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Cunningham v. State

September 25, 2006


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



Plaintiff, Genevieve Cunningham, brings this § 1983 action against Defendants State of New Jersey, New Jersey Department of Corrections (the "DOC"), Devon Brown (Commissioner of the DOC), Charles Leone (Administrator of Bayside State Prison), Donna Klipper*fn1 (Assistant Administrator of Bayside State Prison), and Correctional Medical Services, Inc. ("CMS") The State of New Jersey, the DOC, and CMS are dismissed from this action with Plaintiff's consent. (Pl. Br. pp 2-3)

Plaintiff's Complaint contains six counts of allegations. Count I alleges violation of her First Amendment rights. Count II alleges civil rights conspiracy. Counts III through VI alleges various state law claims. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the § 1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and over the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3).

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment by all Defendants except CMS. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted with respect to Counts I and II, and the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.


Plaintiff is a registered nurse. In 2002, she was employed as an HIV Specialist by South Jersey Aids Alliance ("SJAA"). (Cunningham Dep. at 14:19-15:3) SJAA at the time had a contract with the DOC to provide counseling and education to prison inmates who have contracted, or were at risk of contracting, infectious disease. (Compl. ¶ 13) Plaintiff was assigned to work at Bayside State Prison.*fn2 The program established by SJAA is called the "PALM Project."*fn3 Plaintiff was a member of the project staff.

In July 2002, a Bayside inmate, Jose Lopez, enrolled in one of Plaintiff's health education risk reduction classes because the DOC informed him earlier that year that he was suffering from Hepatitis C. (Cunningham Dep. at 17:24-25, 18:1; Pl. Ex. H) On August 23, 2002, Mr. Lopez became one of Plaintiff's "prevention case management" clients. (Cunningham Dep. at 20:23-21:9; 25:1-25:11) Mr. Lopez told Plaintiff that he had made a request to CMS for his medical records, but CMS had not yet furnished him a copy. (Id.) After learning that fact, Plaintiff obtained Mr. Lopez's medical records from the records clerk and gave them to him. (Cunningham Dep. at 28:5-21) The file showed that Mr. Lopez tested positive for Hepatitis C since 1992 but was never informed of it by the DOC until 2002. Mr. Lopez, along with many other inmates, is currently litigating against the DOC over this matter.

Plaintiff admitted that she knew about a prison policy requiring inmates to pay for copies of their medical records at the time when she handed the file to Mr. Lopez. (Cunningham Dep. at 74:3-21) However, Plaintiff did not collect any money from Mr. Lopez because she believed such payment was not required for filed obtained through the PALM Project. (Cunningham Dep. at 160:22-161:10)

Bayside State Prison considered Plaintiff's action a violation of its policy, and withdrew its permission for her to enter its facility. (Schneider Cert., Ex. 17) As result, Plaintiff was no longer able to work for the PALM Project. SJAA offered Plaintiff another position with lower pay, but Plaintiff refused it. As result, her employment at SJAA was terminated. (Amended Compl., ¶ 27)

Plaintiff and Defendants dispute whether Plaintiff's action was proper under the prison policy. Plaintiff claims that the PALM Project was supposed to be available to all inmates with any blood-related infectious diseases, including Hepatitis C. (Pl. Ex. C and D) According to Plaintiff, there was no written, published policy or procedures for PALM Project staff to follow when obtaining inmate medical records. There was only a generally accepted practice of asking CMS staff for the record, which was easily and readily available to the PALM Project. (Pl. Ex. C at ¶ 6) Giving the medical record to the inmate was also a common practice. (Pl. Ex. D at ¶ 5)

In addition, Plaintiff claims that she obtained Mr. Lopez's record from CMS with his written consent, and that Mr. Lopez designated her as the person to receive his medical records on the request form. (Pl. Ex. I, Official Medical Record Request Form) Thus, Plaintiff alleges that she was banned from Bayside State Prison only because revelation of the DOC's failure to notify Mr. Lopez of his Hepatitis-positive status led to a lawsuit against the DOC.

Defendants, on the other hand, claim that Plaintiff worked as an HIV Specialist for SJAA and were only responsible for the HIV positive inmates and HIV prevention education. (Cunningham Dep. at 15:3-9) Thus, consulting Hepatitis patients was outside of Plaintiff's duties.

Furthermore, Defendants claim that in order to perform her duties properly, Plaintiff would only need the lab reports and certain medical information for the inmates who are HIV positive and would have no reason to obtain the ...

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