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SNYDER v. BAUMECKER

March 23, 1989

BERTHA SNYDER, as Administratrix ad Prosequendum for the heirs-at-law of JOSEPH EDWARD BURKE, deceased; as Administratrix of the Estate of JOSEPH EDWARD BURKE, and individually, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER BAUMECKER; COUNTY OF HUNTERDON; STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; CARL FRICK; JOHN DOE; BRUCE BAKER; ALAN WILLIAMSON; and WILLIAM C. BUCHANAN, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FISHER

 On July 16, 1986, Joseph Burke was incarcerated on charges of motor vehicle and traffic law violations at the Hunterdon County Jail in Flemington, New Jersey. On August 11, 1986, an appearance and a not guilty plea were entered on Burke's behalf by his court-appointed attorney, William Buchanan. Burke remained in custody pending the posting of bail. Shortly thereafter, Burke became severely depressed and exhibited abnormal and potentially self-destructive behavior. As a result, he was placed under the care of a psychiatrist, segregated from the general population and ultimately placed on a 30-minute watch. Despite the segregation and close supervision by correction officers at the Hunterdon County Jail, Burke attempted suicide on October 5, 1986, and remained comatose until his death, on October 21, 1986, at the Hunterdon Medical Center.

 Plaintiff, Bertha Snyder, as the Administratrix ad Prosequendum for the heirs-at-law of Joseph Burke and the Administratrix of the Estate of Joseph Burke, instituted this action on September 6, 1988. The complaint names the following defendants: Peter Baumecker, M.D., the psychiatrist who treated the deceased during his incarceration; William Buchanan, the attorney appointed to represent the deceased; the Department of Corrections of the State of New Jersey (the "Corrections Department"); the County of Hunterdon; Carl Frick, Warden of the Hunterdon County Jail; and Bruce Baker and Alan Williamson, corrections officers at the Hunterdon County Jail (the "County defendants"). *fn1" In short, the complaint alleges that the decedent's injuries and ultimate death were the direct result of the defendants' negligent supervision and deliberate and callous indifference to his medical needs. As Administratrix, on behalf of the estate and heirs-at-law of Joseph Burke, plaintiff asserts a civil rights claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pendent state law claims grounded in negligence, and medical and legal malpractice claims, as well as a claim on her own behalf for the intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress suffered as the result of observing the decedent's bodily injuries.

 Presently before the court are several motions, filed by the defendants, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, the Corrections Department asserts eleventh amendment immunity as an agency of the State of New Jersey. The County defendants contend that the complaint fails to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, thus stripping this court of jurisdiction to hear the pendent state law claims. *fn2" Defendant William Buchanan also asserts that the allegations of the complaint fail to state a claim against him under negligence or legal malpractice. In response, plaintiff has filed a cross-motion seeking to amend the complaint to name William H. Fauver, Commissioner of the Corrections Department, as a party defendant; to request prospective injunctive relief; and to allege diversity jurisdiction. The court will address each of these motions in order.

 Standard of Review

 In ruling upon a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the factual allegations in the pleadings are to be accepted as true, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 99, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976), and any reasonable inferences which can be drawn therefrom should be viewed in a light most favorable to the pleader. District Council 47, Am. Fed'n of State, County and Mun. Employees v. Bradley, 795 F.2d 310, 313 (3d Cir. 1986). The claim should be dismissed only if "it appears beyond doubt that the [pleader] can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-6, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 444 (3d Cir. 1977), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 1086, 55 L. Ed. 2d 791, 98 S. Ct. 1280 (1978).

 Generally, pleadings are construed liberally. District Council 47, supra. In Scheuer v. Rhodes, the United States Supreme Court set forth the limits of a review of the adequacy of a pleading under Rule 12(b)(6):

 
When a federal court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint, before the reception of any evidence either by affidavit or admissions, its task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed, it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely but that is not the test. Moreover, it is well established that, in passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader.

 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974). Furthermore, dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is disfavored by the courts, and the burden of showing that no claim has been stated is on the moving party. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). It is from this premise that the court begins addressing the movants' challenge to the sufficiency of plaintiff's complaint.

 The Corrections Department's Motion to Dismiss

 The Corrections Department asserts that the eleventh amendment cloaks a state and its agencies with immunity from suit in federal court. Since the State of New Jersey has not provided its consent to suit for itself or its agencies, the Corrections Department seeks dismissal of the claims alleged against it in the complaint, as well as all crossclaims for indemnification asserted against it by codefendants Peter Baumecker and the County defendants.

 The eleventh amendment to the United States Constitution states:

 
The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

 The eleventh amendment acts as a constitutional limitation on a federal court's power to entertain an action brought by private parties against an unconsenting state. Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury of Indiana, 323 U.S. 459, 464, 89 L. Ed. 389, 65 S. Ct. 347 (1945). Although the language of the eleventh amendment explicitly covers only suits commenced against a state by citizens of another state or country, it has been extended to encompass actions instituted in federal court against a state by its own citizens. Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15, 33 L. Ed. 842, 10 S. Ct. 504 (1890); Spicer v. Hilton, 618 F.2d 232, 235-36 (3d Cir. 1980). It is now well settled that, absent a clear waiver by a state of its eleventh-amendment immunity or a proper congressional abrogation of that immunity, a federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear claims brought by an individual against a state. Pennhurst State School and Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984).

 In Edelman v. Jordan, the United States Supreme Court held that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was not intended to abrogate the traditional sovereign immunity of the states. 415 U.S. 651, 676-77, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662, 94 S. Ct. 1347 (1974); see also Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341, 59 L. Ed. 2d 358, 99 S. Ct. 1139 (1979); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782, 57 L. Ed. 2d 1114, 98 S. Ct. 3057 (1978); Skehan v. Board of Trustees, 590 F.2d 470, 488-91 (3d Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 832, 62 L. Ed. 2d 41, 100 S. Ct. 61 (1979) (Skehan III). Thus, absent a state's consent, the eleventh amendment bars a civil rights suit in federal court which directly names the state as a defendant. Id.; Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d 23, 25 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 886, 83 L. Ed. 2d 196, 105 S. Ct. 260 (1984). This jurisdictional bar applies regardless of whether the relief sought against a state is monetary or injunctive in nature. Pennhurst State School and Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. at 100; Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85, 91, 72 L. Ed. 2d 694, 102 S. Ct. 2325 (1982); Alabama v. Pugh, supra; Spicer v. Hilton, 618 F.2d at 236-38.

 The eleventh amendment's bar also extends to suits brought against departments or agencies of the state. Mount Healthy City Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471, 97 S. Ct. 568 (1977); Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 661 F.2d at 25. At issue is whether the Corrections Department is, in actuality, the alter ego of the State of New Jersey such that the state is the real party in interest when claims are asserted against it. Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury of Indiana, 323 U.S. at 464.

 Plaintiff does not contest the above characterization of the Corrections Department as a state agency entitled to the protection provided by the eleventh amendment against suits of this kind in federal court. In fact, plaintiff concedes that "the position taken by the Department of Corrections is compelling [and that] the eleventh amendment may bar a suit of this nature against a state agency in federal court." (See Pl. Letter Brief in Opposition to the Motions to Dismiss at 6.) Instead, plaintiff seeks leave to amend her complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a), to add William H. Fauver, the Commissioner of Corrections, as a party defendant, both individually and in his official capacity, and to request prospective injunctive relief.

 The Corrections Department opposes plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, first, on the ground that the facts of this case fail to provide the court with the necessary "case or controversy" to issue a prospective injunction against a possible future harm to someone other than plaintiff. The second ground asserted by the Corrections Department is that the statute of limitations has expired, and the relation-back doctrine, provided for by Rule 15(c), is inapplicable because Commissioner Fauver did not have notice within the applicable statute-of-limitations period. Because the court agrees that plaintiff lacks standing to seek prospective injunctive relief, plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to request this relief is denied. The court thus finds it unnecessary to reach the statute-of-limitations issue.

 Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in relevant part:

 
(a) Amendments. A party may amend the party's pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served . . . . Otherwise a party may amend the party's pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires.

 Thus, under Rule 15(a), a complaint may be amended only once as a matter of right, prior to the filing of an answer, and afterward only by leave of the court. Adams v. Gould, Inc., 739 F.2d 858, 864 (3d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1122, 83 L. Ed. 2d 799, 105 S. Ct. 806 (1985). Whether to allow an amendment rests within the sound discretion of the district court; however, the court's discretion is circumscribed by the liberal amendment philosophy behind the rule. Adams v. Gould, Inc., supra; ...


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