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Alves v. Ferguson

November 17, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis M. Cavanaugh, U.S.D.J.


This matter comes before the Court on State Defendants' ("Defendants") motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Oral argument was heard on November 10, 2003. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


Since March 24, 2000, and April 20, 2000, respectively, the State of New Jersey has civilly confined Plaintiffs Raymond Alves and Robert McGarrey in the Department of Corrections ("DOC") Special Treatment Unit pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predators Act ("SVPA"), N.J.S.A. § 30:4-27.24.

Plaintiffs filed Amended Complaints on October 25, 2002, setting forth a number of federal and state causes of action challenging the inadequacy of Plaintiffs' mental health treatment and other conditions of Plaintiffs' confinement at the Special Treatment Unit. The Alves Complaint was docketed under civil action number 01-CV-4642(DMC) and the McGarrey Complaint was docketed under civil action number 01-CV-4641(DMC). A letter order dated October 1, 2002, was filed with the Court seeking to consolidate the pending matters filed by each plaintiff because they presented common issues. These matters were consolidated under civil action number 01-CV-789(DMC) by order dated October 8, 2002.

This matter arises in the context of the SVPA which provides for the involuntary civil commitment of people deemed to be sexually violent predators. The standard for commitment requires the court to find, by clear and convincing evidence that the "the person needs continued involuntary commitment as a sexually violent predator." N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.32(a). In order to establish that a person is in need of civil commitment, the State must present evidence of past sexually violent behavior and evidence of a present medical condition that creates a likelihood of future sexually violent behavior. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26.

N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.34(a) provides that "[t]he Department of Corrections shall be responsible for the operation of any facility designated for the custody, care and treatment of sexually violent predators" and "shall provide or arrange for custodial care" of persons identified as sexually violent predators.


Standard of Review

When deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations in the Complaint must be taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worth v. Selden, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1988); Robb v. Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 290 (3d Cir. 1984). In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court may consider only the Complaint, exhibits attached to the Complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

When deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, courts in the Third Circuit may review facts alleged in the Complaint, documents explicitly relied upon or incorporated by reference in the Complaint, and may examine other documents integral to the Complaint. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Lithog., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). "We must determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiffs may be entitled to relief, and we must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Name v. Faber, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). While Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Rule 12(b)(6) is not without meaning. "Although the pleading requirements ... are very liberal, more detail is often required than the bald statement by plaintiff that he has a valid claim of some type against defendant." 5A Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, FEDERAL PRACTICE and PROCEDURE § 1357 at 318 (2d ed. 1990). If, after viewing the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it appears beyond doubt that no relief could be granted "under any set of facts which could prove consistent with allegations," a court shall dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim. Hechuan v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Lynn v. O'Donnell, 688 F.2d 940, 941 (3d Cir. 1982).

Substantive Due Process Claims Regarding Mental Health Treatment

Count Three of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants have failed to provide mental health treatment sufficient to meet their obligations under the substantive due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Substantive Due Process component of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that when state officials impose substantial deprivations of liberty associated with civil commitment, they must also provide access to mental health treatment that gives those committed a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve the medical condition for which they were confined. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 319-322 (1982).

Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' complaint should be dismissed because the provisions of the SVPA are in accordance with the requirements of substantive due process. Defendants note that "[t]he authority of the State to civilly commit citizens is said to be an exercise of its police power to protect the citizenry and its parens patriae authority to act on behalf of those unable to act in their own best interests." In the Matter of D.C., 146 N.J. 31, 47 (1986). "There can be little doubt that in the exercise of its police power a State may confine individuals solely to protect society from the dangers of significant antisocial acts or communicable disease." O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 582-83 (1975) (Burger, C.J., concurring).

Defendants further note that the Supreme Court of the United States has long upheld statutes providing for the involuntary civil commitment of individuals who pose a danger to the public health and safety. Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 at 357 (1997). Sexually violent predators pose a threat, and the State has responded to that threat by enacting the SVPA. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.25.

In order to establish a violation of substantive due process, a plaintiff must allege executive action that is "so ill-conceived or malicious that it `shocks the conscience'" Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 809 (3d Cir. 2000) citing Miller v. City of Philadelphia, 174 F.3d 368, 375 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846 (1998)). Defendants submit that Plaintiffs have not alleged any action on the part of Defendants that rises to the level of shocking the conscience. Defendants further point out that when reviewing treatment decisions, such as here, courts are required to give deference to the exercise of professional medical judgment. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982). Professional decisions regarding treatment programs at the Special Treatment Unit, and the individualized treatment programs developed for each civilly committed resident are based on the judgment of qualified professionals. Id. at 322. These decisions are presumptively valid. Id. at 323. Ultimately, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs' complaints alleging lack of individualized programming, monitoring, feedback, and treatment goals are insufficient to support a claim for violation of their right to substantive due process.

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the substantive due process claims related to inadequate mental health treatment relies on factual matters outside the pleadings. Plaintiffs assert that Defendants rely on expert judgments and factual conclusions pertaining to the effectiveness and propriety of Defendants' treatment regimen, rather than attacking the validity of the pleadings themselves.

Although the Defendants are correct to note that in evaluating the validity of Plaintiffs' substantive due process claims, a court is obliged to give substantial deference to the state's professional judgments about its choice of an appropriate treatment regimen, this standard only applies when evaluating the sufficiency of evidence at trial. When evaluating the sufficiency of the allegations, Plaintiffs must be afforded an opportunity to develop their allegations through discovery before a court may balance these allegations against the state's professional judgments.

Under a reasonable reading of the Plaintiffs' pleadings, accepting as true all of the factual allegations in the Amended Complaint as well as all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, it is the opinion of this Court that the Plaintiffs Alves may be entitled to relief. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss Count Three of ...

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