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Figueroa v. United States

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 19, 2013

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

In its current form this case presents a dilemma-how can the court maintain a lawsuit with a plaintiff who has disappeared and whose present whereabouts are wholly unknown? Because we conclude that the court cannot reasonably maintain this litigation on these unusual facts it is recommended that this action be dismissed.

Prior to his disappearance, the plaintiff was a federal prisoner housed in the United States Penitentiary, Canaan. On January 31, 2013, the plaintiff filed this complaint endeavoring to bring an action against the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") 28 U.S.C. § 2401, et seq. and 28 U.S.C. § 2675, et seq., along with individual constitutional tort claims. The plaintiff's pro se complaint recited that, on June 25, 2011, the prison served inmates chicken fajitas. (Doc. 1.) According to the plaintiff, the chicken was bad, and was tainted with salmonella bacteria. (Id.) Consequently, the plaintiff contracted food poisoning, and suffered excruciating pain and symptoms which included headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pains, nausea, chills, vomiting, inability to eat and profuse sweating. (Id.) Alleging negligence and wrongdoing on behalf of prison officials in the preparation and service of this food, the plaintiffs sought damages from the United States, and individual defendants. (Id.)

At the time this complaint was filed, the plaintiff received a copy of this Court's Standing Practice Order. (Doc. 3.) That Standing Practice Order, in part, advised the plaintiff of his obligation to keep the Court fully informed regarding his whereabouts, stating in clear and precise terms that:

A pro se plaintiff has the affirmative obligation to keep the court informed of his or her current address. If the plaintiff changes his or her address while this lawsuit is being litigated, the plaintiff shall immediately inform the court of the change, in writing. If the court is unable to communicate with the plaintiff because the plaintiff has failed to notify the court of his or her address, the plaintiff will be deemed to have abandoned the lawsuit

(Doc. 3, p. 4.)

We then established a mediation program in these cases, and ordered the plaintiff to participate in that process. The plaintiff has not responded to mediation efforts, and when the defendants have attempted to correspond with the plaintiff, that correspondence has been returned as undeliverable. According to the defendants, the plaintiff has been released from prison, his current whereabouts are unknown, and the plaintiff has been unresponsive to efforts by the defendants to secure his compliance with court orders directing mandatory mediation in this case. (Docs. 15, 16.) Therefore, the defendants have moved to dismiss this case for failure to prosecute. (Id.)

As a matter of fundamental fairness to the plaintiff we made an additional effort to place him on notice of his obligations as a litigant by entering an order on August 8, 2013, which provided in part as follows:

[T]he Court having received a motion to dismiss and an accompanying brief, IT IS ORDERED as follows: With respect to this motion the plaintiff shall file a response to the motion in accordance with Local Rule 7.6 within 14 days of the filing of the defendant's brief on or before August 21, 2013. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.7, the movant may then file a reply brief within 14 days of the filing of any responsive pleading or no later than September 5, 2013. All briefs must conform to the requirements prescribed by Local Rule 7.8.
The plaintiff is also advised that Local Rule 7.6 of the Rules of this Court imposes an affirmative duty on the plaintiff to respond to motions and provides that:
Any party opposing any motion, other than a motion for summary judgment, shall file a brief in opposition within fourteen (14) days after service of the movant's brief, or, if a brief in support of the motion is not required under these rules, within seven (7) days after service of the motion. Any party who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion. Nothing in this rule shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to grant any motion before expiration of the prescribed period for filing a brief in opposition. A brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment and LR 56.1 responsive statement, together with any transcripts, affidavits or other relevant documentation, shall be filed within twenty-one (21) days after service of the movant's brief.

Local Rule 7.6 (emphasis added).

It is well-settled that "Local Rule 7.6 can be applied to grant a motion to dismiss without analysis of the complaint's sufficiency if a party fails to comply with the [R]ule after a specific direction to comply from the court.' Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz , 951 F.2d 29, 30 (1991)." Williams v. Lebanon Farms Disposal, Inc., No. 09-1704 , 2010 WL 3703808, *1 (M.D. Pa. Aug.26, 2010). ...

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