United States District Court, D. New Jersey
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE, District Judge
Steven Schmidt (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) brings
this negligence action against Defendants Federal
Correctional Institution, Fort Dix (hereinafter “FCI
Fort Dix”), the United States of America, Anthony
Hopson, and John Does 1-20 (fictious names) as a result of
injuries sustained by Plaintiff while he was making a
delivery to FCI Fort Dix. (Amended Complaint [Docket Item
16].) This matter comes before the Court by way of a motion
filed by Defendants FCI Fort Dix and the United States of
America (hereinafter “Federal Defendants”)
seeking summary judgment as to Count One of the Amended
Complaint. (See Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket
Item 33].) In response, Plaintiff filed a
cross-motion for partial summary judgment, seeking to
establish that Defendant Hopson is an employee of the United
States for the purposes of the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28
U.S.C. § 1346(b), (hereinafter “FTCA”).
(See Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter
“Pl.'s Mot.”) [Docket Item 37].) The
principal issue to be decided is whether a federal inmate is
an “employee” for the purposes of FTCA, where he
is incarcerated in a federal prison and is working as a part
of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' (hereinafter
“BOP”) inmate work program, acting within the
scope of his duties interacting with civilians. For the
reasons set forth below, the answer is yes. Accordingly,
Federal Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Docket
Item 33] will be denied and Plaintiff's cross-motion for
partial summary judgment [Docket Item 37] will be granted.
The Court finds as follows:
Factual and Procedural
is a truck driver, and on January 27, 2014, at or around 8:30
a.m., Plaintiff delivered a load of refrigerated and dry food
products to a warehouse operated by BOP at FCI Fort Dix.
(See Transcript of Deposition of Steven
Schmidt (hereinafter “Pl.'s Dep.”)
[Docket Item 33-5], 13:24-14:11, 18:4-6; 22:12-14; 29:3-7.)
Plaintiff parked near the warehouse, unlocked his truck, and
waited for the truck to be unloaded. (See id. at
32:1-19, 41:24-42:8.) While waiting, Plaintiff spoke with
Mike Murray, a non-incarcerated BOP employee who supervised
the operations of the warehouse, to get directions to his
next delivery location. (See id.) While speaking to
Mr. Murray, Plaintiff's left foot and leg were struck by
a forklift operated by Defendant Hopson, a federal inmate who
was assigned by BOP to operate the forklift as part of an
inmate work program. (See id. at 42:20-21;
Transcript of Deposition of Michael Murray (hereinafter
“Murray Dep.”) [Docket Item 33-4], 87:12-25,
88:14-22.) Plaintiff sustained serious injuries to his left
leg and foot. (Id.) At the time of the incident,
Defendant Hopson had been operating forklifts at FCI Fort Dix
for approximately five (5) years. (See Transcript of
Deposition of Anthony Hopson (hereinafter “Hopson
Dep.”) [Docket Item 33-6], 9:23-25, 49:12-14.) Prior to
beginning his work assignment operating forklifts, BOP
administered a training program to ensure that Defendant
Hopson understood how to operate a forklift safely.
(See Murray Dep. [Docket Item 33-4], 145:15-146:9.)
Only minimum-security inmates were permitted to perform the
work of a forklift operator at FCI Fort Dix, because such a
job is done “outside the fences, ” meaning that
the inmates have direct interaction with members of the
public. (See id. at 145:4-7, 162:1-18.) In the event
that no inmates were available to operate the warehouse
forklifts, they would be operated by ordinary
(non-incarcerated) BOP employees. (See id. at
150:8-10, 152:4-8.) Inmates assigned to operate the warehouse
forklift receive an hourly wage, as well as vacation time and
bonus pay at the discretion of the inmate's supervisor.
(See 28 C.F.R. §§ 545.22-.27; BOP Inmate
Performance Pay Hourly Rate [Docket Item 33-7].)
June 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action.
(See Complaint [Docket Item 1].) Plaintiff filed an
Amended Complaint on January 27, 2016. (See
Amended Complaint [Docket Item 16].) Federal Defendants filed
their Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on February
2, 2016. (See Answer [Docket Item 18].)
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges, inter
alia, that “[o]n January 27, 2014, the fork lift
[sic] operator on behalf of Defendant [FCI Fort Dix] . . .
was operating a forklift on behalf of Defendant [FCI Fort
Dix] in a negligent manner, striking Plaintiff , running
over and seriously injuring Plaintiff's left
ankle.” (Amended Complaint [Docket Item 16], Count One,
¶ 4.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that “[t]he
actions of the forklift operator were as an employee, servant
or agent on behalf of [Federal Defendants] operating the
property through the [BOP].” (Id. at Count
One, ¶ 7.) Plaintiff is seeking damages from Federal
Defendants for the injuries he sustained as a result of the
allegedly negligent behavior of the forklift operator.
(Id. at Count One, ¶ 8.)
Federal Defendants filed the present motion for summary
judgment, arguing that they are entitled to judgment in their
favor as to Count One of the Amended Complaint, because the
FTCA does not act as a waiver of sovereign immunity with
respect to the negligent actions of federal inmates engaged
in an inmate work program, such as Defendant Hopson.
(See Fed. Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 33-1], 13-23.)
In response, Plaintiff filed the present cross-motion for
summary judgment as to Count One, seeking partial summary
judgment for a determination, as a matter of law, that
Defendant Hopson is regarded as an employee of the government
under the statutory definition of “[e]mployee of the
government” in the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C.
§ 2671. (See Pl.'s Mot. [Docket Item 37].)
Federal Defendants filed a reply. (See Reply
Memorandum of Law [Docket Item 38].) The issues of Defendant
Hopson's negligence or Plaintiff's damages are not
implicated or addressed in these cross-motions. The pending
motions are now fully briefed and ripe for disposition. The
Court will decide the motions without oral argument, pursuant
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78.
Standard of Review.
summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden
of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly
supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden
shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250
(1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court
is required to examine the evidence in light most favorable
to the non-moving party and resolve all reasonable inferences
in that party's favor. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S.
372, 378 (2007); Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273,
287 (3d Cir. 2014).
factual dispute is material when it “might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and
genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable
jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The non-moving party
“need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence
proffered by the movant, ” but must present more than a
“mere scintilla” of evidence on which a jury
could reasonably find for the non-moving party. Boyle v.
Cnty. of Allegheny, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir.
1998) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
the relatively rare case where there is no dispute as to the
material facts regarding these competing motions for summary
judgment. Plaintiff brings suit in Count One against Federal
Defendants under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which holds the
United States liable “only to the extent that in the
same circumstances the applicable local law would hold
‘a private person' responsible.” Lomando
v. United States, 667 F.3d 363, 373 (3d Cir.
Under the FTCA, the sovereign immunity of the United States
is waived for certain torts committed by Federal employees.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). A claim under the FTCA
must be (1) against the United States, (2) for money damages,
(3) “for injury or loss of property, or personal injury
or death, ” (4) caused by the negligent or wrongful act
or omission of any employee of the United States, (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.” Id.
Curbison v. U.S. Gov't of N.J., No. 05-5280,
2006 WL 3544560, at *8 (D.N.J. Dec. 7, 2006). The definition
of “employee” under the FTCA is key to the
resolution of this dispute about Defendant Hopson's
capacity. By the terms of the FTCA itself,
“[e]mployee of the government” includes (1)
officers or employees of any federal agency, members of the
military or naval forces of the United States, members of the
National Guard while engaged in training or duty . . ., and
persons acting on behalf of a federal agency in an official
capacity, temporarily or permanently in the service of the
United States, whether with or without ...