United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
JAMES B. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.
Elizabeth K. Dillon United States District Judge
James B. Johnson, proceeding pro se, brings this
action seeking medical costs and compensatory damages for
defendants' alleged negligence. This matter is before the
court on two motions: 1) defendant Hope Village, Inc.'s
motion to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), and 2) the United States' motion to
dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.
Roseboro notices were issued on April 3, 2017, and October
24, 2017. Johnson filed responses to both defendants'
pleadings without attaching any counter-affidavits or other
evidence. The parties have agreed that a hearing is not
necessary. Because the court construes the complaint to
include a second negligence claim that neither defendant has
addressed, however, the court will treat both defendants'
motions to dismiss as partial motions to dismiss and will
grant both partial motions as to plaintiff's
slip-and-fall claim. However, the court will not dismiss the
complaint as a whole, and the parties are to submit further
briefing as set out in the accompanying order.
2013,  while in the custody of the United States
Marshals Service, Johnson was transported to a court hearing
in Lynchburg, Virginia. Upon arriving, Johnson, who was in a
five-point restraint, attempted to walk backwards out of the
transport van and step down onto a narrow step. Johnson
alleges that the marshals failed to supervise and assist his
descent from the van, and he fell, injuring his right knee.
February 2016, Johnson was in the custody of the Federal
Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at Hope Village, a halfway house
located in the District of Columbia. There, Johnson
“slipped on wet steps and injured his right
knee.” (Compl. ¶ 8.) He notified his case manager
and his social worker at Hope Village, who instructed Johnson
to receive medical treatment, for which BOP would pay, at
Unity Healthcare. Dr. Amy Morgan evaluated Johnson, ordered
an MRI, and determined (before the MRI was conducted) that he
the delay by the Defendants” (id. ¶ 13),
the MRI was not conducted until May 3, 2016, the day of
Johnson's release from Hope Village. Shortly thereafter,
Dr. Morgan called Johnson to confirm that surgery was
required. Dr. Morgan “offered that, had [Johnson] not
been released, she would have made a formal request to the
Defendants for surgery.” (Id. ¶ 14.)
Johnson wrote letters to Hope Village and to BOP requesting
help with securing surgery. After receiving no response,
Johnson filed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim, which
BOP denied. Johnson asserts that he continues to suffer pain
on a daily basis.
construing Johnson's complaint leads the court to
conclude that Johnson is potentially asserting two different
negligence claims. First, the complaint clearly alleges
negligence with regard to his slip and fall on wet stairs at
Hope Village in February 2016. The defendants have construed
his complaint as raising only that claim. But Johnson's
complaint also appears to allege a second negligence claim
due to the delay in his receiving medical care.
Understandably, neither Hope Village nor the United States
construed the complaint as broadly as the court, and so
neither has addressed that claim in their filings.
Nevertheless, the court believes that it must treat the
complaint as containing both claims. Thus, the court will
treat both motions as partial motions to dismiss, addressing
only the slip-and-fall claim.
Hope Village's Motion to Dismiss
Village moves to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a
claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Standard of review
survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's
allegations must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard
“requires the plaintiff to articulate facts, when
accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff
has stated a claim entitling him to relief, i.e.,
the ‘plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”
Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir.
2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The
plausibility standard requires more than “a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
determining whether the plaintiff has met this plausibility
standard, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded
facts in the complaint and any documents incorporated into or
attached to it. Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble
Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007).
Further, it must “draw all reasonable factual
inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor,
” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231,
244 (4th Cir. 1999), but it “need not accept legal
conclusions couched as facts or ‘unwarranted
inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments,
'” Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d
359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008)).
the court liberally construes pro se complaints,
Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir.
1978), “[p]rinciples requiring generous construction of
pro se complaints are not . . . without limits,
” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274,
1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The Fourth Circuit has explained that
“[t]hough [pro se] litigants cannot, of
course, be expected to frame legal issues with the clarity
and precision ideally evident in the work of those trained in