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Groover v. Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

July 30, 2018




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant Prisoner Transportation Services, LLC's (“PTS”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. [71] (the “Motion”). The Court has carefully reviewed the Motion, all opposing and supporting materials, the record in this case, the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Jeffrey Emil Groover (“Groover”), filed this action, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, against PTS, U.S. Corrections LLC (“USC”), and John Does 1-100 alleging civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. [36]. In the Amended Complaint, Groover, an inmate at the Butner Low Security Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, North Carolina, alleges that between August 14, 2015 and August 16, 2015, USC transported him from Butner, North Carolina to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in a windowless transport van lacking sufficient ventilation and air conditioning. Id. at. ¶ 6. Groover claims that he was deprived of sleep, water, and refuge from the heat. Id. at ¶ 6. As a result of the purported excessively hot conditions and lack of adequate ventilation in the van, Groover experienced physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as well as a heat stroke. Id. at ¶ 6. According to the Amended Complaint, USC knew of the conditions to which Groover was subjected and failed to take appropriate measures. Id. at ¶ 30. Groover also states that numerous other pretrial detainees that USC and PTS transported suffered similar inhumane conditions and harm as a result of their transportation practices. Id. at. ¶ 28. Groover alleges that these conditions violate his and other pretrial detainees' Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Id. at ¶ 8.

         Significantly, Groover alleges in the Amended Complaint that USC transported him in its van. Id. at ¶ 6. Groover does not claim that PTS was involved in his transportation. Instead, he states that fifteen months after the alleged incident occurred, in November of 2016, the Surface Transportation Board approved PTS' acquisition of USC. Id. at ¶ 16, n. 5. Since November of 2016, Groover claims that USC has operated as a wholly-owned subsidiary of PTS. Id. at ¶ 21. In Count I, Groover, individually, asserts a claim for a violation of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against all Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983. Id. at 24. In Count II, Groover, filed the same claim against Defendants on behalf of the putative class members. Id. at 26.

         At issue now is PTS' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in which PTS requests the entry of final judgment in its favor. ECF No. [71]. In support of the Motion, PTS argues that it is not liable as a matter of law for the actions of USC - the entity that transported Plaintiff. Id. With regard to Count I, PTS argues it did not acquire USC until after the incident occurred and it cannot be directly liable. Id. Further, it cannot be liable for USC's actions as Groover failed to allege facts to pierce the corporate veil or disregard the well-established principle that a parent corporation and its wholly-owned subsidiary are separate and distinct legal entities. Id. at 8. As to Count II, PTS argues that PTS did not transport Groover and did not, therefore, injure Groover. As a result, Groover cannot be a member of the putative class injured by PTS' transportation practices, lacking standing to bring a class action lawsuit against PTS. Id. at 11. In addition, as to PTS' request for judgment on the pleadings regarding the claim for injunctive relief, PTS argues a party cannot seek equitable relief unless it proves “real and immediate harm.” Id. Because Groover's transportation occurred in the past, PTS states that he lacks standing to seek equitable relief and, in any event, the request is now moot.

         In response, Groover denies that his claim against PTS is based on vicarious liability and instead alleges that PTS is directly liable under a successor-in-interest theory of liability. ECF No. [77]. Groover supports this position by alleging that: (1) PTS assumed all of USC's assets and liabilities in the merger; (2) PTS' acquisition of USC constitutes a de facto merger; and (3) as PTS' subsidiary, USC remains a mere continuation of its predecessor business. Id. at 3. As to Count II, Groover claims that PTS is directly liable for his harm and he has, therefore, sufficiently established PTS' Article III standing and membership within the putative class. Id. at 12. Regarding PTS' argument seeking judgment on the pleadings on his request for equitable relief, Groover argues that equitable relief is a remedy, not a claim, and a judgment cannot be entered on a remedy. Even if it could, Groover argues that he has alleged a real and immediate harm of future transportation, satisfying the standing necessary for a claim for injunctive relief.

         In its Reply, PTS refutes Groover's successor-in-interest theory of liability. ECF No. [78]. Specifically, PTS argues that neither Groover's Amended Complaint nor the exhibits he references in his pleading demonstrate that PTS acquired USC's liabilities. Id. at 4. Furthermore, PTS argues that there was no de facto merger between PTS and USC because the exhibits demonstrate PTS' formal acquisition of USC, which in turn made USC the wholly- owned subsidiary of PTS. ECF No. [78-1] at 1. Furthermore, PTS argues that it is not a mere continuation of USC because PTS and USC remain separate, distinct entities independent of one another. Id. at 7.

         While the Motion was pending, Plaintiff sought leave to file supplemental materials in further support of his Response consisting of documents that were recently produced in discovery. See ECF No. [115]. PTS did not object to supplementing the record as such documents were central to Plaintiff's claims against PTS and were undisputed. ECF No. [118] at 1. PTS further argued that such documents “corroborate and further support PTS' position that it is entitled to entry of judgment on the pleadings . . .” Id. The Court thereafter granted Plaintiff leave to file the documents, which were filed under seal. See ECF No. [121] and [123]. The Motion is now ripe for adjudication.


         “After the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A party may move for judgment on the pleadings if there are no material facts in dispute. See Palmer & Cay, Inc. v. Marsh & McLennan Cos., 404 F.3d 1297, 1303 (11th Cir. 2005); Riccard v. Prudential Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 1277, 1291 (11th Cir. 2002). In rendering judgment, a court may consider the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts. Cunningham v. Dist. Attorney's Office for Escambia Cty., 592 F.3d 1237, 1255 (11th Cir. 2010). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Guarino v. Wyeth LLC, 823 F.Supp.2d 1289, 1291 (M.D. Fla. 2011). As such, a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8(a)(2)'s pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). Nor can a complaint rest on ‘“naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (alteration in original)). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Through this lens, the Court considers the instant Motion.


         PTS seeks judgment in its favor on all claims Groover asserts in the Amended Complaint on behalf of himself and the putative class. ECF No. [71]. As explained above, the Motion challenges Plaintiff's claims as to Count I, Count II, and his request for injunctive relief. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         a. ...

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