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Hinton v. United States

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 20, 2015



MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.


Plaintiff, DeShanta Hinton, the executrix of Gregory Hinton's Estate, filed a wrongful death/survival action under Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") and a Bivens claim in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the United States of America, Warden Ronnie R. Holt and John and Jane Doe on December 20, 2013. (ECF No. 1). The action was transferred to this Court at the request of the United States of America on May 5, 2014. (ECF No. 8). The Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint on August 21, 2014. (ECF No. 18). The amended complaint states three causes of action: first, a FTCA claim against the United States; second, lack of proper medical care under the Eighth Amendment against all Defendants; and finally, a state law negligence claim against Defendants Holt and Doe. (ECF No. 18. 7-10).

On October 6, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss and in the alternative, for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 20). This motion is based on the following arguments: first, Plaintiff failed to submit an administrative tort claim; second, Plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit for medical negligence claims; and third Plaintiff failed to allege or establish any legitimate constitutional claims.

For the reasons which follow, the FTCA and the Eighth Amendment claims will be dismissed. Additionally, in the event that the Plaintiff fails to successfully amend her complaint with federal claims, the Court will decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the state law negligence claims.


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard- Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-664.

"In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must be mindful that federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading." Hellmann v. Kercher, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54882, *4, 2008 WL 1969311 (W.D. Pa. May 5, 2008) (Lancaster, J.). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds on which it rests, '" Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief under it. Hellmann, 2008 WL 1969311 at *3. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not "shown"- "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).The failure-to-state-a-claim standard of Rule 12(b)(6) "streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and fact finding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a "dispositive issue of law." Id. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327.

B. Allegations in the Complaint

Accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint as the Court is obliged to do, the facts are as follows. Gregory Hinton (hereinafter "decedent") was arrested and convicted of armed robbery in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. ECF No. 18 at 2. Decedent was sentenced to life imprisonment on January 5, 2001. Id. Plaintiff alleges that according to prison records, decedent attempted suicide twice on February 20, 2001 and again on March 3, 2001.[1] Id. As a result of these suicide attempts, Plaintiff avers that decedent was transferred to a medical center for federal prisoners. Id. at 3. In May 2001, [2] the decedent was transferred to Federal Correctional Institution, Allenwood, Pennsylvania ("FCI Allenwood"). Id.

Plaintiff avers that the decedent's medical history from 2001 and 2004 shows a persistent depression diagnosis. Id. at 4. Plaintiff alleges that decedent received prescription medication for his depression and, while on this medication, decedent made no attempts at suicide. Id. Plaintiff alleges that FCI Allenwood abruptly discontinued decedent's mental health care and did so on the recommendation of a doctor whom, Plaintiff avers on information and belief, is neither a therapist nor a psychologist but an osteopathic physician. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Holt was made aware of decedent's mental health on at least three different occasions. Id. at 2-4. Defendant Holt, who was the associate warden of custody at FCI Allenwood, received two memoranda referencing the decedent's mental health. Id at 3. Both memoranda reported on decedent's involvement in assaults with other inmates. Id. The memoranda notified Defendant Holt that the decedent had "arrived from a medical center on a psych/psych evaluation transfer." Id. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that a signature that appears to be Defendant Holt's is on a central inmate monitoring review. Id. at 4. This report included the following notation from the associate warden, custody: "Life sentence, numerous medical trips ...

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