on September 15, 2015, Dr. Keck reported the results of plaintiff's x-rays, and prescribed Motrin, Flexeril, aspirin and a muscle rub. Id. ¶ 18. Although plaintiff continued to make requests for treatment, he allegedly received nothing more than ineffective pain relievers. See id. ¶¶ 19-20. On September 28, 2015, when plaintiff “suffered a muscle spasm in his left leg, ” id. ¶ 21, he was taken on a stretcher to the infirmary, was “given an . . . intramuscular injection of some substance and . . . Benadryl, ” and the spasms abated within the hour, id. ¶ 2. Dr. Desta “opined that the muscle spasms [p]laintiff was [experiencing] may [have been] due to an imbalance in [p]laintiff's serum [p]otassium levels[.]” Id. ¶ 23. No blood work was done, and despite Dr. Desta's “suggest[ion] that an ‘MRI' might prove diagnostic[, no] other treatments were provided, ” and plaintiff instead was instructed “to place more sick-call requests . . . as symptoms recur or persisted.” Id.

         Plaintiff has made a claim under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, see id. ¶¶ 26-30, and a medical malpractice claim arising from the medical care and treatment he received (or did not receive) at the D.C. Jail, see id. ¶¶ 32-34, for which he demands compensatory and punitive damages totaling $7.5 million, id. ¶¶ 30, 34. He filed his complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on November 24, 2015, and defendants removed the action on June 1, 2016, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1442(a)(1), 1446, 1346(b), 2401(b), and 2671-80. See Notice of Removal at 1.


         Defendants move to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing his complaint.[3] See generally Defs.' Mem. at 5-7.

         Subject matter jurisdiction is a requirement of Article III of the U.S. Constitution and by federal statute. See Wilson v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 759 F.Supp.2d 55, 62 (D.D.C. 2011). It is the plaintiff's burden to establish that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over his claim. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). For purposes of a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the Court accepts the factual allegations of the complaint as true, and it “may consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.” Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. Food & Drug Admin., 402 F.3d 1249, 1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

         A. Sovereign Immunity

         “It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.” United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the United States is immune from suit unless Congress expressly has waived the defense of sovereign immunity by statute. See id. The Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), see 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, operates as a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, rendering the United States amenable to suit for certain, but not all, tort claims. See, e.g., Richards v. United States, 369 U.S. 1, 6 (1962). For example, the United States has not waived sovereign immunity with respect to constitutional tort claims, see FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994), and plaintiff's claim for money damages arising from an alleged violation of the Eighth Amendment must fail, see, e.g., Roman v. Nat'l Reconnaissance Office, 952 F.Supp.2d 159, 163-64 (D.D.C. 2013). However, the FTCA renders the “United States . . . liable . . . in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances, ” 28 U.S.C. § 2674, for medical malpractice, see, e.g., Williams v. United States, 932 F.Supp. 357, 360 (D.D.C. 1996) (treating allegations of complaint as six separate claims of medical malpractice against the Veterans Administration under the FTCA).

         B. The United States of America Is ...

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