REED v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
OPINION FILED. Signed by Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 6/26/17. (js)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-3994 (JBS-JS)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
J. Andrew Ruymann, Assistant U.S. Attorney
Office of the U.S. Attorney
402 East State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608
Attorneys for Defendant United States of America
Federal Correctional Institution
East: P.O. Box 2000
Fort Dix, NJ 08640
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
Before the Court is Defendant United States of America’s
motion to dismiss Plaintiff Leonardo Reed’s Federal Tort Claims
Act (“FTCA”) complaint. Motion, Docket Entry 9. Plaintiff
opposes the motion. Opposition, Docket Entry 10. The motion is
being decided on the papers pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is
Plaintiff is a prisoner confined at FCI Fort Dix, a federal
prison in New Jersey run by the Bureau of Prisons, a United
States agency. According to the complaint, staff at Fort Dix
placed “razor wire” in various locations throughout the facility
in areas that are accessible to inmates, including but not
limited to the recreation area. Complaint ¶ 12. Plaintiff
alleges that several inmates have received injuries due to the
placement of the wire, which “generally reaches to just above
knee level with some areas reaching face level.” Id. ¶¶ 15-16.
Plaintiff states he was playing softball in the recreation
yard on June 22, 2015 when a ball fell into an area “within the
razor wire.” Id. ¶ 27. He alleges that as “[i]nmates are tasked
with retrieving the balls from within the razor wire[,]” he went
to retrieve the ball and sustained a cut from the wire. Id. ¶¶
25, 28. According to the complaint, the razor wire cut into
Plaintiff’s left wrist and caused “heavy blood loss.” Id. ¶ 29.
Plaintiff was left with a “½ inch keloid type scar.” Id. ¶ 33.
He filed an administrative grievance with the Bureau of Prisons
pursuant to the FTCA, which was denied on March 25, 2016. This
complaint followed three months later.
Defendants ask that the complaint be dismissed with
prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for
failure to state a claim, Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court
must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as
true and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. A motion to dismiss may be granted only if the plaintiff
has failed to set forth fair notice of what the claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests that make such a claim plausible on
its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
Although Rule 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations,”
it requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court must
“tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state
a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because
they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity
and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d
780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Defendant argues Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for
relief because complaint does not properly plead proximate
cause. Motion at 1.1
Here, Plaintiff has alleged Defendant placed razor wire in
the recreation area at the levels of the recreating inmates’
knees and faces. Complaint ¶¶ 12, 15, 17-18, 21. Defendant
argues there is no “but for” causation because Plaintiff chose
to retrieve the ball from an area with visible razor wire.
However, New Jersey recognizes two distinct forms of causation:
“but for” and “substantial factor.” See Komlodi v. Picciano, 89
A.3d 1234, 1254–55 (N.J. 2014).2 “A proximate cause need not be
the sole cause of harm. It suffices if it is a substantial
contributing factor to the harm suffered.” Perez v. Wyeth Labs.
Inc., 734 A.2d 1245, 1261 (N.J. 1999). Therefore, Defendant may
be liable for Plaintiff’s injury “if its negligent conduct was a
“The fundamental elements of a negligence claim are a duty of
care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that
duty by the defendant, injury to the plaintiff proximately
caused by the breach, and damages.” Robinson v. Vivirito, 86
A.3d 119, 124 (N.J. 2014).
2 New Jersey substantive law governs in this FTCA action. See
F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 478 (1994); CNA v. United
States, 535 F.3d 132, 141 (3d Cir. 2008), as amended (Sept. 29,
substantial factor in bringing about the injuries, even where
there are other intervening causes which were foreseeable or
were normal incidents of the risk created.” Komlodi, 89 A.3d at
1254 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The fact
that Plaintiff may bear some responsibility for his injury does
not necessarily mean Defendant’s actions were “not a remote,
trivial or inconsequential cause” of Plaintiff’s injury. New
Jersey Model Jury Charge (Civil) 6.12 “Proximate Cause – Where
There is Claim that Concurrent Causes of Harm Were Present” (May
Plaintiff alleges he and other inmates are “tasked” with
retrieving any balls that leave the playing field. Id. ¶ 25. As
the Court must accept this fact as true for purposes of a motion
to dismiss, it is a reasonable possibility that retrieving the
ball was not a “voluntary” act since Plaintiff would be required
to follow an order from a prison official.3 See Harris v. Kellogg
Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 724 F.3d 458, 470 (3d Cir. 2013)
(“Voluntariness requires that the injured party ‘had a real
Defendant argues that Plaintiff does not specifically allege he
was ordered to retrieve the ball. The Court must “accept all
factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under
any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be
entitled to relief.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d
224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). It
is not unreasonable to infer from the facts alleged in the
complaint that Plaintiff was directed to retrieve the ball.
“choice.”’”(quoting Kaplan v. Exxon Corp., 126 F.3d 221, 226 (3d
Cir. 1997))). The precise circumstances of the “task” and the
degree to which Plaintiff is responsible for his injury are
questions that cannot be resolved in Defendant’s favor at this
Accepting the facts stated in the complaint as true, there
is a reasonable inference of proximate cause. Defendant’s motion
is denied, and shall answer the complaint within 14 days of the
entry of this order. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(4).
For the reasons stated above, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
is denied. An appropriate order follows.
June 26, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
U.S. District Judge
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