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Inmate not beneficiary of jail housing contract

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 17, 2023

Inmate not beneficiary of jail housing contract

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//February 17, 2023

Where the Culpepper County sheriff and the Piedmont Regional Jail Authority entered a contract under which PRJA would provide housing and medical care to the sheriff’s inmates, appellant inmate is not an intended third-party beneficiary of the contract. Therefore, he lacks standing to obtain a declaration that the sheriff must pay his medical expenses suffered after another inmate assaulted him.


Another inmate assaulted appellant Hubbard, who was injured in the attack. He sued the PRJA in federal court and settled his claim for $340,000. The settlement made Hubbard “‘solely responsible for any federal, state[,] or other taxes or other legal obligations that may be owed as a result of any such payment made by [PRJA] pursuant to the terms of this Agreement.’

“Further, Hubbard released PRJA from any contract or tort claims that could arise from the litigation or surrounding facts.” Hubbard then brought an action against the sheriff, seeking a declaration that the sheriff, not PRJA, was responsible for Hubbard’s medical expenses.

“Hubbard told us at oral argument that obtaining such a declaratory judgment would let him avoid the Commonwealth’s lien for reimbursement of medical expenses, enabling him to enjoy the full benefit of his settlement with PRJA.”


“Hubbard argues that he is an intended third-party beneficiary of the Contract and that ‘the PRJA’s and [Sheriff Jenkins]’s performance under the Contract renders direct benefit to Mr. Hubbard’ as a Culpeper inmate. We disagree. Because Hubbard was not an intended beneficiary under the Contract, he has no standing to pursue his claim.”

Third-party beneficiaries

“The third-party beneficiary doctrine allows a non-party to enforce an interest under a contract if the contract was clearly made for the benefit of that non-party, even if the party is not named in the contract.” …

“[T]he Contract between PRJA and Sheriff Jenkins included certain ‘terms and conditions of the confinement of inmates.’

“Although paragraph 4 does explain that PRJA will provide certain forms of medical care to inmates, nothing in this paragraph describes a clear and defined financial benefit or cost burden being assigned to the Culpeper inmates; it only delineates the costs and responsibility for payment between the two contracting parties.

“‘[A] third person cannot maintain an action upon a contract merely because he would receive a benefit from its performance.’”

‘Ogunde’ does not control

“We disagree with Hubbard that [Ogunde v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 274 Va. 55 (2007)] is controlling. Ogunde filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical-services provider hired by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) to provide medical care to inmates. …

“The Supreme Court ruled that Ogunde qualified as an intended third-party beneficiary because the contract recited ‘that its purpose is to “provide cost effective, quality inmate health care services for up to approximately 6,000 inmates.’” … (emphasis added).

“‘The contract thus “clearly and definitely” indicate[d] that [the contractor] and VDOC intended to provide a benefit to, among others, Ogunde.’ ….

“The Contract here contains no similar recital that benefitting inmates was its express ‘purpose.’

“The absence of such a purpose recital is significant given the Sheriff’s baseline ‘constitutional and statutory duty to provide medical care’ to pretrial detainees and incarcerated inmates in his custody.”

Caselaw and Code § 53.1-126 prohibit “sheriff or jail superintendent from withholding ‘medical treatment … for any … serious medical needs’ of a person in their custody.

“Given the Sheriff’s preexisting legal obligation to provide medical care for inmates in his custody, the contract here did not create any new duty to provide such care. It was not an ‘expression[] of [the Sheriff’s] intent to help’ the inmates; … the duty of care was already there, and the Contract did not augment the care that Hubbard was to receive.

“That the Sheriff contracted with PRJA to house and care for inmates therefore does not suggest that the Contract was intended to confer a benefit on the inmates, rather than determine as between the Sheriff and PRJA how that care would be provided and who would pay for it.

“It does not matter, as the dissent contends, whether the Contract is ambiguous in certain respects, such as whether the Sheriff or PRJA is responsible for paying the particular medical expenses in question.

“Hubbard has the threshold burden to show that the contracting parties ‘clearly and definitely’ intended to confer a benefit upon detainees like Hubbard. …

“Unable to point to a purpose recital like the one in Ogunde, Hubbard has not shown that the Sheriff and PRJA clearly and definitely intended the Contract to confer a benefit directly on the inmates themselves.”

Hubbard has not pleaded “facts sufficient to show that he was an intended third-party beneficiary, rather than an incidental third-party beneficiary.”


Hubbard v. Jenkins, Record No. 0565-22-4, Feb. 7, 2023. CAV (published opinion) (Athey Jr.; Raphael, concurring; Chaney, dissenting). From the Circuit Court of Culpepper County (Potter). Seth Carroll for appellant. Rosalie P. Fessier for appellee. VLW 023-7-068, 45 pp.

VLW 023-7-068

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