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Johnson v. Hollingsworth

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

January 20, 2016

Michael Johnson, Plaintiff,
J. Hollingsworth, Warden FCI Fort Dix, Defendant.


          JACQUELYN D. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by Defendant. [Doc. 36.] Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brought this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"). [Doc. 1.] Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in proceedings involving litigation by individuals proceeding pro se and to submit findings and recommendations to the District Court.

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this action on November 11, 2014.[1] [Doc. 1.] On May 4, 2015, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. [Doc. 36.] The same day, the Court issued an Order pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), advising Plaintiff of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. [Doc. 37.] On June 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion. [Doc. 39.] Accordingly, Defendant's motion is now ripe for review.


         Plaintiff, who was incarcerated at FCI Williamsburg in Salters, South Carolina, at the time he filed this action, [3] seeks damages from the United States based on an injury sustained during his incarceration at FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey. [Doc. 1 at 1-5.] He alleges that on June 21, 2011, he fell while working in the food service facilities at FCI Fort Dix. [ Id. at 3.] On June 29, 2011, he went to medical services and was diagnosed with a backache and was prescribed "[NSAIDS]"; he was also sent for an X-ray, which revealed no significant injury. [ Id. ] He continued to suffer pain, and he sought further treatment for his back injury at FCI Fort Dix. [ Id. ] The prison officials there refused, and he was subsequently transferred to FCI Williamsburg. [ Id. ] The medical staff at FCI Williamsburg evaluated Plaintiff's back and provided an MRI, which revealed "degenerative changes, a disc extrusion that interfered with his right [S1] nerve root." [ Id. ]

         Upon receiving the MRI results, Plaintiff filed an administrative claim under the FTCA, seeking damages for his personal injury. [ Id. ] He alleges that on May 14, 2014, the Northeast Regional Office of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP") denied his personal injury tort claim because it was not timely filed within the limitations period. [ Id .; see also Doc. 1-4 at 2 (letter denying FTCA claim because Plaintiff "failed to submit [his] administrative claim within the time restrictions contained in the applicable statutes and federal regulations"; he "must seek compensation through the Inmate Accident Compensation System (IAC), the exclusive remedy for inmate work assignment accidents"; and "[t]here is no evidence to suggest [he] experienced a compensable loss as the result of negligence on the part of any [BOP] employee").] Plaintiff brings this action seeking to reverse the BOP's administrative decision or for judgment in his favor pursuant to the FTCA. [ Id. at 5.]


         Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint

         Plaintiff brought this action pro se, which requires the Court to liberally construe his pleadings. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Haines, 404 U.S. at 520. Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se complaint is still subject to summary dismissal. Id. at 520-21. The mandated liberal construction means only that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the petitioner could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the plaintiff's legal arguments for him. Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993). Nor should a court "conjure up questions never squarely presented." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         Motion to Dismiss Standards

          Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) examines whether the complaint fails to state facts upon which jurisdiction can be founded. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). It is the plaintiff's burden to prove jurisdiction, and the court is to "regard the pleadings' allegations as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment." Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991). To resolve a jurisdictional challenge under Rule 12(b)(1), the court may consider undisputed facts and any jurisdictional facts that it determines. See id. The court may dismiss a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any of the following bases: "(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.'" Johnson v. United States, 534 F.3d 958, 962 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)).

          Rule 12(b)(6)

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears certain that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would support her claim and entitle her to relief. When considering a motion to dismiss, the court should "accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and should view the complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). However, the court "need not accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts" nor "accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Eastern Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). Further, for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on only the complaint's allegations and those documents attached as exhibits or incorporated by reference. SeeSimons v. Montgomery Cnty. Police Officers, 762 ...

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