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Venner v. Lourdes Medical Center


October 2, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, Docket No. L-3081-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted August 27, 2008

Before Judges Miniman and Lihotz.

Plaintiff appeals from the orders denying her motion to recuse the trial judge and granting summary judgment to defendants. Plaintiff's complaint alleged that a nurse working for defendant Lourdes Medical Center (Lourdes) "falsely concealed information" and surreptitiously obtained her consent to be transferred to defendant Lester A. Drenk Behavioral Health Center (Drenk) for evaluation. Undisputed was the fact that plaintiff was presented to the facilities for evaluation by the police, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.6. We, like the motion judge, conclude all actions taken by defendants were as authorized by statute, and we affirm.

On November 10, 2004, plaintiff was taken into custody by the Delran police department. Apparently, she experienced a shoulder injury in the course of the arrest and the police took her to Lourdes for examination and treatment of her shoulder. Plaintiff maintains a nurse, designated in the complaint as defendant Jane Doe, requested her signature suggesting plaintiff's consent for insurance coverage to provide x-rays. That same morning, at the request of the Delran police, plaintiff was transported to Drenk's Screening and Crises Intervention Program unit (SCIP), where she remained for four hours. Plaintiff's claim rests on her assertion that the nurse deceived her to obtain consent for the mental health status examination.

Plaintiff filed her complaint alleging lack of informed consent for treatment, insurance fraud, fraud and false imprisonment. Initially, plaintiff requested Judge Suter's recusal, alleging the judge "could not render a fair and just decision" because plaintiff disagreed with the judge's prior adjudication in an unrelated matter. By order dated August 20, 2007, plaintiff's motion was denied for failure to state a basis for recusal.

Thereafter, defendants jointly moved for dismissal of plaintiff's claims. In a written opinion, Judge Suter analyzed the motions and dismissed the causes of action bottomed on lack of informed consent and lack of professional judgment because plaintiff failed to file an affidavit of merit. The assertion of insurance fraud was dismissed because plaintiff presented no facts to support that assertion.

Defendants moved for summary judgment on the remaining claims of fraud and false imprisonment. In its written opinion, the court concluded plaintiff was not held without legal justification. She was arrested and the police escorted her for a mental health screening as authorized by N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.6, which states:

A . . . local law enforcement officer shall take custody of a person and take the person immediately and directly to a screening service if:

a. On the basis of personal observation, the law enforcement officer has reasonable cause to believe that the person is in need of involuntary commitment;

The involvement of the law enforcement authority shall continue at the screening center as long as necessary to protect the safety of the person in custody and the safety of the community from which the person was taken.

The SCIP unit may detain a person presented to complete an evaluation or provide treatment, for up to twenty-four hours. N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.5(a).

The motion judge additionally concluded plaintiff presented no evidence that Lourdes deceptively obtained plaintiff's authorization for undisclosed treatment. The two documents plaintiff executed were for treatment of her shoulder and for discharge from Lourdes, which she signed upon her release, prior to the Drenk examination requested by the police pursuant to the authority of N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.6.

We use the same standard as the trial court when reviewing a summary judgment motion. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). Summary judgment must be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law." R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 528-29 (1995).

We have considered plaintiff's arguments on appeal, as well as the written submissions of the parties and the applicable legal standards. We affirm the legal conclusions reached by Judge Suter in all respects substantially for the reasons set forth in her thorough, written opinions resolving these motions.



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