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Parker v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 27, 2019

BENJAMIN PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS, WARDEN JORDAN HOLLINGSWORTH, CORRECTION OFFICER RODGERS, LIEUTENANT ANDERSON, OFFICER VIGERALLO, et al., Defendants.

          Patrick J. Whalen, Esq. Attorney at Law, LLC and Philip J. Cohen, Esq. Kamensky Cohen Riechelson Counsel for Plaintiff

          Kristin Lynn Vassallo, Esq. Office of the U.S. Attorney, Counsel for Defendants

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Benjamin Parker, through counsel, filed a Complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-2680, et seq., against Defendants the United States of America, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), the former warden of the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix in Fort Dix, New Jersey, Jordan Hollingsworth, Officer LaTasha Rogers, Lieutenant Joseph Anderson, Officer Brian Virgillo, and John or Jane Does Nos. 1-20 and XYZ Corporations Nos. 1-10, for injuries he sustained as a result of an assault by another inmate or inmates while incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix. ECF No. 1.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which is ripe for adjudication. ECF Nos. 12 (motion), 19 (opposition brief), 23 (reply). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Allegations Contained in the Complaint

         Plaintiff Benjamin Parker brings this civil action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), alleging that he was assaulted by an unknown inmate or inmates while he was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, New Jersey, and that this attack occurred as a result of the negligence on the part of the BOP and its employees. Plaintiff generally alleges that the defendants were negligent in creating the conditions that led to his assault because (1) certain actions by defendants may have resulted in the perception that Plaintiff was cooperating with prison officials in an investigation akin to being a “snitch, ” (2) they created dangerous conditions by leaving loose cinder blocks and other debris in the second floor bathroom of Plaintiff's housing unit, and (3) staffing was insufficient to prevent the attack on Plaintiff. See ECF No. 1. Plaintiff names as Defendants Jordan Hollingsworth (the former warden of FCI Fort Dix), Officer LaTasha Rogers, Lieutenant Joseph Anderson, Officer Brian Virgillo, the BOP, and the United States of America. See Id. at 1, 11.

         At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix and housed, in the East Compound in Unit 5741 (the “Unit”), which housed approximately 300 inmates. Id., ¶¶ 18-19. Generally, Defendants assigned only one corrections officer to be on duty and that officer was responsible for monitoring and supervising Unit 5741. The corrections officer's office was located on the first floor of the Unit. Id., ¶ 20. Plaintiff was housed on the second floor of the Unit, in a 12-person room with a door that did not lock. Id., ¶ 21. There was a large bathroom on that second floor (the “Bathroom”) that was left in a constant state of disrepair. Id., ¶ 22. On a near weekly basis, Defendants' or their employees routinely removed cinder blocks from the Bathroom walls and shower stalls in search of contraband. Id., ¶ 23. In the process, they would leave behind an accessible pile of cinder blocks and other construction debris, which were left unattended and accessible to all inmates for days at a time. Id., ¶¶ 24-25. Plaintiff alleges that these cinder blocks and debris created an obvious, known, and plainly visible risk and danger to the inmates housed at in the Unit. Id., ¶ 26. By creating this debris pile, Defendants provided some of the violent and dangerous inmates at the Fort Dix with weapons to use against other inmates against whom they had disagreements or confrontations, such as Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 27.

         On September 6, 2015, at approximately 10:00 a.m., Plaintiff's name was called over the public address system, instructing him to report to Defendant Special Investigative Services (“SIS”) Lieutenant Anderson's office. Id., ¶ 31. Defendant Anderson brought Plaintiff into the SIS Office to be interviewed regarding an investigation into an alleged extensive gambling ring involving several inmates at FCI Fort Dix. Id., ¶ 32. Plaintiff explained that he was not involved in that gambling operation. Id., ¶ 33. Plaintiff knew next to nothing about it and had no information to provide to the investigation. Id., ¶ 36.

         Another inmate, who had been threatened with violence by the inmates who were operating the illegal gambling ring and had a significant gambling debt, had reported the matter to the Defendants or their employees. Id., ¶ 37. During that inmate's report, Plaintiff alleges that he falsely identified Plaintiff as being the “enforcer” for the gambling ring. Id., ¶ 38. According to Plaintiff, this false tip or fabrication was the reason Defendants wanted to interview Plaintiff. Id., ¶ 39.

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants knew or should have known that the inmates running that illegal gambling ring were dangerous and had already threatened physical harm to other inmates, including the inmate making the false report. Id., ¶ 41. Plaintiff describes Defendants' actions as putting a “target” on his back and inviting an unjustified and unwarranted retaliatory attack on Plaintiff.

         Ten days later, on Wednesday, September 16, 2015, Defendant SIS Agent Officer Virgillo escorted Plaintiff from Unit 5741 to the SIS Office. Id., ¶ 45. Plaintiff was questioned about the gambling operation again and Plaintiff explained that he had no involvement. Id., ¶ 46.

         Two days later, on September 18, 2015, Plaintiff was attacked by one or more inmates. Id., ¶ 48. Plaintiff was struck multiple times in the head with a blunt object, which Plaintiff alleges was a cinder block or some other piece of construction debris that Defendants' staff had left in the Bathroom. Id., ¶ 49. According to the Complaint, the assault occurred between 6:00 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. when Officer LaTasha Rogers was on duty in the Unit. Id., ¶¶ 50, 53-54. Plaintiff sustained significant, permanent injuries including brain damage, a posttraumatic epileptic episode, severely broken facial bones, permanent loss of vision, smell, and taste, and permanent bodily pain and discomfort. Id., ¶ 52.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was housed in FCI Fort Dix's Special Housing Unit when he returned from the hospital and has not been able to obtain records relating to the investigation into the gambling ring or the attack against him, impairing his ability to “get access to the entire truth of the events” that are alleged in the Complaint. Id., ¶¶ 56, 58-60. In the Complaint, Plaintiff only asserts an FTCA claim against the Defendants (Count 1).

         B. Defendants' Supplemental Facts Regarding Jurisdiction

         FCI Fort Dix is a federal prison with the primary mission of housing low security sentenced federal inmates. See ECF No. 12-5. The facility, a former military barracks not constructed as a typical BOP prison, consists of two separate compounds, the East Compound and the West Compound. Id. Each compound contains numerous buildings, including six or seven dormitory-style buildings where inmates are quartered, buildings for inmate recreation and education, food-service buildings, Federal Prison Industries buildings, and administrative buildings, including a Lieutenant's complex. Id.

         The buildings used as inmate housing units at FCI Fort Dix are three stories high and contain multi-purpose rooms, television rooms, exercise areas, staff offices, and inmate dormitory rooms. Id. The dormitory rooms are typically twelve-man rooms with some two-man rooms as well. Id. The dormitory rooms do not have locks on ...


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