United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
DAMARCUS FIGGS individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, and DAVID CORBIN individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
GEO GROUP, INC., Defendant.
ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant GEO Group, Inc.'s
(“GEO”) Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a
Claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
(Filing No. 5). On December 13, 2017, Plaintiffs and
proposed class representatives Damarcus Figgs
(“Figgs”) and David Corbin (“Corbin”)
filed a class action complaint in the Henry County Circuit
Court asserting claims against GEO for labor trafficking,
discrimination, cruel and unusual punishment, false
imprisonment, confinement, unjust enrichment, and negligence.
On January 11, 2018, GEO removed the action to this Court.
(Filing No. 1.) GEO filed the instant motion to
dismiss, arguing Figgs, Corbin, and the proposed class fail
to state a claim on which relief can be granted. For the
following reasons, GEO's Motion to Dismiss is
granted in part and denied in part.
following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as
required when reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court
accepts as true all factual allegations in the complaint and
draws all inferences in favor of Figgs, Corbin, and the
proposed class (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) as
the non-movants. See Bielanski v. County of Kane,
550 F.3d 632, 633 (7th Cir. 2008).
a Florida-based international conglomerate and publicly
traded for-profit corporation founded in 2003. (Filing
No. 1-1 at 3.) It knowingly and exclusively for
financial benefit and profit, operates the largest and only
privately-owned state prison in Indiana. Id. GEO has
collected more than $100 million in benefit and value in its
operations concerning the proposed class members (mentally
disabled prisoners). Id.
are, or were, inmates in the “Mental Health Unit”
at New Castle Correctional Facility (“New
Castle”), a prison GEO privately owns and operates in
Henry County Indiana. (Filing No. 1-2 at 4-5.) The
Mental Health Unit is a maximum-security facility that holds
up to 128 mentally disabled and mentally ill prisoners.
Id. at 9. Inmates in the Mental Health Unit engage
in daily labor, performing tasks such as cleaning, completing
reports, and assisting non-disabled employees in their work
maintaining the Mental Health Unit. Id. at 10. GEO
pays inmates in the Mental Health Unit approximately $10.00
per month for their services. Id.
typically “takes possession of any given class members
after they have suffered a serious injury or trauma while
held at a prison facility that is publicly owned and
operated”. (Filing No. 1-2 at 6.) It then
recruits and arranges for proposed class members to be held
at its privately held facility, ostensibly to
“stabilize” the prisoner in a three-month program
not to exceed six months. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs have
been restrained in the Mental Health Unit usually longer than
six months and at times for years, and repeatedly prevented
from transferring from the unit and ceasing labor for GEO.
Id. at 7.
conditions in the Mental Health Unit are poor. GEO isolates
inmates in small rooms for approximately twenty hours per
day. Id. at 11. It retaliates against inmates who
suffer injury or object to the conditions of the Mental
Health Unit by extending their time in isolation.
Id. It promises inmates breaks from their small
rooms, but regularly cancels those breaks. Id. And
it routinely chains and shackles inmates when they are
working outside of their rooms. Id.
make five separate claims in their Complaint: (1) GEO
violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act
(“TVPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1581, 1589,
1590, and 1595 by subjecting the proposed class to peonage,
involuntary servitude, and forced labor; (2) GEO violated
Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal
protection of the laws by discriminating against them without
a reason rationally related to a legitimate government
interest; (3) GEO violated Plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment
right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by
subjecting them to cruel and uncivilized conditions of
confinement; (4) GEO discriminated against proposed class
members due to their mental disabilities in violation of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. § 794a) and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12111); and
(5) GEO committed false imprisonment, confinement, unjust
enrichment, and negligence against the proposed class-torts
under Indiana law. Id. at 12-14. Plaintiffs ask this
Court for preliminary and permanent injunctions transferring
the proposed class out of the Mental Health Unit,
compensatory and punitive damages, treble damages, and legal
costs, attorney fees, and expert witness costs and fees.
Id. at 14. GEO moves to dismiss, arguing the
proposed class's claims are both legally deficient and
unsupported by sufficient factual allegations. (Filing
purpose of a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the
complaint, not the merits of the suit. Triad Assocs.,
Inc. v. Chi. Hous. Auth., 892 F.2d 583, 586 (7th Cir.
1989). The standard for assessing the procedural sufficiency
of pleadings is imposed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
8(a)(2), which requires “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Thus, although the complaint need not recite
“detailed factual allegations, ” it must state
enough facts that, when accepted as true, “state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570
(2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff
pleads facts sufficient for the court to infer that the
defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Ashcroft
v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The
Twombly/Iqbal standard “is not akin to a
‘probability requirement', but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550
U.S. at 556). By comparison, a complaint that merely contains
“labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action” does
not satisfy the factual plausibility standard.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
seeking dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)'s requirement that
the complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted
bears a heavy burden. In making this determination, the court
views the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiffs, accepting all well-pleaded factual allegations as
true and drawing all reasonable inferences from those
allegations in favor of the plaintiffs. Lee v. City of
Chi., 330 F.3d 456, 459 (7th Cir. 2003). The plaintiff
“receives the benefit of imagination” at this
stage “[as] long as the hypotheses are consistent with
the complaint.” Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry
& Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994).
Thus, a complaint should only be dismissed pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6) when “it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim
which would entitle him to relief.” Killingsworth
v. HSBC Bank Nev., N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir.
2007). “To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge . . .
‘the plaintiff must give enough details about the
subject-matter of the case to present a story that holds
together,' and the question the court should ask is
‘could these things have happened, not
did they happen.'” Estate of Davis v.
Wells Fargo Bank, 633 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2011)
(quoting Swanson v. Citibank, N.A., 614 F.3d 400,
404-05 (7th Cir. 2010)) (emphasis in original). Additionally,
the Court may not rely upon evidence and facts outside of
those alleged in the Complaint in ruling on a motion to
initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiffs' have
filed a Motion for Leave to Cite Supplemental Authority in
Support of Their Response in Opposition to Defendant the GEO
Group, Inc.'s 12(B)(6) Motion to Dismiss. (Filing No.
27.) GEO does not oppose that motion (Filing No.
29), and it is therefore granted. The
supplemental authority, Menocal v. GEO Group, Inc.,
882 F.3d 905 (10th Cir. 2018), cert. denied, will be
considered by the Court.
Court will address Plaintiffs' claims in the same order
and grouping the parties do: (1) claims under the TVPA, (2)
constitutional claims, (3) claims under the Americans with
Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, and (4) Indiana tort
Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TPVA), 18 U.S.C.
§§ 1581, 1589, 1590, 1595
Plaintiffs bring three claims under the TVPA of 2000 and
subsequent reauthorizing acts. They allege that GEO has held
them in a condition of peonage, proscribed by 18 U.S.C.
§ 1581; has obtained their labor services by means of
force, threat of force, physical restraint, or threat of
physical restraint, proscribed by 18 U.S.C. § 1589; and
has harbored and transported them for labor or services in
violation of the TVPA, proscribed by 18 U.S.C. § 1590.
18 U.S.C. § 1595 creates a civil cause of action for
victims of violations of the TVPA against their perpetrators.
It also subjects to civil liability any person who
“knowingly benefits, financially or by receiving
anything of value from participation in a venture which that
person knew or should have known has engaged in an act in
violation of this chapter.”
argues all the TVPA claims fail as a matter of law and are
inadequately pled. (Filing No. 6 at 3-10.) GEO
characterizes Plaintiffs' TVPA claim as twofold:
Plaintiffs argue GEO violated the TVPA by “subjecting
Plaintiffs to involuntary servitude-whether framed as peonage
[§ 1581] or forced labor [§1589]-and second, that
GEO intentionally trafficked Plaintiffs to the New Castle
facility for that purpose [§ 1590].” Id.
at 4. GEO argues that inmates are not subjected to
“involuntary servitude” even when they are
required to help clean and maintain prison facilities,
because those tasks are a “civic duty” performed
by detained persons. See, e.g., Channer v. Hall, 112
F.3d 214, (5th Cir. 1997); Bayh v. Sonnenburg, 573
N.E.2d 398, 412 (Ind. 1991). And Plaintiffs' trafficking
claims, GEO argues, are derivative of their forced labor
claims because the TVPA prohibits the trafficking of a person
into involuntary servitude. Id. at 5. Additionally,
GEO argues that it was the Indiana Department of Correction
(“IDOC”), not GEO, who placed Plaintiffs in the
Mental Health Unit at New Castle, and thus GEO cannot be
liable under the TVPA for trafficking Plaintiffs.
also argues Plaintiffs “have not adequately pled facts
that suffice to make their claims plausible.”
Id. at 8. Citing Clyatt v. United States,
197 U.S. 207, 215 (1905), GEO argues to be subject to
peonage, the putative peon must owe a debt, and Plaintiffs
have not alleged that they owed a debt to GEO or IDOC.
Id. at 9. Plaintiffs have alleged no coercion other
than threats of force or punishment that merely amount to an
accurate summation of the adverse consequences the inmates
would suffer under Indiana law if they declined to fulfill
their work responsibilities. Id. at 9-10. GEO
asserts that Plaintiffs' allegation underlying its
trafficking claim merely regurgitates the exact language of
the TVPA. Id. at 10.
response, Plaintiffs reiterate their allegations, which
include that they are forced to work for GEO without wages,
the purpose of that work is to turn a profit for GEO, and
that GEO “obtains [its] persons and labor by scheme of
misrepresentation and deceitfully holding itself out as a
facility that would assist Plaintiffs.” (Filing No.
9 at 9.) Plaintiffs also allege that “the
conditions under which they perform services for [GEO] are
harmful and include long periods of segregation and
isolation, few breaks, and routine shackling.”
Id. Plaintiffs dismiss the notion that GEO's
contract with the state of Indiana immunizes it from
liability under the TVPA. Id. at 10. According to
the Plaintiffs, GEO “presents no new argument in
support of the argument that it is entitled to invoke the
‘civic duty' exception to press Plaintiffs into
service for its own financial profit, ” and, moreover,
that argument “does not go to the adequacy of the
Plaintiffs' pleadings but merely its disagreement with
them.” Id. at 10-11. Plaintiffs argue that
GEO's reliance on cases like Channer and
Sonnenburg is misplaced because those cases consider
claims under the Thirteenth Amendment rather than the TVPA.
Id. at 10. The Court will address each claim in
Peonage - 18 U.S.C. § 1581
18 U.S.C. § 1581(a), “[w]hoever holds or returns
any person to a condition of peonage, or arrests any person
with the intent of placing him in or returning him to a
condition of peonage, shall be fined under this title or
imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” Plaintiffs
seek damages and attorney's fees and costs under 18
U.S.C. § 1595, which allows “[a]n individual who
is a victim of a violation of this chapter [to] bring a civil
action against the perpetrator….” Peonage is
“compulsory service in payment of a debt.”
Bailey v. Alabama, 219 U.S. 219, 242 (1911). To have
committed peonage, the defendant must have
“intentionally held a person against his or her will
and coerced that person to work in order to satisfy a debt by
(1) physical restraint or force, (2) legal coercion, or (3)
threats of legal coercion or physical force.” U.S.
v. Farrell, 563 F.3d 364, 372 (8th Cir. 2009); see
also U.S. v. Sabhnani, 599 F.3d 215, 241 (2d Cir. 2010).
Plaintiffs' Complaint makes the allegation that GEO
forces those housed in the Mental Health Unit to labor in
order to “create financial benefit and value for
itself, ” (Filing No. 1-1 at 6), it does not
allege that Figgs, Corbin, or any of the proposed class
members are forced to work in order to satisfy a debt to GEO.
At one point, the Complaint alleges that “[b]oth Mr.
Figgs and Mr. Corbin have been subjected
to…peonage….” Id. at 8. But that
mere recitation of the language of 18 U.S.C. § 1581 is
insufficient to state a claim for relief. Because Plaintiffs
do not allege that they owe a debt to GEO, an essential
element of the offense of peonage, their motion to dismiss
under 18 U.S.C. § 1581 is granted.
Forced Labor - 18 U.S.C. § 1589
“forced labor” provision of the TVPA was
[e]nacted largely ‘to combat' the
‘transnational crime' of ‘trafficking in