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Figgs v. Geo Group, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 29, 2019

DAMARCUS FIGGS individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, and DAVID CORBIN individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
GEO GROUP, INC., Defendant.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The 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).

         GEO is 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.

         Plaintiffs 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.

         GEO 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.

         The 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.

         Plaintiffs 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 No. 5).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The 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.

         A party 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 dismiss.

         III. DISCUSSION

         As an 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.

         The 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 claims.

         A. 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.

         Title 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.”

         GEO 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.

         GEO 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.

         In 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 turn.

         1. Peonage - 18 U.S.C. § 1581

         Under 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).

         While 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.

         2. Forced Labor - 18 U.S.C. § 1589

         The “forced labor” provision of the TVPA was [e]nacted largely ‘to combat' the ‘transnational crime' of ‘trafficking in persons, ...


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