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Hixson v. Hutcheson

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

June 19, 2017

CAREY HIXSON, Plaintiff,
BRYAN HUTCHESON, et al., Defendants.


          Michael F. Urbanski, United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the court on defendant Southern Health Partners, Inc.'s ("SHP") motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of me Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 9. SHP argues mat plaintiff Cary Hixson[1] has failed to state a breach of contract claim against SHP because Hixson was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract between SHP and Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail ("HRRJ"). ECF No. 10, at 1. Hixson has filed a response in opposition, ECF No. 17, to which SHP has replied, ECF No. 24. The court held a hearing on the motion on May 31, 2017. ECF No. 26. For the reasons that follow, the court treats SHP's motion as requesting dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1), [2] and GRANTS the motion (ECF No. 9). SHP is dismissed as a defendant in this matter.


         Plaintiff Cary Hixson is a former inmate of Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail.[3]While incarcerated at HRRJ, Hixson, who is diabetic, alleges that, despite medical staffs knowledge of his diabetes, he was never provided with the insulin necessary to treat his condition and keep his blood sugar under control. "As a result, Mr. Hixson suffered excruciating pain throughout his feet, hands and legs, as well as experiencing blurred vision, ringing in his ears, on top of his vital organs slowly depreciating in functionality." ECF No. 1, at 2. Hixson was also threatened with solitary confinement if he complained about his neglectful treatment. Hixson's medical care was administered by "Dr. Moran"[4] and several unnamed nurses, all of whom were employed by SHP, pursuant to a contract between SHP and HRRJ providing for inmate healthcare.

         Hixson filed his complaint on March 31, 2017 against SHP, Dr. Moran, two "John Doe" nurses, Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson, supervising operator of HRRJ, and Captain Steven Shortell, operator of HRRJ. He alleges deliberate indifference to his medical needs, negligence, gross negligence, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Relevant to the instant motion, Hixson also alleges breach of contract against SHP, arguing that, as an intended beneficiary of the contract between HRRJ and SHP, he may sue to enforce its terms.


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint need only contain sufficient factual matter which, if accepted as true, "state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint is "facially plausible" when the facts alleged "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. This "standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997).

         While the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations, the same is not true for legal conclusions. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see also Wag More Dogs. LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court is "generally limited to a review of the allegations of the complaint itself." Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). However, other evidence may sometimes be consulted:

(The court] also considers documents that are explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference, Tellabs. Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights. Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007), and those attached to the complaint as exhibits, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). And . . . [the court] may consider a document submitted by the movant that was not attached to or expressly incorporated in a complaint, so long as the document was integral to the complaint and there is no dispute about the document's authenticity. [Sec'y of State for Defence v.] Trimble (Nav. Ltd.]. 484 F.3d [700], 705 [(4th Cir. 2007)]; Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare. Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004); Phillips v. LCI Int'l. Inc., 190 F.3d 609, 618 (4th Cir. 1999).

Id., at 166.


         "At common law, 'the general rule was that... [a breach of contract] action must be brought in the name of the party in whom the legal interest was vested, and that this legal interest was vested in the person to whom the promise was made'"-i.e., the contracting party. Thorsen v. Richmond Soc'y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 786 S.E.2d 453, 453 (Va. 2016) (quoting Thacker v. Hubard, 94 S.E. 929, 931 (Va. 1918)). However, courts recognize an exception, and have found third party standing to sue on the contract where the contract evinces "[a] clear intent to benefit [a] third person." Valley Landscape Co., Inc. v. Rolland, 237 S.E.2d 120, 122 (Va. 1977).

         Virginia "[c]ourts have narrowly interpreted the standard for an intended beneficiary." Radosevic v. Va. Intermont Coll., 651 F.Supp. 1037 (W.D. Va. 1987). In Obenshain v. Halliday, 504 F.Supp. 946 (E.D. Va. 1980), the court considered whether the estate of a passenger killed in an airplane crash allegedly caused by malfunctioning runway lights had standing to sue on the contract between the county and the United States to build, operate and maintain the airport. The court noted the basic rule that "a third-party beneficiary [must] show that an agreement is clearly and definitely intended to bestow a direct benefit on him before he has standing to sue." Id. at 956. Looking to "the four corners of the contract, " the court found that "there [was] no language which show[ed] clear and definite intent to benefit [the plaintiff] in a manner which would grant her standing to sue." Id. ...

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