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John Brandt v. Trenton Psychiatric

December 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge:



Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Trenton Psychiatric Hospital ("TPH"), Lawrence Rossi, Dwight Sweezey, Michael Siglag, Teresa McQuaide, Jennifer Velez and Jonathan Poag ("Defendants"). (Docket Entry No. 10.) Pro se Plaintiff John Brandt ("Plaintiff") filed Opposition. (Docket Entry No. 13.) The underlying Complaint alleges violations of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants Rossi, Sweezey and Siglag in their individual and official capacities and against Defendants Velez, Poag and Mcquaide in their official capacities. (Compl. Intro.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiff's injunctive and declaratory claims and will stay Plaintiff's monetary claims against Defendants Rossi, Sweezey and Siglag in their individual capacities. Based on the Eleventh Amendment, the claims against TPH will be dismissed, and since Defendants Velez, Poag and Mcquiade are only named in their official capacities, they will be dismissed from the case as well.


The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review. The Court will recount only those facts relevant to this Motion. Plaintiff is a psychiatric patient who has been involuntarily committed to TPH by the New Jersey Superior Court since June 2003 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for criminal charges of burglary, criminal mischief, and criminal trespass as a result of breaking into his ex-girlfriend's college dormitory room and, in the midst of a dispute with her, destroying her property. (Compl. ¶8; Brandt v. Monte, 626 F.Supp.2d 469, 472 (D.N.J. 2009); see N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(b)(3) ("[i]f the court finds that the defendant cannot be released with or without supervision or conditions without posing a danger to the community or to himself, it shall commit the defendant to a mental health facility approved for this purpose by the Commissioner of Human Services to be treated as a person civilly committed")). At TPH and all other state psychiatric institutions, New Jersey's regulations regarding "Levels of Supervision" ("LOS") determine the amount of supervision a patient requires. Patients are assigned to Levels I-IV, with Level I requiring the most supervision and Level IV requiring the least supervision. N.J.A.C. 10:36-1.5-1.8.

An individual who is committed as a result of being found not guilty by reason of insanity, is considered a "special status patient" according to the psychiatric hospital regulations. N.J.A.C. 10:36-1.2. The regulations provide for certain procedures to be followed with regard to a special status patient. Specifically, treatment team recommendations to decrease supervision of a "special status patient" are forwarded to a Special Status Patient Review Committee ("SSPRC"). N.J.A.C. 10:36-2.3. The SSPRC Chairperson may designate a committee member to interview the patient prior to the committee review whenever, in his or her judgment, "the situation warrants." Id. One of the treatment team members "familiar with the current level recommendation" meets with the SSPRC during their review process. Id. The SSPRC recommendation is forwarded to the Clinical Director. Id. The Clinical Director/Medical Director must endorse any recommendation prior to its implementation and within two working days of receipt of the recommendation. Id.

TPH staff placed Plaintiff under the care of the East 2 Treatment Team, which consisted of: psychiatrist Abdul Kazi; psychologist Sean Wasliewski; social worker Justine Seman; and program coordinator Stuart Fenster. (Id. at ¶ 10.) It was the professional opinion of the East 2 Treatment Team that Plaintiff only needed to be placed on Level II for a two month period. (Id. at ¶11.) However, when the East 2 Treatment Team recommended to the SSPRC that he be placed on Level II for two months before being elevated to the less restrictive Level III, the SSPRC denied the Treatment Team's recommendation and instead recommended that Plaintiff be placed on partial Level II for two months and full Level II for two months. (Id. at ¶12.) The SSPRC consists of Defendants Lawrence Rossi, Dwight Sweezey and Michael Siglag. (Id. at ¶13.)

Since Plaintiff is involuntarily committed as a result of his being found not guilty by reason of insanity, Plaintiff is considered to be under Krol*fn1 status. (Id. at ¶8.) As a result, the recommendation of the SSPRC must be approved by court order, pursuant to N.J.A.C. 10:33-1.1, et seq. (Id. at ¶14.) Plaintiff and his treating physician went before the New Jersey Superior Court on June 8, 2009, and the only recommendation his treating psychiatrist was allegedly permitted to make to the Court was the recommendation that was authorized by the SSPRC. (Id. at ¶15.) At that hearing, Plaintiff's Krol judge ordered that Plaintiff may be increased to Level II in a two part process at the discretion of the treatment team and that if a successful completion of the two part process occurs before the next scheduled court date, then an interim court date may be requested. (Id. at ¶16.) Plaintiff is not challenging the June 8, 2009 ruling of the state court. (Id. at ¶26.)

In September 2009, Plaintiff's treatment team went before the SSPRC and requested that Plaintiff's status be increased to Level III and that the SSPRC petition the Court for said increase. (Id. at ¶17.) SSPRC denied the request and extended Plaintiff's Level II status for an additional two months. (Id. at ¶18.) The members of the SSPRC have never met nor evaluated Plaintiff nor given any reason for their decision to deny Plaintiff's increase to Level III. (Id. at ¶19.) According to Plaintiff, Defendants' failure to act caused Plaintiff undue harm. (Id. at ¶20.) Plaintiff also contends that he was not given a pre-deprivation hearing prior to the SSPRC's denial of the requested increase. (Id. at ¶21.)

Plaintiff alleges that the actions of Defendants Lawrence Rossi, the medical director, and the members of SSPRC in denying Plaintiff's treatment team recommendation without evaluating or examining Plaintiff is a violation of Plaintiff's substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶28.) Plaintiff alleges that these actions denied him his right to the "least restrictive setting" pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-24.2(d)(3) and (e)(2). (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that by Defendants not following procedures outlined in N.J.A.C. 10:36-1.1 et seq., they violated Plaintiff's procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶29.) Plaintiff also alleges that he was not given notice or a chance to contest the action of the SSPRC, which violated his "federal right to the least restrictive setting pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-24.2(e)(2) without due process of law pursuant to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution." (Id. at ¶30.) Plaintiff also alleges that under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(3), individuals that are found not guilty by reason of insanity are to be civilly committed under the same standards as any other civilly committed individual, however, N.J.A.C. 10:36-1.1, et seq. establishes standards that treat those committed under N.J.S.A. 2C:4-8(3) differently than those not, which violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶31.)

In his complaint, Plaintiff seeks the following relief: (1) a declaration that the acts and omissions described in Plaintiff's Complaint violated Plaintiff's rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States; (2) judgment in favor of Plaintiff for compensatory and punitive damages, against each Defendant, jointly and severally in the amount of one million dollars; (3) and the entry of an injunction to enjoin the enforcement of N.J.A.C. 10:36-1.1. et seq. (Id. at ¶33.)


A. Legal Standard

When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008) (citation and quotations omitted). In Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6) standard. Specifically, the Court "retired" the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. at 1968 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. As the Third Circuit has stated, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to ...

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