Inmate, afraid of dogs, loses lawsuit over broken leg

By Kyla Asbury | Oct 22, 2013

BLUEFIELD - A lawsuit against the United States of America regarding a 10-month old yellow Labrador Retriever that allegedly chased a prison inmate has been dismissed from federal court.

Tabetha Goforth was an inmate at Federal Prison Camp in Alderson from March 25, 2010, until March 23, 2012. She was convicted and originally sentenced to 70 months by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina for distribution of cocaine base.

The defendant's memorandum in support of motion to dismiss was filed on March 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia at Bluefield.

The defendant believed Goforth's claims were barred by the Discretionary Function Exception to the limited waiver of sovereign immunity provided by the Federal Tort Claims Act.

"Consequently, this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff's case. Defendant moves the court to dismiss this action with prejudice along with such other relief deemed appropriate and just," the defendant's memorandum said.

Drake, the then-10-month-old Labrador Retriever, was one of the dogs involved in the paws4prisons/SlammerDogZ program that allowed inmates the opportunity to interact and work with dogs.

Despite the defendant filing its memorandum in support of motion to dismiss, Goforth did not file any response until Aug. 22 - well past the deadline - and in her response, she "simply states that she 'has no good faith response to make to the defendant's motion to dismiss,'" according to a memorandum opinion and order filed on Oct. 15 by Senior U.S. District Judge David A. Faber.

The "plaintiff's allegations in this matter, whether viewed as challenging the (Bureau of Prisons') decision to place her in the long-term residential unit or the BOP's lack of care in overseeing the dog, are barred by the discretionary function exception to the FTCA," Faber wrote.

"The discretionary function exception is tailor-made for cases such as this one. As such, defendant's motion to dismiss... is granted."

On April 7, 2010, Goforth had recently arrived at the Federal Prison Camp in Alderson and was undergoing intake evaluation and testing, according to a complaint filed Aug. 22, 2012.

Goforth claimed the previous day she had been advised she was being moved to an area in the immediate vicinity of the room in which a dog program called paws4prisons was conducted, and she informed her counselor that she was allergic to and afraid of dogs due to a previous bad experience with a dog and did not desire to be moved.

No action was immediately taken on the matter and on April 7, 2010, Goforth was at her locker when various items had fallen out of it onto the floor. When she was attempting to pick up the items, a dog emerged from the room in which the dog program was being conducted and ran toward her, according to the suit.

Goforth claimed she believed the dog was connected to a retractable leash, although she did not see anyone actually controlling the dog or holding the other end of the leash.

As the dog ran toward her, Goforth got up and attempted to run from it and, in the process, twisted her leg and sustained a fracture of the right tibia and fibula, according to the suit.

Goforth claimed the incident and resulting injuries were the direct and proximate result of the negligence of the defendant, operating by and through its servants, agents or employees, which failed to address her stated concerns about being around dogs and failed to take the proper steps to make certain that dogs inside the prison were properly leashed and restrained.

As a direct and proximate result of the defendant's negligence, Goforth was injured and damaged, according to the suit.

Goforth was seeking compensatory damages not to exceed $200,000. She was being represented by Larry O. Ford of Meyer, Ford, Glasser & Radman PLLC.

The defendant was represented by U.S. Attorney R. Booth Goodwin II and Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Christopher Krivonyak.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia at Bluefield case number: 1:12-cv-4631

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