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Amy K.Z. Catlett v. New Jersey State Police

August 28, 2012

AMY K.Z. CATLETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter involves a series of constitutional and common law torts that Plaintiff alleges were committed against her on November 21, 2009, by a collection of state and municipal police officers, the New Jersey State Police, the Vineland Police Department, and several EMTs, a Nurse, a Doctor, and other unidentified individuals. The action is before the Court on three motions: the motion of Defendant New Jersey State Police to dismiss for failure to state a claim and for summary judgment [Docket Item 8]; Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint [Docket Item 14]; and Defendant Dr. Dominic Diorio, M.D.'s motion to dismiss [Docket Item 20].

THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:

1. Plaintiff alleges that in the early morning hours of November 21, 2009, she was arrested and detained by unidentified officers of the Defendant New Jersey State Police in connection with an unspecified motor vehicle offense. Compl. ¶ 4. She alleges that she was detained by the officers longer than necessary, including for some unspecified period of time after they had decided not to charge her with the offense, but that she was released from custody while it was still in the "early morning hours." Id. ¶¶ 5-10.

2. Then, approximately twelve hours later, in the afternoon of the same day, Plaintiff alleges that a state trooper ("Trooper Scott") received an anonymous tip that Plaintiff had threatened to harm herself on an internet site, and that Trooper Scott passed on this information to an individual working for Defendant Vineland Police Department. Id. ¶ 13. In response, Plaintiff alleges, some (unidentified) Vineland police officers and Vineland EMTs arrived at her house, "removed [her] from her home and forced [her] to go to [Defendant] South Jersey Healthcare-Regional Medical Center in Vineland. . ." Id. ¶ 14. While there, Plaintiff alleges that she was forcibly restrained and physically injured by Defendant Nurse Diane Stavoli, apparently on the orders of Defendant Dr. Diorio, and was provided care that she alleges was inappropriate in certain unspecified ways. Id. ¶¶ 14, 38-43. She was eventually discharged that same evening. Id. ¶ 18.

3. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from all Defendants for violations of her rights guaranteed under the United States and New Jersey constitutions, and for common law torts, under several different direct and vicarious theories of liability. Plaintiff's Complaint seeks relief through nine counts.

4. Count One seeks damages from Defendant New Jersey State Police and several John Doe officers for her allegedly unlawful detention in the early morning hours of November 21, 2009. Count Two seeks damages from all defendants for her allegedly unlawful removal from her house, restraint at South Jersey Healthcare, and injurious care in the afternoon and evening of November 21, 2009. Count Three seeks damages from Defendant New Jersey State Police and John Doe officers under various theories of negligent hiring procedures, failure to train and failure to supervise its officers. The first three counts are the only ones that implicate Defendant New Jersey State Police.

5. Count Four seeks damages under the same negligent hiring and failure to train theories against Defendant Vineland Police Department. Count Five seeks damages under the same theories against Defendant Vineland EMS. Count Six seeks damages from Defendants Vineland Police Department, Vineland EMS, South Jersey Healthcare, Dr. Diorio, Nurse Stavoli, and various unidentified individuals for Plaintiff's alleged physical and emotional injuries resulting from her treatment at the South Jersey Healthcare-Regional Medical Center in Vineland. Count Seven seeks punitive damages against the medical Defendants for the allegedly intentional infliction of severe mental and emotional distress and physical pain on Plaintiff. Count Eight seeks damages from the medical Defendants for malpractice. Count Nine seeks damages from Defendant South Jersey Healthcare under theories of negligent hire, failure to train, and failure to supervise.

6. Plaintiff initially filed her Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Cumberland County Law Division under Docket Number L-1065-11 on November 21, 2011. The action was subsequently removed to this Court by two different Defendants.*fn1

7. Defendant New Jersey State Police (hereafter, "NJSP") has moved to dismiss and for summary judgment as to all claims against itself. [Docket Item 8.] Plaintiff seeks damages from NJSP in Counts 1, 2 and 3 of the Complaint. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant NJSP is liable for her emotional and physical injuries suffered both in the early morning and afternoon of November 21, 2009 under theories of direct and vicarious liability for violations of constitutional and common law rights. Defendant NJSP argues that these claims should be dismissed for several reasons.

8. First, Defendant NJSP argues that Plaintiff cannot seek damages against it for violations of federal or state constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2(c), because Defendant NJSP is not a "person" under either statute. Plaintiff concedes this point in her opposition brief. Therefore, the Court will dismiss all constitutional claims against Defendant NJSP.

9. Next, as to Plaintiff's common law tort claims against Defendant NJSP, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims against it alleged in Count One of the Complaint, regarding her alleged extended detention in the early morning hours of November 21, 2009, should be dismissed because Plaintiff only alleges emotional injuries rather than economic injuries, and therefore do not meet the required injury threshold as required under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 59:9-2(d). Plaintiff also concedes this point, so the Court will likewise dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Defendant NJSP alleged in Count One of the Complaint.

10. Next, as to Plaintiff's common law tort claims against NJSP in Count Two, regarding the transmission of the anonymous tip to the Vineland Police Department (and Plaintiff's subsequent injuries in the afternoon), Defendant NJSP argues that summary judgment should be entered against Plaintiff's claim because she did not file a notice of claim regarding the facts alleged in this count, as required under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 59:8-3. Defendant argues that while Plaintiff did file a notice of claim against Defendant NJSP,*fn2 it only described her claims of unlawful detention in the early morning hours of November 21, 2009, and did not address her separate claims against Defendant ...


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