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Walker v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

May 29, 2019

KENNEDY WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KAREN K. CALDWELL, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Kennedy Walker is a prisoner who was previously confined at the United States Penitentiary (USP) - McCreary in Pine Knot, Kentucky, and is now incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Jesup, Georgia. Proceeding without a lawyer, Walker filed a civil rights complaint with this Court in which he pursued multiple claims, including claims against the United States of America pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

         The United States filed a motion to dismiss Walker's case or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. Walker then filed a response in opposition, the United States filed a reply, and Walker filed a sur reply. Thus, the United States' dispositive motion is ripe for a decision. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the United States' motion and will refer this case to a Magistrate Judge for further proceedings.

         I.

         In November 2017, Walker sent a letter to the Court along with several attachments, including correspondence referencing a potential tort claim against the United States. See Walker v. FMC - Lexington, No. 5:17-cv-465-JMH at R. 1 (E.D. Ky. 2017). While the Court docketed Walker's submission as a civil action for administrative purposes, it determined that his brief filings were insufficient to invoke the Court's jurisdiction. See Id. at R. 4. That is because Walker simply asked for legal advice regarding the deadline for filing a lawsuit; he did not clearly name a defendant, assert factual allegations, or request a specific form of relief. Ultimately, the Court declined Walker's request for guidance regarding the statute of limitations and dismissed the matter without prejudice, though it noted that Walker could still file a formal civil rights complaint with the Court. See id.at R. 4.

         A few weeks later, Walker did file his first formal civil rights complaint. See Walker v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, No. 6:17-cv-347-GFVT at R. 1 (E.D. Ky. 2017). The Court, however, determined that Walker's complaint did not comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Id. at R. 7. As an initial matter, the Court noted that Walker's complaint violated Rule 8 because it did not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief” and failed to include allegations that were “simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). After all, Walker's complaint spanned dozens of hard-to-follow pages, including nearly 100 paragraphs of factual allegations and almost 400 pages of attachments. Walker also appeared to list somewhere between 23 and 28 different defendants, who he labeled as defendants A through Z, A-1, and A-2, and he suggested that each of those defendants ran afoul of various sources of law, including but not limited to multiple constitutional provisions.

         The Court also indicated that Walker's complaint appeared to violate Rule 20's limits on permissive joinder of parties. That rule only allows a plaintiff to join one claim against one defendant and a different claim against a different defendant in one lawsuit if both claims arise out of the same occurrence or series of occurrences. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2)(A). As best as the Court could tell, Walker was alleging several different constitutional and statutory claims against several different defendants. To be sure, some of Walker's claims related to an allegation that he was injured in November 2014, while prison officials transported him in a van to or from a medical facility. However, some of Walker's other claims appeared to relate to a separate incident in December 2014, when he allegedly fell out of bed, and still other claims related to an incident in November 2015, when he allegedly fell in the shower. Walker then asserted even more claims against officials and medical care providers at two different federal prisons-USP McCreary and FCI Jesup. In short, the Court determined that Walker was attempting to bring all of his grievances, against many different parties, in one case, which is not permitted by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         In light of the foregoing problems, the Court did not assess a filing fee and, instead, dismissed Walker's first formal complaint without prejudice. Still, the Court informed Walker that he could complete and file a second formal complaint, and it sent him the proper forms to do so. The Court, however, noted that Walker could not assert numerous, distinct claims against dozens of different defendants in one lawsuit; rather, the Court informed Walker that he must file a proper, streamlined complaint that complied with the rules set forth in the Court's order. See Walker, No. 6:17-cv-347-GFVT at R. 7.

         Walker then filed his second formal civil rights complaint, which is the operative pleading in this case. See R. 1. In that complaint, Walker alleges that, in November 2014, prison officials transported him in a van from a medical appointment back to USP McCreary. See Id. at 24. Walker, however, claims that the officials did not properly secure his wheelchair, and when the van driver accelerated aggressively, Walker “flew backwards, hitting the back of his head very hard on the steel wheelchair lift attached to the back doors of the van.” Id. at 25. Walker claims that he was seriously injured as a result of this incident. See Id. at 25, 29-30. Walker also alleges that multiple officials at USP McCreary subsequently provided him with legally inadequate medical care. See Id. at 33. Based on these allegations, Walker put forth federal constitutional claims and state law negligence claims against numerous employees at USP McCreary. See R. 1 at 1-2, 9-23, 50. Walker also asserted claims against the United States pursuant to the FTCA. See Id. at 1, 4, 26.

         The Court conducted an initial screening of Walker's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A and determined that his federal constitutional claims and state law negligence claims were time barred. See R. 8. Thus, the Court dismissed those claims with prejudice. See Id. However, the Court allowed Walker's FTCA claims to proceed past the initial screening stage, and it directed the Clerk's Office and the United States Marshals Service to serve the United States with a summons and copy of the complaint on Walker's behalf. See id.

         Eventually, after the Court resolved a number of procedural issues that arose in the case, the United States filed a motion to dismiss Walker's case or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. See R. 30. The United States' principal argument is that Walker's FTCA claims are barred by the statute of limitations and, thus, his case should be dismissed. See Id. at 19-27. The United States also argues that Walker's FTCA claims fail because he “has not set forth any expert testimony whatsoever to support his claims, and neither narrow exception to this requirement exists in this case.” Id. at 29.

         With respect to the timeliness issue, the United States points out that, after the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) administratively denied Walker's claim, Walker filed a request for reconsideration, which the BOP received on February 27, 2017. See R. 30-2 at 97-102. The United States argues that, pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 14.9, Walker had six months from this date to file his lawsuit in federal court. That said, the United States acknowledges that, on June 26, 2017, the BOP sent Walker a letter in which it made him a settlement offer and said, “If you are not satisfied with this determination, you have six months from the date of this letter to bring suit in an appropriate United States District Court, should you wish to do so.” R. 30-2 at 103-05. In light of this fact, the United States says in its motion, “Giving [Walker] the benefit of this error would extend the time for filing a complaint to December 26, 2017.” R. 30-1 at 22. The United States, however, points out that Walker did not even file his first formal civil rights complaint with this Court until December 28, 2017, see Walker v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, No. 6:17-cv-347-GFVT at R. 1 (E.D. Ky. 2017), and, even then, Walker's complaint was so deficient that it was dismissed without prejudice. See Id. at R. 7. The United States then emphasizes that Walker did not file his second formal civil rights complaint-the operative pleading in this case-until April 2018. Therefore, the United States argues that “Walker's complaint is time barred.” R. 30-1 at 23.

         With respect to the expert-testimony issue, the United States argues that “Walker has failed to state a claim for relief under the FTCA” because he has not yet presented expert testimony to support his claims. R. 30-1 at 27-29. Furthermore, while the United States acknowledges that there are some exceptions to the general rule regarding expert testimony, including but not limited to the so-called “common knowledge exception, ” it argues that those exceptions are inapplicable to Walker's case. Thus, the United States claims Walker's FTCA claims fail as a matter of law.

         Walker has now filed a response in opposition to the United States' dispositive motion, the United States has filed its reply brief, and Walker has filed a sur reply. See Rs. ...


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