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Lacey Prewitt v. United States

December 15, 2011

LACEY PREWITT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case comes before the Court on Defendant United States of America's ("United States") motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND*fn1

This dispute arose on January 7, 2008, when Plaintiff Lacey Prewitt ("Prewitt") visited an office of the Social Security Administration (the "SSA Office") in Elgin, Illinois. At the SSA Office, Prewitt spoke with an employee, Defendant Anuj Parikh ("Parikh"), who explained to Prewitt that she was not entitled to social security benefits because the records showed she was employed. Prewitt, after insisting that she was unemployed, stood up and informed Parikh that she was leaving the SSA Office. Raising his voice, Parikh demanded that Prewitt "sit down!". Shortly thereafter, Parikh contacted Ervin Gartner ("Gartner"), a security guard. While the United States maintains that Gartner was employed by a private security company, Akal Security, Prewitt alleges that "Gartner was an actual, apparent, or implied agent and/or employee of the United States Government . . . ."

Gartner informed Prewitt that she was under arrest. In the process of detaining Prewitt, Gartner tackled her, pinned her to the ground, yanked her right arm to handcuff her and, once she was handcuffed, sat on top of her until the Elgin police arrived. As a result, Prewitt sustained several injuries and was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Immediately thereafter, Gartner and Defendant Jim Bushman ("Bushman"), the manager of the SSA Office, complained to the police that Prewitt assaulted Gartner. Although Prewitt was charged with disorderly conduct, the criminal charges were eventually dismissed.

On May 11, 2011, Prewitt filed a complaint against the United States and two federal employees, Parikh and Bushman, asserting claims for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, spoilation of evidence, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process. Prewitt also generally asserts that the United States is liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the conduct of Bushman, Parikh, and Gartner. On October 26, 2011, this Court dismissed Prewitt's claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process, but declined to dismiss Prewitt's emotional distress claims and claim for spoilation of evidence. The Court also dismissed the individual defendants, Parkih and Bushman, and substituted the United States as the sole defendant in this case.

The United States now moves for judgment on the pleadings, requesting that this Court dismiss Prewitt's respondeat superior claim and hold that Prewitt's emotional distress claims cannot be based on Gartner's conduct.

LEGAL STANDARD

Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), 12(h)(2)(B). In ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court only considers the pleadings, which include the complaint, the answer, and any written instruments attached as exhibits. Hous. Auth. Risk Retention Grp., Inc. v. Chi. Hous. Auth., 378 F.3d 596, 600 (7th Cir. 2004). Where a defendant files a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Thomas v. Guardsmark, Inc., 381 F.3d 701, 704 (7th Cir. 2004).

DISCUSSION*fn2

The Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") waives the United States' sovereign immunity for injury caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any federal employee while acting within the scope of his or her employment where the United States, if a private person, would be liable under applicable state tort law. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2679(b)(1). However, Section 2680(h) of the FTCA expressly prohibits tort suits against the United States for "[a]ny claim arising out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, libel, slander, misrepresentation, deceit, or interference with contract rights." 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h).

I. Emotional Distress Claims

The United States argues that Section 2680(h) bars Prewitt's emotional distress claims to the extent such claims arise out of Gartner's alleged assault and battery of Prewitt.*fn3 Section 2680(h) bars claims against the United States arising out of an assault or battery by a federal employee. See Sheridan v. United States, 487 U.S. 392, 400 (1988) (holding that Section 2680(h) only applies to claims otherwise authorized by the basic waiver of sovereign immunity).

The parties dispute whether Gartner was a federal employee, as alleged in the complaint, or an independent contractor, as maintained by the United States. In either case, Prewitt's emotional distress claims cannot be premised on Gartner's conduct. On the one hand, if Gartner was a federal employee, then Section 2680(h) bars the emotional distress claims because the claims arise out of his alleged assault and battery. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2680(h) (prohibiting suit against the United States for claims arising out of an assault or battery by a federal employee). On the other hand, if Gartner was not a federal employee, then the United States cannot be held liable for ...


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