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Court Holds Federal Tort Claim Against BOP Can Proceed in MCC Beating Death

by Kevin Bliss

The United States Southern DistrictCourt of New York ruled that Nicole Morrison could proceed with her claim against the U.S. for its negligence in the death of Roberto Grant while in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), the same prison where Jeffrey Epstein died. “Roberto Grant was beaten to death in an MCC dormitory,” the court ruled.

Grant pleaded guilty to a series of jewelry store heists in August of 2014. Thereafter he told his ex-wife, Morrison, that he was being harassed and physically threatened by guards at MCC. (The suit implied the guards were Lee Plourde and Michael Kearins). Grant was found dead in the dormitory on May 19, 2015. Morrison and Grant’s mother, Crecita Williams, were told he died from a K-2 overdose.

The autopsy report stated that Grant had no narcotics or alcohol in his system but did have a series of lacerations and contusions on his upper body “suggesting blunt force trauma.” Morrison, through attorney Andrew Laufer, filed a $20 million suit alleging Bivens and Federal Tort Claim Act (FTCA) violations against the U.S., the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and Plourde and Kearins.

The Court held that Bivens claims are limited to federal officers in their individual capacity in unreasonable search and seizures, gender discrimination, and inadequate medical treatment. Also, it must be alleged that the defendant was personally involved in the action initiating the complaint. Morrison’s complaint suggested that a cover-up occurred and that Grant was subjected to inadequate medical treatment with deliberate indifference.

The Court held that Plourde’s comment that Grant died from a drug overdose did not automatically indicate a cover-up and that there were no allegations that Grant was deprived of medical attention when needed. Deliberate indifference required actual knowledge of a need and a conscious choice to ignore that need, the Court said. The Court said there was no evidence that Plourde or Kearins was involved in Grant’s death.

It held that Morrison made sufficient claims of negligence against the Government to proceed on the FTCA claim. “Contrary to the government’s assertion, this is not a case involving an ‘unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation,” the opinion said. “Rather, this tragedy had to stem from a cascade of failures and seems like a case where the matter speaks for itself.”  

Referring to the death of Jeffrey Epstein in the same jail, the court observed: “Recently, the death of a high-profile defendant reinvigorated public scrutiny of MCC. The unexplained circumstances surrounding Mr. Grant’s death raise troubling questions about the BOP’s oversight of individuals remanded to its custody. Mr. Grant’s relatives—and the public—have an interest in learning what happened.”

The Court dismissed the Bivens claims against all defendants and the FTCA claims against the BOP and guards, and granted the FTCA claim against the United States. See: Morrison v. United States, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 180738 


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Related legal case

Morrison v. United States