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Harrison v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2018

NATHANIEL HARRISON, Plaintiff
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Nathaniel Harrison alleges that on the evening of September 2, 2013, while incarcerated at the Central Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., he ingested a pill prescribed to another inmate and became gravely ill. See Sec. Am. Compl., ECF No. [33], ¶¶ 16-17. He alleges that he repeatedly requested urgent medical treatment from prison employees and that their negligent delay in providing such treatment resulted in his permanent impotence. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff has brought medical negligence and ordinary negligence claims against Defendants Unity Health Care, Inc. and CoreCivic. Id. ¶¶ 27-48. With the consent of Plaintiff, the United States was substituted for Defendant Unity Health Care, which was acting as an “employee” of the Public Health Service at the time of the incidents alleged in the Complaint.

         Pending before the Court are CoreCivic's [38] Motion to Dismiss and the United States' [40] Motion to Dismiss. Upon consideration of the pleadings[1], the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART CoreCivic's [38] Motion to Dismiss and GRANTS the United States' [40] Motion to Dismiss. As to Defendant CoreCivic, CoreCivic was under no duty to provide medical care to inmates, so Plaintiff's claim for medical negligence against CoreCivic is dismissed. But, CoreCivic has not shown that Plaintiff failed to state a negligence claim, so that claim is not dismissed. As to Defendant United States, Plaintiff's claims against the United States are barred by the Federal Tort Claims Act's (“FTCA”) statute of limitations, so they are dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b).

         I. Background

         At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was an inmate at the Central Treatment Facility in Washington, D.C., operated by CoreCivic. Sec. Am. Compl., ECF No. [33], ¶ 3. On the evening of September 2, 2018, Plaintiff took a medication which was prescribed to another inmate in the hope that it would assist him with his depression. Id. at ¶ 16. Within a short time, Plaintiff experienced ischemic priapism, and this condition became worse over the course of the evening. Id. at ¶ 17.

         After a few hours, Plaintiff told an officer at the prison that he urgently needed to visit the medical unit as he was in pain. The officer told Plaintiff that he would arrange the visit. Id. at ¶ 18. Shortly thereafter a shift change occurred, and Plaintiff again told another officer that he needed medical treatment as he was in pain. This officer also told Plaintiff that he would arrange the visit. Id. at ¶ 19.

         Despite these requests, the officers did not bring Plaintiff to the medical unit for several more hours. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff was eventually brought to the medical unit at his prison, where he was treated by employees of Unity Health Care. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 21. Then, approximately six to seven hours later, Plaintiff was transported to Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. for treatment. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiff was seen by Howard's medical staff at approximately 2 p.m. on September 3, 2013. Id. at ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff contends that the delay in treating his ischemic priapism resulted in impotence which is likely permanent. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25. Plaintiff claims that his impotence has severely affected his personal life. Id. at ¶ 26.

         On September 11, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), which administers claims against Unity Health Care, received Plaintiff's claim. Id. at ¶ 10. HHS informed Plaintiff that if no notification of a remedy was given within six months, Plaintiff could consider the claim denied. Id. at ¶ 11. More than six months after filing the claim with HHS, Plaintiff notified Defendant CoreCivic of his intent to sue CoreCivic and Unity Health Care. Id. at ¶ 13; see D.C. Code § 16-2802 (requiring 90-days' notice prior to filing a medical malpractice suit). After giving proper notice, Plaintiff initiated suit in this Court.

         Plaintiff has four claims. Under Count I, Plaintiff is suing Unity Health Care for negligence. Id. at ¶¶ 27-31. In Count II, Plaintiff claims Unity Health Care was medically negligent. Id. at ¶ ¶32-36. Under Count III, Plaintiff sues CoreCivic for negligence. Id. at ¶¶ 37-42. Lastly, in Count IV, Plaintiff claims CoreCivic was medically negligent. Id. at ¶¶ 43-48.

         II. Legal Standard

         Both Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider “the facts alleged in the complaint, documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference in the complaint, ” or “documents upon which the plaintiff's complaint necessarily relies even if the document is produced not by the plaintiff in the complaint but by the defendant in a motion to dismiss.” Ward v. District of Columbia Dep't of Youth Rehab. Servs., 768 F.Supp.2d 117, 119 (D.D.C. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court may also consider documents in the public record of which the court may take judicial notice. Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. v. Chao, 508 F.3d 1052, 1059 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

         III. CoreCivic's Motion to Dismiss

         CoreCivic presents two grounds on which it asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claims. First, CoreCivic asks the Court to take judicial notice that CoreCivic did not have a duty to provide medical care to inmates, thereby barring Plaintiff's Count IV claim for medical negligence. Second, CoreCivic argues that Plaintiff's Count III negligence claim is barred as a matter of law due to Plaintiff's assumption of the risk and contributory negligence. The Court finds that CoreCivic was under no duty to provide medical care to inmates. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Count IV claim for medical negligence should be dismissed. But, ...


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