Springer v. United States, 3:20-CV-3088-B (BH)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
PartiesLINDSEY KENT SPRINGER, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number3:20-CV-3088-B (BH)
Decision Date19 October 2021


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

No. 3:20-CV-3088-B (BH)

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

October 19, 2021

Referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge



Pro se Plaintiff Lindsey Kent Springer (Plaintiff) claims that he was exposed to asbestos and mold while working in a warehouse at the Federal Correctional institution in Seagoville, Texas (FCI-Seagoville), where he was incarcerated. Doc. No. 3 at 1. Plaintiff filed this suit alleging that this exposure, and the Defendants’ subsequent response to the same, violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution; the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 2671-2680; and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. He sues the United States; the Bureau of Prisons (BOP); Mark Christian, the former acting environmental and safety compliance administrator of FCI-Seagoville; and the former assistant warden of FCI-Seagoville, Ernesto Rosales for monetary and injunctive relief. Doc. No. 3 at 1, 3-4.

On March 15, 2021, the United States filed 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, the BOP filed a 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, and the individual defendants filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Doc. Nos. 12, 13, 14.

On August 24, 2021, the Magistrate Judge issued findings, conclusions, and a recommendation (FCR), recommending that Plaintiff’s FTCA and FOIA claims be dismissed for lack


of subject matter jurisdiction and that Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment Bivens claims be dismissed for failure to state a claim. See Doc. No. 31 at 1.

Plaintiff filed objections to the FCR. Doc. No. 32. Defendants filed a response. Doc. No. 33. And Plaintiff filed a reply to the Defendants’ response. Doc. No. 34. Upon de novo review in compliance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court is of the opinion that the Findings and Conclusions of the Magistrate Judge are correct and they are ACCEPTED as the Findings and Conclusions of the Court. The Court addresses Plaintiff’s specific objections below, incorporating by reference the Magistrate Judge’s summary of Plaintiff’s allegations. See Doc. No. 31 at 2-11.

1.The Inmate Accident Compensation Act (IACA), 18 U.S.C. § 4126 bars Plaintiff’s FTCA claim.

The Magistrate Judge found that the IACA covered Plaintiff’s allegations, removing his claims from the scope of the FTCA and the United States’ corresponding waiver of sovereign immunity. See United States v. Demko, 385 U.S. 149, 152 (1966) (finding the FTCA inapplicable when the plaintiff’s claims are encompassed by a comprehensive workers’ compensation scheme like the IACA); see also Block v. N.D. ex rel. Bd. of Univ. & Sch. Lands, 461 U.S. 273, 287 (1983) (“The basic rule of sovereign immunity is that the United States cannot be sued at all without the consent of Congress.”). The IACA authorizes the Federal Prison Industries to compensate inmates “for injuries suffered in any industry or in any work activity in connection with the maintenance or operation of the institution in which the inmates are confined.” 18 U.S.C. § 4126(c). The IACA also authorizes the Attorney General to issue implementing rules and regulations. The IACA regulations “govern the payment of accident compensation, necessitated as the result of work-related injuries, to federal prison inmates or their dependents” and permit the award of compensation “for physical


impairments or death resultant from injuries sustained performing...institutional work assignments involving the operation or maintenance of a federal correctional facility.” 28 C.F.R. § 301.101. Further, the regulations define “work-related injury,” as “any injury, including occupational disease or illness, proximately caused by the actual performance of the inmate’s work assignment.” See 28 C.F.R. § 301.102. But, “[c]ompensation shall not be paid for injuries suffered away from the work location (e.g., while the claimant is going to or leaving work, or going to or coming from lunch outside the work station or area.)” 28 C.F.R. § 301.301(c). Further, 28 C.F.R. § 301.301(d) provides that:

“Injuries sustained by inmate workers willfully or with intent to injure someone else, or injuries suffered in any activity not related to the actual performance of the work assignment are not compensable, and no claim for compensation for such injuries will be approved. Willful violation of rules and regulations may result in denial of compensation for any resulting injury.”

Plaintiff argues that these latter two exceptions apply to remove his asbestos-and-mold-exposure claims from the IACA. He claims that he “trafficked” friable asbestos from the Warehouse to other locations in the prison such that some, if not most, of his asbestos exposure was suffered away from the work location. Plaintiff also claims that products were distributed throughout the prison covered in mold and asbestos. See Doc. No. 32 at 8, 14 (“Though Springer worked at the warehouse from 7:30 to 3:30, this left 16 hours a day Monday through Friday, and all weekend long, that Springer was exposed to friable asbestos and mold outside of the Warehouse.”).

The Court agrees with the Magistrate Judge, however, that Plaintiff’s asbestos and mold exposure is a “work-related” injury for purposes of the IACA because it was “proximately caused by the actual performance of the inmate’s work assignment.” While the specific jurisprudence interpreting proximate cause in the context of the IACA is sparse, the IACA is patterned upon


workers’ compensation schemes throughout the country. See Baynes v. United States, 302 F. App’x 334, 335 (10th Cir. 2008. And generally, in workers’ compensation law “if a claimant’s employment is a substantial factor in the claimant’s injury, then that employment is deemed to be a proximate cause of the injury.” Sapko v. State, 305 Conn. 360, 368, n.6, 44 A.3d 827 (Conn. 2012).

“The substantial-factor test is more permissive than the ‘but-for’ test applied in cases involving only a single possible cause. The but-for test asks whether an injury would have occurred ‘in a hypothetical world absent the defendant’s alleged negligence.’ The substantial-factor test, by contrast, can be satisfied even if the defendant’s negligence is one of several factors that contributed to the injury, and even if the injury would have happened without it.”

Stephens v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 935 F.3d 852, 855 (9th Cir. 2019) (applying Idaho law) (internal citations omitted).

Undoubtedly, and by Plaintiff’s own allegations, his prison employment was a “substantial factor” in his alleged asbestos and mold exposure. For example, he alleges that:

• “...Plaintiff, along with other Federal Prisoners, dismantled Storage 1's shelf system, and Plaintiff alone totally cleaned all foreign substances covering the entire shelf system, resulting in the other Federal Prisoners’ reassembling the shelf system inside the Laundry Department. The substances covering the entire shelf system, were dusty, dry, black chunks, and black smaller substances.”
• “At this point [June 2017], Plaintiff was unaware that Storage 1had an excessive mold problem nor that the substances Plaintiff was handling on an almost daily basis was Cancer Causing Asbestos.”
• “By on or about September 1, 2017, Mr. Freeman emails Executive Staff and Environmental and Safety Compliance Administrator Mark Christian about the continued falling substances in both Storage 1 and 2 for which Plaintiff was constantly having to clean off of all BOP property belonging to FCI Seagoville, the floors, as well as regarding the very strong odor present inside both rooms.”
• “Continuing from December 15, 2017, through September 15, 2018, Plaintiff continued to utilize and frequent both Storage 1 and 2, as a


routine part of Plaintiff’s ongoing job duties continuing to clean, sweep, and breath in dust covering the property, including the black substances present therein.”

Doc. No. 3 at 7, 8, 10, 12 (emphasis added). And Plaintiff’s prison employment was a proximate cause of his asbestos and mold exposure even if, as he seems to suggest, other factors were also proximate causes of that exposure: “[i]njuries that have both work-related and non-work related causes are deemed compensable if the employer’s actions were a ‘substantial factor’ in causing the injury.” Doyon Universal Servs. v. Allen, 999 P.2d 764, 768 (Alaska 2000) (citation omitted). Thus, because Plaintiff’s prison employment was a substantial factor of his asbestos and mold exposure, that exposure was proximately caused by his prison employment and is a “work-related” injury for purposes of the IACA.

And this result squares with other secondary self-exposure cases from around the country in which courts have rejected the argument that an employee’s off-the-clock exposure to a harmful substance, experienced in conjunction with on-the-clock exposure, removes the claim from the workers’ compensation scheme. See Boyer v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 39 F.Supp.3d 1036, 1042 (W.D. Wisc. 2014), on reconsideration in part (Nov. 4, 2014), aff’d sub nom. Pecher v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 859 F.3d 396 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 667 F.2d 908, 918-19 (10th Cir. 1981), rev’d on other grounds, 464 U.S. 238 (1984); Acevedo v. Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., 189 A.D.2d 497, 499, 596 N.Y.S. 68 (N.Y. App. Div. 1993); Swanson v. Simpson Timber Co., No. B244266, 2013 WL 5469261, at *8 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 2, 2013) (unpublished)).

The Court finds Plaintiff’s reliance on subsections c and d of 28 C.F.R. 301.301 unpersuasive. In effect, Plaintiff seeks to treat his asbestos and mold exposure as a divisible injury that can be parsed,...

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