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Needham v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 26, 2018

DERRILYN NEEDHAM, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Edgardo Ramos, U.S.D.J

         Derrilyn Needham (“Needham”) sues the United States of America (“United States”) under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Specifically, Needham requests damages for the emotional harm inflicted when Correction Officer Rudell L. Clark Mullings (“Officer Mullings”) raped her. The United States now moves to dismiss the negligent screening, hiring, and training claims in Needham's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The United States also claims that Needham's Eighth Amendment claim is barred by sovereign immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the United States' 12(b)(1) motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         While she was serving a prison sentence at Metropolitan Correctional Center (“MCC”) in New York City in the summer of 2014, Needham was summoned to her unit's control room by Officer Mullings. Compl. ¶ 10, 12, Doc. 1. When she reached the control room, Officer Mullings asked her to enter but she declined, stating that she preferred to stay in her unit. Id. at ¶ 12. Officer Mullings then proceeded to question Needham regarding “her family and life, and how long a sentence she was serving.” Id. He told her she was someone he would like to know “on the outside, ” asked whether she missed having sex while she was in jail and proceeded to make an explicit sexual advance toward her. Id. Needham became uncomfortable and left the area. Id. at ¶ 13. After that episode, Officer Mullings continued to make “uninvited contact and initiat[ed] unwelcome verbal interactions.” Id. at ¶ 14. Needham alleges that Officer Mullings enlisted another correctional officer, Officer Fletcher, to act as a liaison between himself and Needham. Id. at ¶ 15. Officer Fletcher told Needham that Officer Mullings referred to her as his girlfriend. Id. Needham alleges upon information and belief that Officer Mullings was trying to “groom” Needham into having a sexual relationship with him by, among other things, enlisting Officer Fletcher to deliver food to her from outside the facility. Id. at ¶ 16. Needham alleges that although Officer Fletcher was aware of Officer Mullings' sexual intentions toward her, Fletcher did not report the conduct or make any effort to halt it. Id. at 17-18.

         In December 2014, Needham told the supervisor at her prison work assignment, Officer Collier, that Mullings was making unwanted personal advances toward her, to which he responded, “stay away from him” and that Officer Mullings and those with whom he associated were dangerous. Id. at ¶ 19. Needham alleges that Officer Collier did nothing in response to her complaint. Id. In fact, he recommended that she not tell anyone about the conduct. Id.

         On February 14, 2015, Needham and two other inmates were waxing the floor of MCC while a correction officer supervised them. Id. at ¶ 20. The officer left to watch a televised sporting event and delegated the supervision of Needham and the other two inmates to Officer Mullings. Id. The other inmates eventually left and Officer Mullings approached Needham from behind, “grabbed her, forcibly removed her pants and underwear” and raped her as she fought back.[1] Id. at ¶ 21. Shortly thereafter, Needham reported the rape to law enforcement officers, her son, and another inmate. Id. at ¶ 23. On February 19, 2015, Needham saw Officer Mullings as she worked in the commissary where he stared at her “in an intimidating manner causing her to become very frightened and upset.” Id. at ¶ 24.

         B. Procedural History

         On November, 23, 2015, Mullings was prosecuted for the offense in the Eastern District of New York; he pled guilty, and was sentenced to 84 months imprisonment by Judge Korman on May 4, 2016. See USA v. Mullings, 15-cr-00538 (ERK) Docs. 2, 23, 24; see also Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n at 1, n.1, Doc. 28. . On August 7, 2017, the instant Federal Tort Claims Act action was filed, alleging that the United States of America negligently screened, hired, trained, and supervised Officer Mullings and other correctional officers “who failed to properly act on information they possessed and to investigate, report, and/or stop Mullings from inappropriate personal contact, grooming, gift-giving, and eventual rape of the plaintiff.” Compl. ¶ 27. The United States now moves to dismiss Needham's negligent screening, hiring, and training claims pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure claiming sovereign immunity.[2] Preliminary Statement, Def.'s Mem. at 1, Doc. 23. The United States separately claims that Needham's Eighth Amendment claim is barred by sovereign immunity. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Standard of Review

         The United States' motion to dismiss relies on both Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). “Courts are required to decide ‘the jurisdictional question first because a disposition of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is a decision on the merits, and therefore, an exercise of jurisdiction.'” Spruill v. NYC Health & Hosp., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63093, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 23, 2007), aff'd sub nom. Spruill v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., 367 Fed.Appx. 269 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Magee v. Nassau County Med. Ctr., 27 F.Supp.2d 154, 158 (E.D.N.Y. 1998)); Id. (citing Rhulen Agency, Inc. v. Alabama Ins. Guar. Ass'n., 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir. 1990)).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         “‘Determining the existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry and a claim is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.'” Morrison v. Nat'l Austl. Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject[-]matter jurisdiction . . ., a court must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint.” Shipping Fin. Servs. Corp. v. Drakos,140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998). ...


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