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DOE v. DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERV.

June 25, 2001

JANE DOE AND BABY DOE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, ANDREA YOUNG, CATHEE CHICHESTER, PEGGY MCHALE, KEITH WEINBERG, MARY ANN ST. JOHN, CAPITAL HEALTH SYSTEM, INC., EVELYN POTAKO, JOANNE DIX, BETTY BENNETT, MARIETTA CAHILL,: PAUL LOEB, M.D., AND STEPHEN MOFFITT, M.D., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brown, District Judge

                OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion to dismiss of the defendants Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS"), Andrea Young, Cathee Chichester, Peggy McHale, Keith Weinberg and Mary Ann St. John (collectively, the "State Defendants"); upon the motion for judgment on the pleadings of the defendants Capital Health System, Inc. ("Capital Health" or "Capital Health Systems"), Evelyn Potako, Joanne Dix, Betty Bennett and Marietta Cahill (collectively the "Capital Health Defendants"); upon the motion to dismiss of the defendant Stephen Moffitt, M.D.; and upon the motion of the plaintiffs for leave to file an amended complaint. The Court has jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1343(a) and supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). For the reasons discussed below, the defendants' motions to dismiss and for judgment on the pleadings are granted in part and denied in part, and the plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend the complaint is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Allegations of the Complaint

The plaintiff, Jane Doe,*fn1 alleges in her complaint that in February 1998 she began prenatal treatment at the Health Start Prenatal Program at Capital Health System. See Complaint at ¶ 20. On February 9, 1998, Jane Doe signed a written consent to random urine screening for drugs and HIV testing of her blood. See id. at ¶¶ 21-22. At no time during her pregnancy did the plaintiff's urine test positive for drugs. See id. at ¶ 23.

On October 1, 1998, Jane Doe experienced labor pains and went to Capital Health, but was told to return home as she was not yet ready to deliver. See id. at ¶ 45. While at home, the plaintiff took Tylenol with codeine to ease her pain, but the pain persisted and the plaintiff returned to the hospital. See id. at ¶¶ 46-47. The plaintiff alleges that upon her return to the hospital, defendant Paul Loeb, M.D., "openly discussed her HIV status and the administering of AZT during labor and delivery in front of the plaintiff's family, who prior to that time had been unaware of her HIV status. See id. at ¶¶ 48 and 58. The plaintiff refused AZT, Loeb notified the plaintiff that he would not participate in the delivery, and the plaintiff again was sent home. See id. at ¶¶ 49-50. However, before the plaintiff left the hospital, her water broke and she was admitted to the hospital. See id. at ¶ 51. The plaintiff alleges that she repeatedly asked for pain medication, but refused intravenous medication, and was denied the medication my hospital staff. See id. at ¶¶ 52-54. According to the plaintiff, AZT must be administered intravenously to pregnant women during delivery. See id. at ¶ 55.

On October 2, 1998, Jane Doe gave birth to a baby girl, Baby Doe. See id. at ¶ 56. The plaintiff alleges that after the birth, defendant Stephen Moffitt, M.D., openly discussed Jane Doe's HIV status in front of her family, and notified the plaintiff of the recommended AZT protocol for Baby Doe. See id. at ¶¶ 57-59. Jane Doe refused to permit the hospital staff to administer the recommended protocol to Baby Doe. See id. at ¶ 59.

The plaintiffs allege that defendants Evelyn Potako and Joanne Dix contacted DYFS and reported that Jane Doe had tested HIV-positive and had refused the recommended AZT protocol. See id. at ¶¶ 60-63. Thereafter, the hospital placed Baby Doe in protective custody and defendant Keith Weinberg served the plaintiff with a "hospital hold." See id. at ¶ 65. DYFS later obtained a court order that granted emergent medical guardianship over Baby Doe to Capital Health. See id. at ¶ 66. Later that day, Jane Doe signed herself out of the hospital and was prevented from taking Baby Doe home with her by hospital security and the Trenton Police Department. See id. at ¶¶ 67-69. Capital Health personnel performed laboratory tests on Baby Doe and administered the AZT protocol while she was in their custody. See id. at ¶¶ 70 and 72. On October 7, 1998, the hospital notified Jane Doe that the meconium screening performed on Baby Doe tested positive for opiates. See id. at ¶ 73. On October 8, 1998, a laboratory test indicated that Baby Doe tested positive for HIV exposure. See id. at ¶ 77. On October 12, 1998, Jane Doe consented to a urine test, which tested negative for drugs. See id. at ¶ 79. A subsequent confirmatory test of Baby Doe's meconium tested negative for opiates. See id. at ¶ 96.

On October 16, 1998, pursuant to a court order, Baby Doe was returned to the care and custody of Jane Doe with mandatory in-home visitation by DYFS. See id. at ¶ 81. Jane Doe was instructed by DYFS that she was to administer AZT to Baby Doe. See id. at ¶ 82. On or about February 22, 1999, Jane Doe notified defendant Andrea Young that she had stopped administering AZT to Baby Doe because the medication was making the child ill. See id. at ¶ 86. DYFS filed a motion for temporary custody and accused Jane Doe of abuse and neglect. See id. at ¶ 87. On February 24, 1999, the Honorable Gerald J. Council, J.S.C., ordered that Baby Doe submit to medical treatment at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. See id. at ¶ 88.

On March 18, 1999, a diagnostic HIV DNA PCR test was performed on Baby Doe at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, which indicated that Baby Doe was negative for HIV infection. See id. at ¶ 89. Accordingly, medical personnel decided that further treatment was unnecessary and Jane Doe was advised that there was no need to bring Baby Doe for additional scheduled AZT treatments. See id. at ¶¶ 90-91.

On April 21, 1999, Yong filed an affidavit with a court accusing the plaintiff of being drug involved at the time of Baby Doe's birth based on Baby Doe's meconium testing positive for opiates. See id. at ¶ 92. At an August 4, 1999 hearing, Jane Doe presented evidence that she was not drug involved and that the meconium screening test was inaccurate. See id. at ¶¶ 94-96. The Honorable Laurence Lerner, J.S.C., dismissed the DYFS complaint against the plaintiff. See id. at ¶ 97. There is no allegation in the complaint that Jane Doe and Baby Doe ever had any further involvement with either the State Defendants or the Capital Health Defendants.

B. Procedural History

On June 28, 2000, the plaintiffs filed an eleven-count complaint in this Court against the defendants. The plaintiffs assert various statutory and common law claims against non-state actors in Counts I-IV of their complaint. In Count I, the plaintiffs assert a cause of action against Capital Health Systems, Potako and Loeb under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181, et seq. (the "ADA"). In Count II, the plaintiffs assert a cause of action against Capital Health Systems, Potako and Loeb under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-1, et seq. ("NJLAD"). In Count III, the plaintiffs assert a cause of action against Capital Health System, Bennett, Potako, Dix and Moffitt under the New Jersey Aids Assistance Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 26:5C-1, et seq. ("NJAAA"). The plaintiffs assert a cause of action for common law tortious interference with parental rights against Capital Health Systems, Potako and Dix in Count IV of the complaint.

The plaintiffs seek in their prayer for relief a declaration that the defendants violated the plaintiffs' rights under the United States Constitution, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, the New Jersey Constitution, NJLAD and the NJAAA. Additionally, the plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive money damages, attorneys fees and costs.*fn2

In November and December 2000, all of the defendants except Loeb moved to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings. Apparently in response to the State Defendants' Eleventh Amendment argument, the plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to amend their complaint to "name Charles Venti, the Director of the Division of Youth and Family Services, in his official capacity, as a defendant, name the other DYFS Defendants in their official capacit[ies], and to add a prayer for relief seeking an injunction against future enforcement of DYFS's policy of seizing newborns based solely on a mother's HIV status and her refusal to administer AZT to the baby." Plaintiffs' Brief in Support of Motion to Amend Complaint at 1.

C. Claims Against the Individual Defendants

The plaintiffs have asserted different legal claims against the various individual defendants based on their involvement with the plaintiffs. Thus, the Court must identify the specific factual allegations and legal claims asserted against each individual defendant.

1. DYFS

Generally, the plaintiffs allege that DYFS became involved with them on or about October 2, 1998 after the birth of Baby Doe when the agency was contacted by Capital Health personnel about Jane Doe's refusal to permit the hospital to administer AZT to Baby Doe. The plaintiffs allege that DYFS violated the plaintiffs' rights when it went to court and obtained orders permitting the hospital to treat Baby Doe notwithstanding Jane Doe refusing consent. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that DYFS falsely charged Jane Doe with child abuse and neglect based on the first meconium screening's positive test for opiates.

The plaintiffs assert that DYFS's conduct and policies violated the plaintiffs' substantive due process rights to privacy and familial relations, violated the Rehabilitation Act, violated the ADA, violated NJLAD, and violated the New Jersey Constitution. The plaintiffs also assert common law causes of action against DYFS for failure to investigate and for negligence.

The plaintiffs seek in their complaint both money damages and declaratory relief against DYFS.

2. Andrea Young

The plaintiffs allege that Andrea Young was the case manager involved with the plaintiffs' case, and that Young filed a false affidavit in state court charging Jane Doe with being drug involved during her pregnancy. See Complaint at ¶¶ 8 and 83. The complaint does not specify whether Young is being sued in her individual or official capacity.

The plaintiffs assert causes of action against Young under the Rehabilitation Act, the ADA, NJLAD, and for state common law failure to investigate and negligence.

3. Cathee Chichester

The plaintiffs allege that Chichester "was, at all times material, a supervisor employed by Defendant DYFS." Id. at ¶ 9. This is the only mention of Chichester in the complaint. The complaint does not indicate whether Chichester is sued in her individual or official capacity, does not assert any particular legal claim against Chichester, and does not allege that Chichester had any direct involvement with the plaintiffs or that Chichester was responsible for DYFS policymaking that affected the plaintiffs.

4. Peggy McHale

The plaintiffs allege that McHale "was, at all times material, the district office manager employed by Defendant DYFS." Id. at ¶ 10. This is the only mention of McHale in the complaint. The complaint does not indicate whether McHale is sued in her individual or official capacity, does not assert any particular legal claim against McHale, and does not allege that McHale had any direct involvement with the plaintiffs or that McHale was responsible for DYFS policymaking that affected the plaintiffs.

5. Keith Weinberg

The plaintiffs allege that Weinberg was a caseworker employed by DYFS and that he served Jane Doe with a "hospital hold" on or about October 2, 1998, which she refused to sign. See id. at ¶¶ 11 and 65. This is the only mention of Weinberg in the complaint. The complaint does not indicate whether Weinberg is sued in his individual or official capacity, does not assert any particular legal claim against Weinberg, and does not allege that Weinberg had any direct involvement with the plaintiffs other than serving a document on Jane Doe on October 2, 1998, or allege that Weinberg was responsible for DYFS policymaking that affected the plaintiffs.

6. Mary Ann St. John

The plaintiffs allege that St. John "was, at all times material, a caseworker employed by Defendant DYFS." Id. at ¶ 12. This is the only mention of St. John in the complaint. The complaint does not indicate whether St. John is sued in her individual or official capacity, does not assert any particular legal claim against St. John, and does not allege that St. John had any direct involvement with the plaintiffs, or allege that St. John was responsible for DYFS policymaking that affected the plaintiffs.

7. Capital Health Systems

Generally, the plaintiffs allege that Capital Health provided Jane Doe with prenatal care beginning in February 1998, and that it violated the plaintiffs' rights when its employees tested Jane Doe's blood for HIV even though she had withdrawn her consent to be tested, disclosed to the plaintiffs' family and DYFS that the plaintiff was HIV positive, and disclosed to DYFS that Baby Doe's meconium tested positive for opiates.

The plaintiffs assert causes of action against Capital Health under the ADA, NJLAD, NJAAA and for common law tortious interference with parental rights.

8. Evelyn Potako

The plaintiffs allege that Potako was employed as a nurse by Capital Health Systems. See id. at ¶ 14. The plaintiffs further allege that Potako contacted DYFS on or about October 2, 1998 and informed DYFS that Jane Doe was HIV positive and that she had refused consent to have the hospital treat Baby Doe. See id. at ¶¶ 60 and 62.

The plaintiffs assert claims against Potako under the ADA, NJLAD, NJAAA and for tortious interference with parental rights.

9. Joanne Dix

The plaintiffs allege that Dix is a social worker employed by Capital Health Systems. See id. at ¶ 15. The plaintiffs further allege that on or about October 2, 1998 Dix contacted DYFS and disclosed that Jane Doe tested HIV positive. See id. at ¶ 61.

The plaintiffs assert claims against Dix under NJAAA and for tortious interference with parental rights.

10. Betty Bennett

The plaintiffs allege that Bennett is an employee of Capital Health Systems who caused Jane Doe's blood to be tested for HIV notwithstanding the fact that Doe had withdrawn her consent to be tested. See id. at ¶¶ 16 and 35.

The plaintiffs assert claims against Bennett under NJAAA only.

11. Marietta Cahill

The plaintiffs allege that Cahill is a "nurse/midwife" employed by Capital Health Systems. See id. at ¶ 17. This is the only mention of Cahill in the complaint. The plaintiffs do not assert any particular legal claim against Cahill, and do not allege that Cahill had any involvement with the plaintiffs or DYFS.

12. Paul Loeb, M.D.

The plaintiffs allege that Dr. Loeb was a doctor employed by Capital Health Systems, who disclosed to the plaintiffs' relatives that Jane Doe was HIV positive and refused to deliver Baby Doe after Jane Doe refused intravenous AZT treatment. See id. at ¶¶ 18, 48-49.

The plaintiffs assert claims against Dr. Loeb under the ADA, NJLAD and NJAAA. Dr. Loeb is the only defendant who has not filed a dispositive motion.

13. Stephen Moffitt, M.D.

The plaintiffs allege that Dr. Moffitt was employed by Capital Health Systems, and that he openly discussed Jane Doe's HIV status in front of her relatives. See id. at ¶¶ 19 and 57.

The plaintiffs assert a claim against Dr. Moffitt under NJAAA only.

II. DISCUSSION

The Court will first address the plaintiffs' motion seeking leave to file an amended complaint and then turn to the defendants' respective motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings.

A. Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint

1. Rule 15 Standard Governing Leave to Amend

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a party may amend his pleading once before a responsive pleading is served, or thereafter upon leave of court or on consent from his adversary. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). The rule states that "leave should be freely given when justice so provides." Id. The decision whether to grant leave to amend rests with the sound discretion of the trial judge and will be overturned on appeal only upon a finding of abuse of discretion. See Oran v. Stafford, 226 F.3d 275, 291 (3d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted); Rolo v. City Investing Co. Liquidating Trust, 155 F.3d 644, 654 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Howze v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., 750 F.2d 1208, 1212 (3d Cir. 1984)). Additionally, leave can be granted at any time during the litigation, even after judgment or on appeal. See 6 C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 1488 (West 1990). "If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178 (1962).

The Third Circuit has adopted a particularly liberal approach to the amendment of pleadings to ensure that "a particular claim will be decided on the merits rather than on technicalities." Dole Arco Chemical Co., 921 F.2d 484, 486-87 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing 6 C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 1471 (West 1990)). However, the allowance should not be automatic. See Dover Steel Co., Inc. v. Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., 151 F.R.D. 570, 574 (D.N.J. 1993). Leave should be granted absent a showing of "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of the allowance of the amendment, futility of amendment, etc." Foman, 371 U.S. at 182. See also Oran, 226 F.3d at 291; Heyl & Patterson Int'l, Inc. v. F.D. Rich Housing of the Virgin Islands, Inc., 663 F.2d 419, 425 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied sub nom., F.D. Rich Housing of the Virgin Islands v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 455 U.S. 1018 (1982). "Futility of amendment is shown when the claim or defense is not accompanied by a showing of plausibility sufficient to present a triable issue." Harrison Beverage, 133 F.R.D. at 468 (internal quotations omitted). See also Gasoline Sales, Inc. v. Aero Oil Co., 39 F.3d 70, 74 (3d Cir. 1994); Reaves v. Sielaff, 382 F. Supp. 472, 474-75 (E.D.Pa. 1977) (denying leave to amend because plaintiff did not have standing to litigate amended claims for injunctive relief). Futility of amendment means that the complaint as amended does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997). If the amendment would not withstand a motion to dismiss, leave must be denied. See Miller, 844 F. Supp. at 1001; see also Fishbein Family P'ship v. PPG Indus., Inc., 871 F. Supp. 764, 768 (D.N.J. 1994) (applying motion to dismiss standard to claim of "futility of amendment" when third-party defendant sought to name additional party). "This does not require the parties to engage in the equivalent of substantive motion practice upon the proposed new claim or defense; this does require, however, that the newly asserted [claim] appear to be sufficiently well-grounded in fact or law that it is not a frivolous pursuit. See Harrison, 133 F.R.D. at 469. Accordingly, "the Court must accept as true the allegations in [the proposed amended complaint] and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the [plaintiffs]." Miller, 844 F. Supp. at 1001.

Procedurally, Rule 7.1(e)(2) of the Local Civil Rules of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ("L.Civ.R.") requires the moving party to attach to their moving papers a copy of the proposed amended pleading. The plaintiffs have not done so.

2. Plaintiffs' Proposed Amendments

Here, the defendants do not argue that they would suffer prejudice if leave were granted. Rather, the defendants argue that leave should be denied because amendment would be futile.

Apparently after being presented with the State Defendants' motion to dismiss on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, the plaintiffs seek leave to amend to "name Charles Venti, the Director of the Division of Youth and Family Services, in his official capacity, as a defendant, name the other DYFS Defendants in their official capacit[ies], and to add a prayer for relief seeking an injunction against future enforcement of DYFS's policy of seizing newborns based solely on a mother's HIV status and her refusal to administer AZT to the baby." Although it is difficult to ascertain the precise contours of the plaintiffs' amended pleading because the plaintiffs did not include a copy of their proposed amended complaint with their moving papers as required by L.Civ.R. 7.1(e)(2), the plaintiffs appear to be attempting to bring their claims within the Ex Parte Young exception to state sovereign immunity in response to the defendants' Eleventh Amendment immunity defense by seeking prospective injunctive relief against Venti and the other DYFS defendants in their official capacities.

The Court concludes that granting the plaintiffs leave to amend would be futile because the plaintiffs cannot satisfy the constitutionally irreducible minimum standing requirements for their proposed amendments. At a minimum, a plaintiff seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court must establish three elements as an indispensable part of his or her case in order to satisfy the Article III "case or controversy" requirements. See City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101 (1983) (citations omitted). "First, the plaintiff must have suffered an injury-in-fact — an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of — the injury has to be fairly . . . trace[able] to the challenged action of the defendant and not . . . th[e] result [of] the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision." Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). When ...


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