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Thomas v. United States

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

January 28, 2019

Neal Gerald Thomas, Plaintiff,
v.
United States of America, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MARY GORDON BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brought this action pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq. This matter is before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the United States. (Dkt. No. 36.) For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned recommends granting Defendant's motion.

         Pursuant to the provisions of Title 28, United States Code, Section 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., all pretrial matters in cases involving pro se litigants are referred to a United States Magistrate Judge for consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         This civil action arises from alleged negligence occurring at a Veteran's Administration (“VA”) medical center. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the “VA provided a false medical diagnosis that the plaintiff was/is suffering from a neurological disease including schizophrenia, delusions, [and] psychotic. Relying on this diagnosis, Plaintiff deteriorated into perpetual homelessness, severe alcohol abuse, and chronic depression concurrent with suicidal ideations.” (Dkt. No. 11 at 5.) Under “Relief” section of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the VA should acknowledge Plaintiff's “earned law degree, published written works submitted to the VA during early stages of medical diagnosis and treatment, [and Plaintiff's] involvement in labor law cases.” (Id. at 5.) According to Plaintiff, this “acknowledgment will work towards a remedy on correcting the VA's creation, maintenance, use and/or reliance on inaccurate, incomplete, and/or false medical records on veterans, . . . in diagnosing and/or treating the mental health of veterans, including the plaintiff.” (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff requests thirteen million dollars in damages. (Id. at 6.)

         While the Amended Complaint is vague on details, Plaintiff's subsequent briefing provides a more comprehensive view of his allegations. (Dkt. No. 42.) It appears that “Defendant concluded Plaintiff was delusional and mentally disabled” because Plaintiff “told them he had a law degree, [had] settled cases in court, and [had] written law books that had been put up on the internet by the library of Congress . . . “ (Dkt. Nos. 42 at 4; 42-1 at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that it was “unintentional, negligent, medical conduct” to diagnose Plaintiff with a neurological disease based on this information because “it was a simple matter of calling the [Charleston] Federal Court, my law school, or googling the title of my books” to confirm Plaintiff's statements. (Dkt. Nos. 42 at 4; 42-1 at 1.) According to Plaintiff, “When I told them of their mistake, they assured me my neurological disease had nothing to do with that. They were adamant that I was neurologically disabled.” (Dkt. No. 42-1 at 1.)

         Plaintiff brought the instant action on March 12, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1.) On December 12, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 36.) By Order filed December 13, 2018, pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), Plaintiff was advised of the dismissal procedure and the possible consequences if he failed to adequately respond to the motion. (Dkt. No. 37.) Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant's motion on January 14, 2019. (Dkt. No. 42.) Plaintiff attached to his response brief four documents labeled “Affidavit/Declaration”-each document included Plaintiff's signature and was dated January 12, 2019. (Dkt. No. 42-1.)

         STANDARDS

         A. 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) (per curiam); 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, a pro se complaint is still subject to summary dismissal. Id. at 520-21. The mandated liberal construction means that only if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the complainant could prevail, it should do so. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999). A court may not construct the complainant'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).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6) Dismissal Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a claim should be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 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. See Simons v. Montgomery Cty. Police Officers, 762 F.2d 30, 31 (4th Cir. 1985). If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion is treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d).

         C. Summary Judgment Standard

         Pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment “shall” be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” The News & Observer Publ'g Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, “‘the nonmoving party's evidence is to be believed, and all justifiable ...


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