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Russell v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

March 26, 2018




         Plaintiff Corey Fernando Russell filed this pro se complaint against Defendants United States of America and United States Marshals Service (“Marshals Service”), alleging two violations of the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 267, and one violation of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's FTCA claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or in the alternative, for summary judgment [Doc. 31]. Defendants have also moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's FOIA claim [Id.]. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss [Doc. 31] with respect to Plaintiff's FTCA claims, and will grant summary judgment on Plaintiff's FOIA claim.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on March 8, 2016 against Defendants United States of America and the Marshals Service in the United States District for the District of Columbia [Doc. 1]. The case was then transferred to this Court on March 2, 2017, as this Court was the proper venue for litigating Plaintiff's FTCA claims [Docs. 25 and 27]. Defendants filed their motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, on April 25, 2017 [Doc. 31], as well as a memorandum in support of their motion [Doc. 32]. Plaintiff then filed a response in opposition to Defendants' motion on May 15, 2017 [Doc. 33].

         Plaintiff, originally a federal pretrial detainee, was under custody of the Marshals Service in 2013, and was placed at the Claiborne County Detention Center (“CCDC”) [Doc. 1 p. 4]. Plaintiff alleges that “[o]n February 27, 2013[, he] was assaulted by 15 to 20 Caucasian males in Dorm C-2” at the CCDC [Id.]. As a result of this assault, Plaintiff claims that he “suffered wonton [sic] pain of head, head trauma, buzzing sounds, severe neck and back pain and loss of enjoyment of life” [Id.]. Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendants liable under the FTCA, as “the U.S. Marshals never bothered to take Plaintiff to the hospital after receiving this information” [Id.]. Plaintiff claims that this “failure . . . breached that duty [of care] by failing to exercise the requisite degree of skill and care” [Id.]. Plaintiff wrote a letter to the Marshals Service informing them of the attack at the CCDC, his problems with CCDC officials, that he was still suffering from his injuries, and requested to be moved to a federal facility [Doc. 33 p. 19-20]. The Marshals Service then emailed CCDC officials, stating that Plaintiff had complained of head trauma [Id. at 21]. However, CCDC officials replied that Plaintiff had failed to fill out any medical requests relating to his head trauma [Id.].

         Next, Plaintiff was transferred to the Washington County Detention Center (“WCDC”) by the Marshals Service [Doc. 1 p. 4]. “[O]n or about June 8, 2013, ” Plaintiff “suffered carbon monoxide poison[ing] from a gas leak” at the WCDC, which caused Plaintiff to “feel dizzy and pass out” on June 8, 18, and 22, 2013 [Id. at 5]. Plaintiff claims that he was also refused medical treatment at the WCDC, which he reported to the Marshals Service [Id.].

         Plaintiff's FOIA claim stems from the alleged assault at the CCDC, as Plaintiff alleges that he “filed a request for documents . . . pertaining to the assault at the Claiborne County Jail” on Feburary 27, 2013 [Id. at 6]. Plaintiff claims that the Marshals Service acknowledged his request on November 17, 2014, and requested a verification of his identity [Id.]. Plaintiff alleges that he has not been contacted by the Marshals Service since December 30, 2014, when he received a letter stating that the Marshals Service had “commenced a search for documents response to [Plaintiff's] request” [Id.].

         However, Defendants claim that “[i]n response to Plaintiff's FOIA request, the [Marshals Service] conducted a search of the files of the Eastern District of Tennessee because the contract detention facilities where Plaintiff was housed . . . are located in th[at] district” and “[r]ecords pertaining to Plaintiff's day-to-day care while in these facilities, including medical care, would be maintained by the facilities [Doc. 32-1 at ¶ 4]; see [Doc. 32 p. 3]. Defendants further state that on May 6, 2016, the Marshals Service notified Plaintiff that three pages were located, two of which were Plaintiff's letter to the Marshals Service, and one page was an “email . . . between the [Marshals Service] Eastern District of Tennessee personal and jail personnel, ” which was released to Plaintiff with redactions [Doc. 32-1 at ¶ 6]; see [Doc. 32 p. 3].


         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). In other words, federal courts “have only the power that is authorized by Article III of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto.” Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986). As such, subject-matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue that the Court must address and resolve prior to reaching the merits of the case. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (providing that, “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action”). Unlike a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), “where subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1)[, ] . . . the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction in order to survive the motion.” RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996) (quoting Rogers v. Stratton Indus., 798 F.2d 913, 915 (6th Cir. 1986)).

         Rule 12(b)(1) motions fall into two categories: “facial attacks and factual attacks.” United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). “A facial attack is a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading itself.” Id. In considering whether jurisdiction has been established on the face of the pleading, “the court must take the material allegations of the [pleading] as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 235-37 (1974)). “A factual attack, on the other hand, is not a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading's allegations, but a challenge to the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction.” Id. In considering whether jurisdiction has been proved as a matter of fact, “a trial court has wide discretion to allow affidavits, documents, and even a limited evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts.” Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990). “Moreover, on the question of subject matter jurisdiction the court is not limited to jurisdictional allegations of the complaint but may properly consider whatever evidence is submitted for the limited purpose of ascertaining whether subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Pryor Oil Co., Inc. v. United States, 299 F.Supp.2d 804, 807-808 (E.D. Tenn. 2003) (citing Rogers, 798 F.2d at 915-16 (other citations omitted)).

         B. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) governs pleadings, and sets out a liberal standard, requiring only “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the [opposing party] fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a party's “obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, ” neither will “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid ...

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