United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
Edgardo Ramos, U.S.D.J
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. Preliminary Statement, Def.'s Mem. at
1, Doc. 23. The United States separately claims that
Needham's Eighth Amendment claim is barred by sovereign
Standard of Review
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)).
Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)
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). ...