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Russell v. Corrections Corporation of America

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 17, 2019



          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Maxine Russell allegedly suffered injuries when she was a pretrial inmate at the Correctional Treatment Facility (“CTF”) after she tripped and fell in her dark cell. She had complained about the inadequacy of the lighting in her cell in the weeks prior to her fall. She alleges that she did not receive proper medical attention which caused her condition to further deteriorate. She has since been released, and now sues the Corrections Corporation of America (“CCA”) and the District of Columbia (“the District”) bringing several claims based on her alleged injuries.

         Pending before the Court is the District's motion to dismiss Count Seven of Ms. Russell's complaint. Upon consideration of the motion, the response and reply thereto, the applicable law, the entire record, and for the reasons stated in this Memorandum Opinion, the District's motion to dismiss Count Seven of the complaint is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         At all relevant times Plaintiff Maxine Russell was a pre-trial inmate at CTF, a correctional facility operated by CCA pursuant to a contract with the District. Compl., ECF No. 1-1 ¶¶ 2, 3, 9. She was held at CTF for approximately six weeks, from January 21, 2014 until March 4, 2014. Id. ¶ 10. During her time at CTF, she was held in a “tiny cell without light.” Id. She alleges that these conditions led to her “experiencing serious traumatic and mental health injuries.” Id.

         Ms. Russell alleges that she made “many pleas” to CTF management and staff that the lack of light in her cell was causing her traumatic injuries, but CTF refused to transfer her to another cell or fix the lighting in her cell. Id. ¶ 11. About a month into her detention, Ms. Russell tripped and fell as she was trying to get to her bunk bed. Id. ¶ 12. The fall resulted in physical injuries, which she alleges were exacerbated because she did not receive “adequate physical and psychological medical care” after she fell. Id. ¶ 13.

         Ms. Russell subsequently filed this suit alleging violations of state and federal law. See generally Id. Relevant to this motion to dismiss, Ms. Russell brings a claim for “Municipal Liability” (Count Seven) alleging that the District was deliberately indifferent to her constitutional rights and the rights of other inmates. Id. ¶ 37-45.

         The District has moved to dismiss Count Seven, the municipal liability claim. Def.'s Partial Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 14 Ms. Russell has filed an opposition to the motion, Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 18, and the District has filed a reply, Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 29. The motion is ripe for adjudication.

         II. Legal Standard

         A dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is proper if the plaintiff's complaint fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient facts, accepted as true, to state a claim “that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(citation omitted). When considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint. Id. However, the Court is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Id. In addition, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. A claim is facially plausible when the factual content “allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 663. While plausibility does not equate to the “probability requirement, [a plaintiff must show] more than a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678.

         III. Analysis

         The District moves to dismiss the municipal liability count for failure to state a claim. Def.'s Partial Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 14. To succeed against a municipality, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a “municipal policy was the ‘moving force' behind the constitutional violation.” Baker v. Dist. of Columbia, 326 F.3d 1302, 1306 (D.C. Cir. 2003). To determine municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a court must conduct a two-step inquiry. Id. First, a court must determine whether the plaintiff establishes a predicate constitutional or statutory violation. Id. If so, a court then determines whether the complaint alleges that a custom or policy of the municipality caused the violation. Id.; see also Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). “Proof of a single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability under Monell, unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy[.]” Parker v. Dist. of Columbia, 850 F.2d 708, 711-12 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

         In her opposition, Ms. Russell references the “constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, ” under “the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause or, if not yet convicted, under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.” See Pl.'s Opp'n, ECF No. 18 at 4.[1] Ms. Russell argues two bases for a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments: “the indifference of the defendants as a result of her conditions of incarceration” and “the failure by the defendants to provide her with necessary and adequate medical care.” Id. The Court discusses each in turn.

         A. ...

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