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Chandler v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 17, 2017

JOHNNY RAY CHANDLER, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          BERYL A. HOWELL Chief Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 5. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         At all times relevant to the complaint, the plaintiff was in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and incarcerated at the Administrative Maximum United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. in Support of Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.' Mem.”), Decl. of Patrick Kissell (“Kissell Decl.”) ¶ 2. On June 9, 2016, the plaintiff “attempted to mail a civil claim” to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Compl. at 2. Notwithstanding the plaintiff's indigence, his counselor, defendant M. Wyche, refused to affix the necessary postage for mailing the document to the Superior Court. Id. The plaintiff considered this action a violation of his “First Amendment right to access . . . the court.” Id. at 1. For this alleged abuse of process, the plaintiff has demanded judgment in the sum of $175, 000 from both defendant Wyche and the BOP. Id.

         The BOP's Administrative Remedy Program is the means by which inmates may “seek formal review of any aspect of their confinement.” Kissell Decl. ¶ 4. It “is typically a four-tiered review process comprised of an informal resolution process and then formal requests to the Warden, the Regional Director, and the Office of the General Counsel.” Id. ; see Id. ¶ 5. The “process is not complete until the Office of General Counsel replies, on the merits, to the inmate's [request].” Id. ¶ 5 (citing 28 C.F.R. § 542.18). The BOP's declarant states that, of the 26 formal administrative remedy requests submitted by the plaintiff between June 9, 2016 and December 20, 2016, id. ¶ 7, two advanced to the Office of General Counsel, id. ¶ 8. Neither “relate[s] to the claims alleged in this litigation, ” however. Id. ¶ 9. The declarant avers that the “[p]laintiff did not exhaust his remedies as related to complaints against the defendants raised in the present case through BOP's Administrative Remedy Program.” Id. ¶ 10.

         On June 21, 2016, the plaintiff “submitted a ‘Federal Tort Claim' with BOP . . . alleging that BOP had failed to provide postage for a civil complaint on June 9, 2016.” Id. ¶ 11; see generally Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1 (Claim for Damage, Injury, or Death). BOP acknowledged receipt of the tort claim and on July 18, 2016, notified the plaintiff “that it would investigate the claim under the procedures for Federal Tort Claim Act complaints.” Id. ¶ 12. The plaintiff withdrew his claim on July 21, 2016, id. ¶ 13, because the matter had been resolved, see Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1 (Memorandum dated July 21, 2016). Thereafter, the BOP closed the claim. Defs.' Mem., Ex. 1 (Letter to the plaintiff from Richard W. Schott, Regional Counsel, dated July 26, 2016).

         II. DISCUSSION

         The plaintiff filed his complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on July 25, 2016, and the defendants removed the action on October 28, 2016. See Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. Accompanying their notice was a statement which certifies that “Mr. M. Wyche was acting within the scope of his employment as an employee of the United States at the time of the . . . incidents” alleged in the Complaint. Certification, ECF No. 1-2. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on January 6, 2017.

         On January 9, 2017, the Court issued an Order advising the plaintiff of his obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the local civil rules of this Court. See Neal v. Kelly, 963 F.2d 453, 456 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Fox v. Strickland, 837 F.2d 507, 509 (D.C. Cir. 1988). Specifically, the Court notified the plaintiff that, if he failed to file an opposition or other response to the defendants' motion by February 17, 2017, the Court would treat the pending dispositive motion as conceded. See D.D.C. Local Civil Rule 7(b) (permitting court to “treat . . . as conceded” a motion not met with a timely opposing memorandum of points and authorities). To date, the plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the pending motion, or requested more time to file an opposition.[1]

         Under these circumstances, the Court ordinarily would grant the defendants' motion as conceded. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently has raised concerns, however, about the application of Local Civil Rule 7(b) to grant an unopposed motion to dismiss. See Cohen v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of the District of Columbia, 819 F.3d 476, 482 (D.C. Cir. 2016). In light of this ruling, the Court briefly addresses the merits of the defendants' arguments for dismissal on the ground that the plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies.[2]

         A. Federal Tort Claims Act

         The plaintiff's demand for monetary damages arises from action taken by Mr. Wyche within the scope of his federal employment. The Court treats the plaintiff's claim as one under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) against the United States directly. See 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1), (d)(1).

         “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 FTCA 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). Limitations under and exceptions to the FTCA doom the plaintiff's claims. Relevant to this case is the exhaustion requirement:

An action shall not be instituted upon a claim against the United States for money damages for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, unless the claimant shall have first presented the claim to the appropriate Federal agency and his claim shall have been finally denied by the agency in writing and sent by certified or registered mail. The failure of an agency to make final disposition of a claim within six months ...

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