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Quinn v. U.S. Prisoner Transport Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

January 17, 2019

MEGHAN NICOLE QUINN, Plaintiff
v.
US PRISONER TRANSPORT INC., et al. Defendants

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND COMPLAINT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff alleges two employees of a prison transportation contractor deprived her of certain constitutional rights during her extradition from Florida to Maine. (Complaint ¶ 1, ECF No. 1). Plaintiff also alleges Defendants Androscoggin County its District Attorney are legally responsible for the constitutional deprivation.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendant Robinson's Motion to Dismiss, (Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21), and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint. (Motion for Leave to Amend, ECF No. 28.)

         Following a review of the relevant pleadings and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint and recommend the Court deny the motion to dismiss.

         Procedural Background

         In response to Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1), the Prisoner Transport Defendants filed (Transport Defendants) an answer. (ECF No. 20.) Defendant Robinson, [1] the District Attorney for And roscoggin County, filed a motion to dismiss. (Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 21.)

         On August 13, 2018, Plaintiff moved for leave to amend her original complaint, seeking to modify the named defendants and add a number of allegations. (Motion for Leave to Amend, ECF No. 28.) Citing the futility of the proposed new allegations, Defendant opposes in part the motion. (Objection in Part to Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint, ECF No. 31.)

         Factual Background [2]

         A. The Extradition to Maine

         In November 2016, law enforcement in Osceola County, Florida, arrested Plaintiff on a warrant issued by Defendant Robinson. (Proposed Amended Complaint ¶ 13.) The Osceola County Florida Sheriffs Department detained Plaintiff for sixteen days pending extradition to Maine. (Id. ¶ 14.)

         In late November 2016, two John Doe Defendants arrived in a modified fifteen-passenger van to take custody of Plaintiff and transport her to Auburn, Maine. (Id. ¶ 15.) According to Plaintiff, the John Doe Defendants secured the ankle bracelets on Plaintiff such that they cut through the skin, causing infection and permanent scarring. (Id. ¶ 40.) The John Doe Defendants also forced Plaintiff into a metal compartment, in which she could not stand up, lie down, or sit upright. Plaintiff was the only woman in the transport van. Her compartment was located near the front of the van, and she was separated from the male passengers by two small windows. She could hear and see them, and they could see her. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Over the course of five days, the van traveled approximately 1, 500 miles from Kissimmee, Florida to Auburn, Maine. (Id. ¶ 18.) The van's prisoner compartment lacked heat and insulation. As they traveled north, the temperature dropped and Plaintiff's compartment became extremely cold. Plaintiff asserts she became hypothermic and began violently shaking. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         By the second day, the van had yet to stop for a bathroom break for the passengers. Plaintiff asked the guards to stop so that she could use a bathroom. Rather than stop, a guard gave her a plastic bag to use. While still shackled, she attempted to use the bag. As she did, the male passengers could see her and made inappropriate and offensive comments. A similar scenario occurred daily. In addition, she was deprived of ability to maintain basic hygiene. Her clothes were soiled with urine and blood.

         At one point, when Plaintiff begged the van's drivers for help, the drivers slammed on the brakes while traveling at highway speed. As the van was not equipped with seat belts, Plaintiff flew forward into the front of her compartment and broke her nose. Id. The impact also caused her to flip upside down in her compartment. The guards only returned her to an upright position when the van stopped three hours later. (Id. ¶ 25.)

         Despite her repeated requests for assistance, Plaintiff was required to continue to wear the same soiled clothes until the van neared Maine. At that point, she was finally provided a clean pair of pants. (Id. ¶ ¶ 26 - 29.) When she arrived at the Androscoggin County Jail, her broken nose remained untreated and she had developed an infection in the wounds caused by the shackles around her ankles. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 31.)

         B. The Transportation Defendants' Policies and Knowledge

          According to Plaintiff, the Transport Defendants routinely create inhumane conditions for inmates they transport because their training is inadequate and their policies encourage the mistreatment of prisoners. (Id. ¶ 41.) The Transport Defendants require their drivers to travel extremely long distances at high speeds without stopping. Further, they only contract with a relatively small number of jails along a given route for overnight stays or bathroom breaks. Plaintiff contends that traveling for entire days without stopping is a standard operating protocol for the Transport Defendants' drivers. (Id. ¶ 42.) To facilitate the minimal-stop transports, Transport Defendants' policy requires their drivers to carry plastic bags that they force prisoners to use instead of an actual bathroom facility. The full bags remain in the van until the next stop. (Id. ¶ 43.)

         Plaintiff alleges the lack of food, water, medical care, and the failure to accommodate basic human needs are also the result of the Transport Defendants' policies. When Plaintiff pleaded for a blanket, the drivers told her that the Transport Defendants had a policy of not providing any. When a driver called the Transport Defendants for authority to purchase a pair of pants for Plaintiff because her pants were soiled, the Transport Defendants would not authorize the purchase. (Id. ¶ 46.) At least thirty other prisoners have filed suit against the Transportation Defendants alleging similarly inhumane conditions. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         C. The County Defendants' Policies and Knowledge

         The County Defendants' interstate prisoner transport policy provides that extradited detainees are to be transported by the Transport Defendants and not Androscoggin County personnel.[3] Androscoggin County contracted with the Transport Defendants for transport services. (Id. ¶ 48.) Plaintiff alleges that before they arranged for the Transport Defendants to extradite Plaintiff from Florida to Maine, Androscoggin County and Defendant Robinson knew, or should have known, of the Transport Defendants' constitutionally deficient practices and policies. (Id. ¶ 50.) In support of that contention, Plaintiff asserts that soon after Plaintiff exited the Transport Defendants' van, an Androscoggin County employee observed Plaintiff's soiled clothes and injuries to her ankle and stated that “he had seen worse” come out of one of the Transport Defendants' vans. (Id. ¶ 53.)

         Plaintiff alleges that after the County Defendants arranged for the Transport Defendants' services, the County Defendants failed to take any steps to ensure the safety of Androscoggin prisoners-despite receiving numerous reports of prisoner abuse. (Id. ¶ 51.) The complaints were made to Androscoggin County employees, including an Androscoggin County Jail supervisor. (Id. ¶ 52.) While Plaintiff was incarcerated, a high- level jail official apologized for the Transport Defendants' treatment. (Id. ¶ 54.) The jail official told her that he and other jail employees had seen other prisoners treated in a similar manner and had heard “horror stories” from other prisoners regarding the conditions in the Transport Defendants' vans like the treatment of Plaintiff. (Id.)

         Plaintiff asserts that had the County Defendants conducted minimal due diligence, they would have learned of the Transport Defendants' practices. According to Plaintiff, a simple internet search, for example, reveals media reports regarding prisoners' deaths and alleged assaults against prisoners in Transport Defendants' custody; a report by the Marshall Project, an organization that covers issues related to the criminal justice system, documents egregious constitutional violations in the transport of prisoners; and an investigation by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed abuses. (Id. ¶ 55.) Plaintiff alleges that despite this knowledge, the County Defendants, at Defendant Robinson's direction, made the decision to hire the Transport Defendants to transport Plaintiff from Florida to Maine. (Id. ¶ 56.) Plaintiff further alleges the County Defendants failed to supervise, monitor, and train the Transport Defendants.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a party may seek dismissal of “a claim for relief in any pleading” if that party believes that the pleading fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In its assessment of the motion, a court must “assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff[] the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom.” Blanco v. Bath Iron Works Corp., 802 F.Supp.2d 215, 221 (D. Me. 2011) (quoting Genzyme Corp. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 622 F.3d 62, 68 (1st Cir. 2010)). To overcome the motion, a plaintiff must establish that his allegations raise a plausible basis for a fact finder to conclude that the defendant is legally responsible for the claim at issue. Id.

         Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint

         Rule 15(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a litigant to amend a pleading “once as a matter of course, ” subject to certain time constraints. However, when a party seeks to amend a complaint more than 21 days after the filing of a responsive pleading, the other party's consent or leave of court is required in order to amend the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). In such a case, the court is to grant leave to amend “freely” when “justice so requires.” Id.; see also Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (“In the absence of any apparent or declared reason-such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc.-the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'”).

         Defendant Robinson opposes Plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint on futility grounds. When a plaintiff files a motion to amend in response to a motion to dismiss, the Court may deny the motion to amend, in whole or in part, if the proposed amendment would be futile. See Glassman v. Computervision Corp., 90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996). A “futile” amendment is one that “would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Id. In other words, “if the proposed amendment would be futile because, as thus amended, the complaint still fails to state a claim, the district court acts within its discretion in denying the motion to amend.” Boston & Me. Corp. v. Hampton, 987 F.2d 855, 868 (1st Cir. 1993).

         Through his motion to dismiss, Defendant alleges Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support an actionable claim. Many of the specific allegations in the amended complaint inform the plausibility of Plaintiff's claim against Defendant. For instance, the alleged comments of several Androscoggin County employees citing multiple instances of mistreatment against other County prisoners supports Plaintiff's claim that the Transport Defendants have a history of violations. The assessment of the motion to dismiss and Defendant's futility argument as to the motion to amend involve the same analysis - whether in her amended complaint, Plaintiff has asserted an actionable claim. See Glassman, 90 F.3d at 623 (“There is no practical difference, in terms of review, between a denial of a motion to amend based on futility and the grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim”). As explained below, ...


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