Morris v. United States

Docket NumberCivil Action 1:22-CV-227
Decision Date14 December 2023
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Texas


Pending before the court is Defendant United States of America's (the Government) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Brittany Morris's (Morris) First Amended Complaint (#22), wherein the Government contends that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider Morris's claims. Specifically, the Government avers that the Federal Tort Claims Act's (“FTCA”) discretionary function exception applies to the conduct at issue in this case. Morris filed a response (#23) in opposition to the Government's motion. The Government then filed a reply (#26), and Morris filed a sur-reply (#27). Having considered the motion, the parties' submissions the pleadings, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that, because Morris's complaint relies primarily on a statute-18 U.S.C. § 3603(8)(B)-that, as pleaded, is inapplicable to her case, the Government's motion should be granted in part, and Morris's complaint should be dismissed to the extent that it relies on § 3603(8)(B).

I. Background

The unfortunate events underlying this action relate to Morris's relationship with Rondell Malveaux (“Malveaux”). Malveaux, Morris's ex-boyfriend, has an extensive criminal history, which began at age 14. His criminal activities-relevant to this action-date back to 2010. In June of that year, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Texas returned a one-count Indictment charging Malveaux with illegal receipt of a firearm by a person under indictment, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(n). Three months later, Malveaux pleaded guilty to the one-count Indictment. On March 22, 2011, Malveaux was sentenced to 37 months' imprisonment, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Six weeks later, Malveaux was sentenced in state court for possession of cocaine and aggravated assault against a public servant. Because his state and federal sentences did not run concurrently, Malveaux did not begin his three-year term of supervised release until November 2016. Upon release, Malveaux was supervised by the United States Probation and Pretrial Services Office in the Eastern District of Texas and was assigned to United States Probation Officer Beverly Matt (“Matt”).

Because Malveaux was having difficulty complying with the terms of his release, the conditions of his supervised release were modified, with his consent, to require him to live in a residential reentry facility until November 27, 2019. Near the end of his term of supervised release, on Thursday, August 1, 2019, Malveaux left the reentry facility without authorization-a blatant violation of the conditions of his supervised release. Malveaux called Morris and “ask[ed] her to come pick him up from the reentry facility.” Instead of immediately assisting Malveaux, Morris called Matt and informed her that Malveaux had abandoned the reentry facility and was in violation of the conditions of his supervised release.[1] By the end of her phone call with Morris, Matt had concluded that she should request that a warrant be issued for Malveaux's arrest[2] and assured Morris that one “would issue.” Morris now acknowledges that “Matt was not empowered to issue a warrant” and did not “have authorized discretion to guarantee [that] one would issue.” Nonetheless, at the time, “Morris was not aware of that,” and she “trusted [Matt's] assurance.” The next day, Friday, August 2, Matt filed a petition requesting that a warrant be issued for Malveaux's arrest. No warrant, however, was issued that day, nor was one issued over the weekend.

Soon after Matt assured Morris that a warrant would be issued for Malveaux's arrest, Malveaux began to “harass” Morris. In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 4, 2019, Malveaux broke into Morris's home, and Morris, accompanied by one of her friends, “caught [Malveaux] in the act.” In response, Malveaux “assault[ed] Morris'[s] friend and threaten[ed] to kill Morris.” Malveaux was able to “escape,” and, shortly thereafter, he “called Morris to taunt her that he had stolen $800 and her iPhone.” After contacting both the Beaumont and Port Arthur Police Departments (and informing them of Malveaux's location based upon Morris's “find my iPhone” data), Morris, once again, called Matt.

Morris informed Matt that Malveaux had broken into her home and specifically stated that Malveaux had assaulted her friend, threatened to kill Morris, and that Malveaux's location was “readily accessible.” During this phone call, Morris also told Matt that Malveaux was “high on PCP.” Matt then “promised Morris that a warrant would issue immediately” for Malveaux's arrest and assured Morris that she “was no longer in danger,” was safe at home, and “did not need to go anywhere.” Morris contends that, despite Matt's assurances, Matt did nothing to “bring Malveaux into custody, provide protection to Morris, or ensure a warrant would issue so that other law enforcement . . . could act.” As such, relying on Matt's assurances, “Morris stayed in her home with her young children” in the days following Malveaux's break-in.

Two days later, on Tuesday, August 6, 2019, Malveaux again broke into Morris's home-this time, with a more evil objective. “Malveaux violently assaulted Morris.” He repeatedly stabbed Morris, severing her spinal cord and “breaking the knife blade off in her body.” The attack left Morris paralyzed from the neck down.

Through the FTCA, Morris asserts causes of action for both negligence and negligent undertaking. Throughout her complaint, Morris chiefly relies on 18 U.S.C. § 3603(8)(B) to contend that Matt's actions were negligent. As Morris characterizes it, § 3603(8)(B) states that, no matter the supervisee, a probation officer must “immediately report any violation of the conditions of release to the court and the Attorney General or his designee.” See 18 U.S.C. § 3603(8)(B). In response, the Government contends that this court does not have jurisdiction to hear Morris's claims because § 3603(8)(B)'s directive is not mandatory, and, thus, the FTCA's discretionary function exception applies to Matt's conduct. Morris disagrees and describes § 3603(8)(B)'s directive as mandatory. Yet, both Morris and the Government seem to have overlooked the subpart immediately preceding § 3603(8)(B)-that is, § 3603(8)(A).

II. Analysis
A. Dismissal for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure challenges the subject matter jurisdiction of the federal district court. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., v. Jackson, 587 U.S. ___, 139 S.Ct. 1743, 1746 (2019) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)); accord Cleartrac, L.L.C. v. Lanrick Contractors, L.L.C., 53 F.4th 361, 364 (5th Cir. 2022) (quoting Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 993 (2001)). They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree.” Rasul v. Bush, 542 U.S. 466, 489 (2004) (quoting Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377 (citations omitted)). The court “must presume that a suit lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction rests on the party seeking the federal forum.” Gonzalez v. Limon, 926 F.3d 186, 188 (5th Cir. 2019) (citing Howery, 243 F.3d at 916); accord Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 96 (2010); Cleartrac, L.L.C., 53 F.4th at 364.

“A Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove a plausible set of facts that establish subject-matter jurisdiction.” Davis v. United States, 597 F.3d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 1008 (2010); see Ghedi v. Mayorkas, 16 F.4th 456, 463 (5th Cir. 2021); Young v. Hosemann, 598 F.3d 184, 188 (5th Cir. 2010). In ruling on such a motion, a court may consider (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.”[3] Moore v. Bryant, 853 F.3d 245, 248 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 583 U.S. 996 (2017); see Pickett v. Tex. Tech Univ. Health Scis. Ctr., 37 F.4th 1013, 1019 (5th Cir. 2022) (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 413 (5th Cir. 1981)); Spotts v. United States, 613 F.3d 559, 565 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting St. Tammany Parish v. Fed. Emergency Mgmt. Agency, 556 F.3d 307, 315 (5th Cir. 2009)); Freeman v. United States, 556 F.3d 326, 334 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 558 U.S. 826 (2009). Further, as is the case here, [t]he evaluation of the discretionary function exception . . . should be conducted under the 12(b)(1) standard as long as it does not require resolving disputed facts that overlap with the merits.”[4] Holcombe v. United States, No. SA-18-CV-555-XR, 2021 WL 67217, at *21 (W.D. Tex. Jan. 6, 2021); see, e.g., Lopez, 455 Fed.Appx. at 431 (noting that the district court converted the United States' motion for summary judgment to a Rule 12(b)(1) motion and then “concluded [that] the Appellants could not state a facially plausible negligence claim that arose from a non-discretionary function.”).

B. The FTCA and its Discretionary Function Exception

The United States, as a sovereign, “is immune from suit unless it has expressly waived such immunity and consented to be sued.” Hebert v. United States, 438 F.3d 483, 487 (5th Cir. 2006); see United States v. $4,480,466.16, 942 F.3d 655, 663 (5th Cir. 2019); St....

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