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Shahid Abdul-Mateen v. Federal Bureau of Prisons et al

June 8, 2012

SHAHID ABDUL-MATEEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Noel L. Hillman, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

IT APPEARING THAT:

1. Initially, Plaintiff submitted for filing a civil complaint ("Complaint") unaccompanied by his filing fee or an in forma pauperis application. See Docket Entry No. 1.

2. The Court, thus, denied Plaintiff in forma pauperis status without prejudice. See Docket Entry No. 4.

3. In response, Plaintiff submitted his duly executed in forma pauperis form. See Docket Entry No. 5.

4. The Court, therefore, will grant Plaintiff in forma pauperis status and orders the Clerk to file the Complaint. At this juncture, the Court is obligated, under § 1915(e)(2), to screen the Complaint and dismiss those claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief.

5. In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of Plaintiff. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B) is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions. See Courteau v. United States, 287 F. App'x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008)); Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000); Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)). The Court, thus, must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 229 (3d Cir.2008); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). However, to survive dismissal, the Complaint must contain sufficient factual matter which plausibly alleges all required elements of a cause of action. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (relying on Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

6. Here, Plaintiff asserted claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA").*fn1 The FTCA, codified in multiple sections of Title 28, "operates as a limited waiver of the United States's sovereign immunity." White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Service, 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010). Broadly speaking, under the Act, the United States is liable "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." 28 U.S.C. § 2674. An FTCA plaintiff may sue only the United States, may seek only monetary damages, and may not recover for mental or emotional damages in the absence of physical injury. See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(providing jurisdiction for "civil actions on claims against the United States, for money damages" and providing that incarcerated felons may not bring actions "for mental or emotional injury suffered while in custody without a prior showing of physical injury"); CNA v. United States, 535 F.3d 132, 138 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2008) ("The Government is the only proper defendant in a case brought under the FTCA"); Robinson v. Sherrod, 631 F.3d 839, 841 (7th Cir. 2011) (holding that the FTCA does not provide for equitable relief). Federal constitutional violations are not cognizable under the FTCA. See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 477-78 (1994). Rather, the violations cognizable under the FTCA could be broadly qualified as federal counterparts of a tort claim recognized by common law.

7. A plaintiff suing under the Act must present the Government with notice of the claim, including a "sum certain" demand for monetary damages. See White-Squire, 592 F.3d at 457. Indeed, an FTCA action "shall not be instituted for any sum in excess of the amount of the claim presented to the federal agency." See § 2675(b). Moreover, "the FTCA clearly bars recovery of punitive damages against the U.S." Michtavi v. United States, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107897 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 14, 2008) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2674 ("The United States . . . shall not be liable for interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages").

8. Under New Jersey law, a negligence claim requires a plaintiff to establish: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a particular duty relevant to the alleged injury; (2) that defendant somehow breached that duty; and (3) that the defendant's breach proximately caused the alleged injury. See Keith v. Truck Stops Corp. of Am., 909 F.2d 743, 745 (3d Cir. 1990). In determining whether a duty exists, the Supreme Court of New Jersey applies a two-step analysis. See Olivo v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 186 N.J. 394, 895 A.2d 1143, 1148-49 (N.J. 2006). First, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant could foresee the harm to the plaintiff. See id. "Once the ability to foresee harm to a particular individual has been established, . . . considerations of fairness and policy govern whether the imposition of a duty is warranted." Id. at 1148. "[W]hether imposing a duty is fair involves 'weighing, and balancing several factors - the relationship between the parties, the nature of the attendant risk, the opportunity and ability to exercise care, and the public interest in the proposed solution.'" Id. at 1149 (quoting Hopkins v. Fox & Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426 (N.J. 1993)).

9. The Complaint here asserts that, on August 17, 2010, Plaintiff "suffered 2nd degree burns on his chest" and, shortly thereafter, received due medical care. Docket Entry No. 1, at 5. While the Complaint is based on the fact of these burns, it is wholly silent as to the circumstances of the burns. See generally, Docket Entry No. 1. However, the exhibits attached to the Complaint indicate that, immediately prior to suffering these burns, Plaintiff -- acting, apparently, on his own -- "filled [a] bottle w[ith] hot water to rinse [it and,] when [he was] shaking [the bottle, the] hot water [bursted out and] burnt [his] chest." Docket Entry No. 1-1, at 4. In other words, Plaintiff asserts that he was negligent on his own and appears to base his claim on a theory that the Government failed to protect him from his own negligent acts.

10. When Plaintiff filed his notice of claim asserting that he was injured as a result of a wrong committed by the United States, his claim was denied with the following explanation:

You seek compensatory damages in the amount of $20,000.00 for alleged negligence resulting in your suffering a burn while housed at FCI Fairton on August 17, 2010. After careful review of this claim, [the Government] ha[s] decided not to offer a settlement. Although you did suffer 2 degree burns and were provided medical care and treatment on a number of occasions, there is no verifiable evidence or ...


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