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Estate of Jesse M. Rivera, A New Jersey Estate, Nydia E. Rivera, A v. Passsaic County

July 25, 2011

ESTATE OF JESSE M. RIVERA, A NEW JERSEY ESTATE, NYDIA E. RIVERA, A NEW JERSEY RESIDENT, AND EUGENIO RIVERA, A NEW JERSEY RESIDENT, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PASSSAIC COUNTY, PASSAIC COUNTY JOHN AND JANE DOES 1- 30, PASSAIC COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-3-, JERRY SPEZIALE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF PASSAIC COUNTY, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, CHARLES MEYERS, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS WARDEN OF PASSSAIC COUNTY JAIL, AND HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, SERGEANT R. CONDATORE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CLASSIFICATION OFFICER OF PASSAIC COUNTY JAIL, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY; DR. WAHBA, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MEDICAL DIRECTO OF PASSAIC COUNTY JAIL, DR. DAVID TUTONE, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS JAILHOUSE DOCTOR, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, OTHER JOHN AND JANE DOES 1-30, FICTITIOUSLY NAMED INDIVIDUALS, AND ABC CORPORATIONS 1-30, FICTITIOUSLY NAMED ENTITIES, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

DENNIS M. CAVANAUGH, U.S.D.J.:

This matter comes before the Court upon motion by Passaic County et al ("Defendants") for partial summary judgment as to the second amended complaint of the Estate of Jesse M. Rivera et al ("Plaintiffs") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, no oral argument was heard. For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from the tragic death of an 18 year old, Jesse M. Rivera, who was detained in the Passaic County Jail and was subject to a Court order issued on October 7, 2008 by the Honorable Judge Caposella of the Superior Court of New Jersey in Passaic County that he be placed under suicide watch pending an examination and report by Dr. Paul Dasher which was due November 7, 2008. (See Dock. 89-1). Without approval from the Court, Defendants removed Mr. Rivera to the general population on October 9, 2008 following their own internal review of his classification. On the morning of October 13, 2008, Mr. Rivera was discovered hanging by a bed sheet from the shower of his cell. He was transported to St. Joseph's Medical Center where he died less than seven hours later.

Mr. Rivera's parents have sued numerous Defendants under a variety of legal theories, alleging 23 discrete counts in the amended complaint. (See Dock. 56). Defendant has moved to dismiss Count 18 of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Mr. Rivera's parents, neither of whom personally witnessed their son's suicide attempt. This motion is not opposed by Plaintiff, and will be granted. Plaintiff similarly does not oppose Defendant's motion to dismiss the claim for loss of services to Mr. Rivera's brothers, Eugenio Rivera, Jr. and Richard Rivera, nor does Plaintiff contest Defendant's motion to dismiss their claim for loss of society or relationship other than for pecuniary losses defined by the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act. As Defendants correctly point out, none of Mr. Rivera's siblings are entitled to recover any damages that might have arisen from their brother's death. They are excluded under New Jersey's intestacy statute, and Mr. Rivera's parents are his sole intestate beneficiaries.

At issue in the instant motion for partial summary judgment is Defendant's motion to dismiss Jesse Rivera's loss of value of life, so-called "hedonic" damages, and the pecuniary loss to his parents caused by his death. Plaintiff maintains that New Jersey's Wrongful Death Act makes the injury to Mr. Rivera's parents resulting from lost companionship, advice, guidance and counsel compensable, although they expressly acknowledge that they do not seek recovery for their loss of society due to the death of their son.

II LEGAL STANDARD

"A court reviewing a summary judgment motion must evaluate the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Gaston v. U.S. Postal Serv., 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 5673 (3d Cir. 2009). However, "[t]he judgment sought should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

"A party against whom relief is sought may move at any time, with or without supporting affidavits, for summary judgment on all or part of the claim." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b). "[T]he burden on the moving party may be discharged by "showing" -- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). "[R]egardless of whether the moving party accompanies its summary judgment motion with affidavits, the motion may, and should, be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56©." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

When a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, [by contrast,] an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must--by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule--set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. If the opposing party does not so respond, summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against that party.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). "When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, "unsupported allegations in [a] memorandum and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." See Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorp., 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). Rule 56(e) permits "a party contending that there is no genuine dispute as to a specific, essential fact 'to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues.'" Id. (quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n., 497 U.S. 871, 889 (1990)). "It is clear enough that unsworn ...


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