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WHITCRAFT v. TOWNSHIP OF CHERRY HILL

September 30, 1996

MICHELLE K. WHITCRAFT, as individual and as parental guardian for ASHLEY MARIE WHITCRAFT, a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF CHERRY HILL, PATROLMAN KIRK WILLIAMS, and PATROLMAN LOUIS CITERONE, Defendants, Third-Party Plaintiffs, v. KENNEDY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER - CHERRY HILL DIVISION, JOHN DOE (fictitious person), and JANE DOE (fictitious person), Third-Party Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIMANDLE

 SIMANDLE, District Judge:

 Plaintiff, Michelle Whitcraft, has brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state-law provisions, alleging that defendants, the Township of Cherry Hill ("Cherry Hill") and two Cherry Hill police officers, violated plaintiff's civil and constitutional rights. Defendants, in turn, have filed a third-party complaint against Kennedy Memorial Hospital ("Kennedy Memorial"), seeking indemnification or contribution for any judgment against defendants obtained by plaintiff in this case.

 Presently before the Court are a summary judgment motion brought by defendants and a summary judgment motion brought by third-party defendant Kennedy Memorial. As explained more fully herein, defendants' summary judgment motion is granted with respect to plaintiff's § 1983 claims in Counts 1 and 2 because plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that defendants' allegedly unconstitutional conduct was carried out pursuant to a governmental "policy or custom," as required by Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978). Plaintiff's remaining, state-law claims in Counts 3-7 are dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Lastly, because all of plaintiff's claims against defendants are dismissed, the summary judgment motion brought by third-party defendant Kennedy Memorial is dismissed as moot.

 Background

 On February 27, 1994, at 10:14 p.m., the Cherry Hill Police Department received a phone call from Peter Brice. Brice informed the dispatcher that he had telephoned his former girlfriend, plaintiff Michelle Whitcraft, at her parents' home and found her to be extremely intoxicated and essentially incoherent. Brice explained to the dispatcher that he was concerned for the welfare of plaintiff's five-year-old daughter, Ashley, because Ashley and plaintiff were alone in the house. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. E, transcript of Brice report to police at 1-3).

 In response to Brice's call, defendant patrolman Kirk Williams and defendant patrolman Louis Citerone were sent to the Whitcraft residence. The dispatcher instructed the officers to check on the well-being of Ashley and her possibly intoxicated mother. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. E, call dispatch at 3-4).

 Upon arriving at the Whitcraft residence, the officers knocked on the front door and received no response. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. B, Citerone deposition at 14-15). Noticing that the lights were on throughout the house, the officers yelled "hello" and "police department" in an attempt to gain the attention of any occupants of the house. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 20-21). After again receiving no response, the officers opened the unlocked front door and entered the premises, continuing to announce their presence. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. B, Citerone deposition at 15-17).

 As they entered the house, the officers could hear sound coming from a television set. (Id. at 16-17). However, when the officers walked over to the television set, they saw that no one was watching it. (Id. at 20). Eventually, the officers walked up the stairs to the second floor of the house and came upon young Ashley, who led the officers into a bedroom in which plaintiff was lying on a bed on top of the blankets. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 30). Plaintiff's eyes were shut, but she was fully clothed. (Id. at 30-31). The officers were not sure whether plaintiff was sleeping. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. B, Citerone deposition at 24).

 The officers called out plaintiff's name. When plaintiff did not reply, the officers tugged at her ankle and she appeared to awaken. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 32). She opened her eyes and tried to get up from the bed, but nearly fell during her attempt. (Id. at 32-33). The officers detected a strong smell of alcoholic beverages, and when they questioned plaintiff, she appeared to be physically unable to answer. (Id. at 33). Although plaintiff sporadically mumbled in an incoherent manner, for the most part she failed to acknowledge the presence of the officers. (Id. at 33-35). She had difficulty walking without assistance, and eventually fell to the floor and began to bang her head on the floor and punch herself. (Id. at 34-36). Officer Williams called for an ambulance, explaining to the dispatcher that an ambulance was needed for a drunk person who also appeared to be emotionally disturbed. (Id. at 53).

 Officer Williams and Officer Citerone both claim to have heard plaintiff tell the arriving medical personnel that she needed "help." (Id. at 97; Ganiaris Aff., Ex. B, Citerone deposition at 43). However, plaintiff does not recall giving her consent to be taken to a hospital, and when the medical team attempted to place plaintiff on a stretcher she kicked in protest. (Df. Br., Ex. C, Whitcraft deposition at 98; Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 96). Eventually the police officers aided the medical team and secured plaintiff to the stretcher through the use of handcuffs. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 96).

 Plaintiff was taken to the Steininger Center, a crisis center affiliated with Kennedy Memorial. A Steininger staff member determined that plaintiff's blood alcohol content was 0.28%. (Df. Br., Ex. D, Wyatt Affidavit at 2). *fn1" Plaintiff was medicated and kept in restraints due to her violent behavior. (Df. Br., Ex. F, Medical Reports). She stayed at the hospital overnight and was released the following morning.

 Plaintiff alleges that the medication given to her during her stay at the hospital caused harmful side effects, including dizziness, disorientation, and an inability to control the muscles in her jaw. (Compl. at 5). Plaintiff subsequently received medical treatment for those side effects. (Whitcraft Aff., Ex. C, medical bills).

 While plaintiff was being taken to the Steininger Center, the Cherry Hill Police Department attempted to make arrangements for the care of plaintiff's daughter, Ashley. Neither Ashley nor Peter Brice was able to provide the police with the phone numbers of any of Ashley's relatives. (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. A, Williams deposition at 41, 94). Thus, when Brice himself volunteered to care for Ashley for the night and Ashley expressed joy in response to that idea, the police released Ashley into Brice's custody. (Id. at 94-95).

 Following her release from the hospital, plaintiff contacted the police to regain custody of Ashley. The police informed plaintiff that the matter had been referred to the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"). (Ganiaris Aff., Ex. C, Schofield deposition at 32). After making a number of phone calls to DYFS, plaintiff ultimately learned that she was permitted to proceed to Brice's residence to pick up Ashley. (Df. Rep. Br., Ex. A, Whitcraft deposition at 90). According to plaintiff, when she arrived at Brice's residence, Brice was intoxicated and belligerent, and resisted plaintiff's attempts to retrieve her child. (Compl. at 10-11). However, soon thereafter a Cherry Hill police officer arrived and facilitated the transfer of Ashley back to plaintiff. (Id. at 11). Although plaintiff alleges that Brice had battered plaintiff on previous occasions, plaintiff does not contend that she or Ashley was physically harmed as a result of Ashley's stay with Brice. (Df. Br., Ex. C, Whitcraft deposition at 66-67).

 Plaintiff brought suit against Cherry Hill and patrolmen Williams and Citerone. The individual defendants were sued in their official capacity only. (Df. Br., Ex. J, letter from T. Ganiaris, Esq.). Plaintiff alleged that the Cherry Hill police entered plaintiff's home, detained plaintiff, and separated plaintiff from her daughter in violation of both state and federal law. Because plaintiff sought from defendants damages stemming from allegedly improper treatment that plaintiff received while at Kennedy Memorial, defendants filed a third-party complaint against the hospital and two of its employees.

 In their summary judgment motion, defendants argue that they did not violate plaintiff's federal constitutional rights and that plaintiff's § 1983 claims are therefore without merit. Defendants argue in the alternative that plaintiff's § 1983 suit should be dismissed because plaintiff is unable to establish that plaintiff's injuries were caused by the execution of governmental "policy or custom," as required by Monell, 436 U.S. 658, 694, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978). Lastly, defendants contend that if this Court dismisses plaintiff's § 1983 claims, it should decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state-law causes of action.

 Discussion

 I. Summary Judgment ...


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