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Doty v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 28, 2017

ALFRED DOTY, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          Robert M. Miele, Esq. Burke, Miele & Golden, LLP 40 Matthews St. Counsel for Plaintiff

          David Vincent Bober, Esq. Office of the United States Attorney Counsel for Defendants


          NOEL L. HILLMAN, United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Alfred Doty, an inmate currently confined at the Federal Correctional Institution (“FCI”) in Fort Dix, New Jersey, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and paid the filing fee. (ECF No. 1.) On August 3, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 8.) On November 16, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss in lieu of an Answer. (ECF No. 20.) On June 15, 2016, the Court granted Defendants' motion and dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice in its entirety. (ECF Nos. 29, 30.) The Court allowed Plaintiff to file a second amended complaint (“SAC”), which he did on July 29, 2016. (ECF Nos. 31.) The Court conducted its sua sponte screening of the SAC and permitted it to proceed. (ECF No. 32.) In lieu of an answer, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 37), Plaintiff filed Opposition (ECF Nos. 40-42), and Defendants filed a Reply (ECF No. 44). The Court has considered the submissions of the parties and decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the SAC, Plaintiff alleges that on and before August 24, 2013, he was incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix and housed in Unit 5711. Plaintiff states that another inmate at FCI Fort Dix (“Unknown Inmate”) was confined to a different housing unit at that time. Despite being housed in a different unit, Plaintiff states that on August 24, 2013, Unknown Inmate entered Unit 5711 and assaulted Plaintiff. Plaintiff states that he suffered significant injuries and he alleges that the assault occurred as a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that “the Fort Dix Defendants breached their duty to keep Plaintiff reasonably safe and protect him from assault by Unknown Inmate by allowing Unknown Inmate to gain unauthorized access into Unit 5711 and assault Plaintiff.” (SAC ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have a mandatory obligation, pursuant to the “Institution Supplement on Inmate Accountability, ” to “account[] for inmates within their control, and account[] for inmates that are not where they should be, ” which was violated on August 24, 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 30; 31.)

         Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's health and safety and, in doing so, violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Finally, Plaintiff contends that Defendants are liable to him for their failure to train, supervise, control and discipline the individual correctional officers. Plaintiff seeks actual and exemplary damages in the amount of $5, 000, 000.00.


         A. Federal Tort Claims Act [1]

         The United States has sovereign immunity except where it consents to be sued. United States v. Bormes, 133 S.Ct. 12, 16, (2012); United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). In the absence of such a waiver of immunity, Plaintiff cannot proceed in an action for damages against the United States. See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 484-87 (1994).

         The Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2401, 2671, et seq., constitutes a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1); White- Squire v. United States Postal Service, 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010). The Federal Tort Claims Act gives a district court exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions:

[1] against the United States, [2] for money damages, ... [3] for injury or loss of property, ... [4] caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government [5] while acting within the scope of his office or employment, [6] under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1091 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)); see also CNA v. United States, 535 F.3d 132, 141 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. at 477); United States v. Muniz, 374 U.S. 150 (1963).

         The FTCA, however, does not encompass all torts committed by federal government employees. Rather, the “discretionary function” exception provides that the provisions of the FTCA shall not apply to any claim “based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.” 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). To determine whether the discretionary function exception applies, a court must determine (1) “whether the act involves an ‘element of judgment or choice, ” and (2), if so, “‘whether that judgment is of the kind that the discretionary function exception was designed to shield.'” Mitchell v. United States, 225 F.3d 361 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Gaubert, 499 U.S. 315, 322 (1991)). More specifically, with respect to the second requirement, the discretionary function exception “protects only governmental actions and decisions based on considerations of public policy.” Berkovitz v. United States, 486 U.S. 531, 537, 108 S.Ct. 1954, 100 L.Ed.2d 531 (1988). See generally S.R.P. ex rel. Abunabba v. United States, 676 F.3d 329 (3d Cir. 2012).

         In its previous dismissal Opinion, the Court found that “although Plaintiff alleged that Defendants were negligent by: (1) leaving the front door unlocked in between ten minute moves; (2) failing to monitor the housing unit while the door was unlocked; (3) failing to have sufficient guards stations in and near the unlocked door; and (4) failing to confine Unknown Inmate, neither the Amended Complaint, nor any of Plaintiff's subsequent filings, refers to any federal statute, regulation, or policy requiring the BOP to take these specific courses of action.” (Opinion 13.) The Court further found that Plaintiff's reliance on the Inmate Handbook policy was ...

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