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James v. United States

August 21, 2009

SHANELL JAMES, PLAINTIFF
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Baxter

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

On or about August 25, 2008, Plaintiff Shanell James, an inmate incarcerated at the Allenwood Medium Federal Correctional Institution in White Deer, Pennsylvania, filed this pro se action pursuant to the Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671 et seq., alleging that various items of his personal and legal property were negligently lost at the Federal Correctional Institution at McKean ("FCI-McKean") after he was temporarily moved to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York ("MDC Brooklyn") on a federal writ issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Named as Defendant is the United States of America ("United States").

Plaintiff alleges that by losing his legal materials, FCI-McKean's prison staff violated his Due Process rights, interfered with his access to courts, and caused him emotional distress. [Complaint at pp. 8-9). In particular, Plaintiff alleges that the alleged loss and/or destruction of his legal materials caused the dismissal of a civil action he filed in James v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection, No. 06-CV-0562-RMC (D.D.C.). (Id. at pp. 3, 5-8). As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks to recover damages in the total amount of $1,850,000, including $1,350,000 for emotional injury and an unidentified physical injury, plus court costs and fees.

On December 15, 2008, the United States filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for summary judgment [Document # 12], arguing that Plaintiff's claim should be dismissed because: (i) it is barred by the FTCA's "detention of goods" exception; and (ii) alleged constitutional torts and violations of federal regulations are not actionable under the FTCA. Despite being given ample time to do so, Plaintiff has not filed any response to the motion to dismiss. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Factual History

On April 20, 2007, Plaintiff was temporarily moved from FCI-McKean to MDC-Brooklyn, on a federal writ issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. (Complaint at ¶ 1). During this process, Plaintiff advised the Inmate Systems Officer ("ISO") at FCI-McKean that he needed his legal property to be transferred with him because he had pending litigation before an U.S. District Court. (Id. at ¶ 2). Plaintiff alleges that he also asked about his personal property "that was not catalogued, and placed in safekeeping." (Id.). According to Plaintiff, the ISO advised him to have a correctional counselor at MDC-Brooklyn contact him and he would make sure Plaintiff received his legal materials, along with a copy of a "property form acknowledging that Plaintiff's personal property was catalogued, and placed in safekeeping." (Id.).

Plaintiff subsequently arrived at MDC-Brooklyn on April 25, 2007, and, soon after, petitioned his assigned correctional counselor to contact FCI-McKean and request his legal materials. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that he did not receive any of his legal materials until late August 2007, at which time he found approximately 40% of his materials missing. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that he didn't receive "any indication that his personal property was catalogued and being held for safekeeping." (Id. at ¶ 8).

In September 2007, Plaintiff filed an Administrative Tort Claim indicating that he only received a "partial release" of his legal materials from FCI-McKean, and requesting monetary damages in the amount of $1,850,000.00, for an unidentified physical injury and personal property loss. On or about February 29, 2008, Plaintiff was sent a written response from the Federal Bureau of Prisons Northeast Regional Office denying the tort claim. (Document # 1, Documents in Support of Complaint, at p. 3). This action ensued.

C. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss

Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a pleading must set forth a claim for relief which contains a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail at the end but only whether he should be entitled to offer evidence to support his claim. Neitzke; Scheuer v. Rhodes, 419 U.S. 232 (1974). As the United States Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, ___ S.Ct. ___, ___ 2009 WL 1361536 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act). The court must accept as true all allegations of the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept ...


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