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Tarance Bryant v. Liberty Health Care System

December 20, 2011

TARANCE BRYANT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LIBERTY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, INC. AND JERSEY CITY MEDICAL CENTER, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
TARANCE BRYANT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LIBERTY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, INC. AND JERSEY CITY MEDICAL CENTER, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
JULISSA GUZMAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LIBERTY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM, INC. AND JERSEY CITY MEDICAL CENTER, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket Nos. L-5901-09, L-1862-10 and L-1852-10.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued November 29, 2011

Before Judges Payne, Reisner and Simonelli.

In these three appeals, which we have consolidated for purposes of this opinion, plaintiffs Tarance Bryant and Julissa Guzman appeal from the dismissal of complaints they filed against defendants Liberty Health Care Systems, Inc. and Jersey City Medical Center, Inc. after plaintiffs were both terminated from employment. Bryant appeals from a February 5, 2010 order, dismissing his Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) complaint without prejudice; from a March 23, 2010, denying his motion for reconsideration and for leave to file an amended complaint; and from an August 6, 2010 order dismissing with prejudice his separate complaint asserting rights under Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceuticals Corp., 84 N.J. 58 (1980). Guzman appeals from a separate order dated August 6, 2010 dismissing with prejudice her complaint alleging violations of Pierce and the duty of good faith and fair dealing.*fn1 We affirm all of the orders on appeal.

I

Because the complaints were dismissed for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted, R. 4:6-2(e), we consider the facts set forth in the complaints. We also consider the facts set forth in certifications that the plaintiffs filed in opposition to defendants' dismissal motions, presumably in an attempt to demonstrate what additional facts they could plead if permitted to re-plead. See Johnson v. Glassman, 401 N.J. Super. 222, 246 (App. Div. 2008) (finding dismissal with prejudice appropriate where "plaintiffs have not offered either a certification or a proposed amended pleading that would suggest their ability to cure the defects" in their complaint).*fn2

This is plaintiffs' version of the pertinent events. Bryant was an emergency medical technician (EMT) supervisor at the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC). He also held a second job as a Jersey City police officer. On the evening of June 12, 2009, while Bryant was working in the dispatch center at JCMC, Guzman, an EMT who was one of his subordinates, told him that an EMT from another hospital was on his way to the JCMC to deliver a patient to the emergency room (ER) where Guzman was working. She also told Bryant that this EMT was her former boyfriend, against whom she had obtained an as-yet-unserved domestic violence restraining order, and she was afraid of him. She gave Bryant a copy of the restraining order.

For reasons not addressed in their complaints, neither Bryant nor Guzman alerted hospital security. Instead, Bryant left his assigned post at the dispatch center in order to protect Guzman when the ex-boyfriend brought his patient into the ER. When the ex-boyfriend arrived, Bryant interceded to keep him away from Guzman, and tried unsuccessfully to hand him a copy of the restraining order. After the ex-boyfriend deposited his patient at the ER and departed in his work vehicle, Bryant commandeered one of JCMC's ambulances and followed the ex-boyfriend on a high-speed chase through the streets of Jersey City, in a further attempt to serve him with the restraining order.

As a result of this incident, Bryant was fired for professional misconduct, and Guzman was discharged for "interfering with an investigation by providing false information, misleading information and/or omitting information." According to Guzman's complaint, the hospital also accused her of having "a relationship" with Bryant, an allegation she denied.

Bryant initially filed a complaint alleging that his termination violated CEPA, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -19.8. In a February 5, 2010 opinion, Judge Alvaro L. Iglesias explained his reasons for dismissing Bryant's CEPA complaint. Relying on Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 N.J. 451, 462 (2003), the judge reasoned that the complaint did not allege that Bryant "reasonably believed" that his employer's conduct (as opposed to the ex-boyfriend's conduct) was violating any law or public policy and Bryant did not allege that he performed any whistle-blowing activity. Therefore, the complaint failed to allege facts necessary to satisfy two of the four elements of a CEPA claim, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 34:19-3(c). Judge Iglesias issued an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice.

Bryant filed a motion for reconsideration or for leave to file an amended complaint. The proposed amended complaint recited essentially the same facts, but alleged that Bryant was attempting to protect Guzman from domestic violence prohibited by the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, "N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17, et seq." and that his actions "constituted an objection to any policy of the Jersey City Medical Center which would have prevented his intercession in behalf of his co-employees, which policy would have been incompatible with a clear mandate of public policy concerning the public health, safety or welfare." He also alleged that his termination represented an "endorsement of a policy of not protecting a co-employee" and violated both CEPA and Pierce, supra. On March 23, 2010, Judge Iglesias issued an order denying the motion, but noted that his order applied only to Bryant's CEPA claim.

On March 31, 2010, Bryant filed a new complaint, asserting essentially the same facts set forth in his proposed amended complaint, and alleging that discharging him for attempting to protect Guzman from domestic violence was contrary to public policy, under Pierce, and violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.*fn3 Guzman also filed a complaint asserting that in asking Bryant to protect her, she was engaging in conduct "designed to prevent violence against herself and against any others who might have interceded in her behalf"; that her conduct was protected "as a clear mandate of public policy by the criminal and civil laws of the State"; and that her discharge violated pubic policy, under Pierce. She also alleged that terminating her employment as a result of her seeking Bryant's assistance violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Defendants moved to dismiss both complaints with prejudice for failure to state a claim, and moved to dismiss Bryant's complaint under the entire controversy doctrine. In opposition to the motion, plaintiffs filed certifications further explaining the incidents that occurred at the JCMC, and attaching copies of their notices of discharge and Bryant's incident report. In his report, Bryant admitted commandeering a JCMC ambulance and following the ex-boyfriend's ambulance through the streets at high speed, almost to the bridge leading to Newark. He also admitted that he was fired for professional ...


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