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Brown v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

February 1, 2019




         Plaintiff, incarcerated at Federal Correctional Institution in Bennettsville, South Carolina, is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis (“IFP”). Because he is proceeding IFP, Plaintiff's complaint must be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn, 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984); Al-Amin v. Donald, 165 Fed.Appx. 733, 736 (11th Cir. 2006).


         A. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff names as Defendant the United States of America. (Doc. no. 1, p. 1.) Taking all of Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows.

         On March 22, 2016, Plaintiff, a federal prisoner, was being transported by Irwin County Detention Center (“ICDC”) officers from Mecklenburg County Jail to a holding facility in Irwin County, Georgia, pursuant to the terms of an Intergovernmental Service Agreement with the United States Marshal Service (“USMS”) to transport federal detainees from facility to facility. (Id. at 2-4.) During the trip, the van stopped at a local county jail in Jefferson County, Georgia. (Id.) Transport officers told Plaintiff to exit the van. (Id.) Plaintiff told the officers he could not because of leg cramps. (Id.) Officers still demanded Plaintiff exit the van. (Id.) As he attempted to exit the van, Plaintiff fell and hit his face on the concrete, which caused his tooth to break and become lodged in his bottom lip. (Id.) An officer moved out of the way and allowed Plaintiff to fall without any assistance. (Id.) The officer later stated, “we're going to have to pay for that.” (Id.) While at Jefferson County Hospital for treatment, unspecified officers represented themselves as United States Marshals. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff did not receive follow up treatment. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff requests $80, 000 in compensatory damages. (Id. at 4.)

         B. DISCUSSION

         1. Legal Standard for Screening

         The complaint or any portion thereof may be dismissed if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune to such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). “Failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard as dismissal for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Wilkerson v. H & S, Inc., 366 Fed.Appx. 49, 51 (11th Cir. 2010) (per curiam) (citing Mitchell v. Farcass, 112 F.3d 1483, 1490 (11th Cir. 1997)).

         To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the allegations in the complaint must “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). That is, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint is insufficient if it “offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, '” or if it “tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). In short, the complaint must provide a “‘plain statement' possess[ing] enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         Finally, the court affords a liberal construction to a pro se litigant's pleadings, holding them to a more lenient standard than those drafted by an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, this liberal construction does not mean that the court has a duty to re-write the complaint. Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006).

         2. The Court Lacks Subject Matter Jurisdiction of Plaintiff's FTCA Claim for Negligence

         The Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) is a limited waiver of the federal government's sovereign immunity that permits private parties to bring suit in federal court against the United States for injuries “caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2674; Ali v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 552 U.S. 214, 217-18 (2005) (“In the FTCA, Congress waived the United States' sovereign immunity for claims arising out of torts committed by federal employees.”). Courts use the control test to determine whether the tortfeasor is an “employee of the government” by examining the degree of physical control the government exercised over the tortfeasor. See Logue v. United States, 412 U.S. 521, 528 (1973) (holding control test applies to FTCA's independent contractor exception). “An individual cannot be an employee of the government under the FTCA absent governmental authority to supervise or control that person's daily activities.” Means v. United States, 176 F.3d 1376, 1379-80 (11th Cir. 1999).

         Under the FTCA, government employees are defined as including officers and employees of any federal agency but excludes “any contractor with the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2671; see United States v. Orleans,425 U.S. 807, 813-14 (1976) (describing scope of FTCA claims). In applying the independent contractor exception to the waiver of immunity, “a critical element in distinguishing an agency from a contractor is the power of the Federal Government ‘to control the detailed physical performance of the contractor.'” Orleans, 425 U.S. at 14 (quoting Logue, 412 U.S. at 528); see also Lipsey v. United States,879 F.3d 249, 253-54 (7th Cir. 2018) (finding county jail was immune from liability under independent contractor exception where county jail had intergovernmental agreement with USMS providing medical care). The independent contractor exception ...

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