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Concepcion v. CFG Health Systems, LLC

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 28, 2013

ERIC CONCEPCION, Plaintiff,
v.
CFG HEALTH SYSTEMS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES B. CLARK, III, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Eric Concepcion's ("Plaintiff") motion for leave to amend the complaint [Docket Entry No. 15] to remove those causes of action arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1988, to substitute causes of action arising under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2 and to remand this action to the State Court. Defendants CFG Health Systems, LLC, Syed Rizvi, MD, Sylvia Terry, RN, Kevin Kelly, APN, Cynthia Richardson, CMA, and Dr. Lionel Anicette (collectively, "Defendants") oppose Plaintiff's motion in its entirety. [Docket Entry No. 16]. The Court has fully reviewed and considered all arguments made in support of, and in opposition to, Plaintiff's motion. The Court considers Plaintiff's motion without oral argument pursuant to L.CIV.R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth more fully below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED IN PART and it is RECOMMENDED that this action be remanded.

I. Background and Procedural History

This case involves civil rights violations, as well as claims for medical malpractice and negligence in connection with the death of one Julio Concepcion (the "decedent"), an inmate of the Essex County Department of Corrections. ( See Plaintiff's Brief in Support at 2; Docket Entry No. 15). Plaintiff, as administrator of the decedent's estate, first filed this action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Essex County Vicinage on September 23, 2011. After some discovery was conducted, Plaintiff was given leave to file an amended complaint against the instant Defendants. On April 3, 2013, Defendants removed the action to this Court on federal question jurisdiction. [Docket Entry No. 1]. Plaintiff moved to remand [Docket Entry No. 6]. That motion is still currently pending. Subsequent to a status telephone conference with the Honorable Mark Falk, U.S.M.J. on July 23, 2013, (the "July 23rd conference") Plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend the complaint and a second motion to remand this case to state court.

II. Arguments

Plaintiff states that it was at the July 23rd conference when it was first suggested that Plaintiff substitute state civil rights claims for federal ones in order to be remanded back to state court. ( Pltf. Br. Supp. at ¶¶9-11). Plaintiff notes that the civil rights laws of New Jersey mirror the federal laws and that, therefore "the amended complaint does not add any new causes of actions ( sic ) against any of the defendants[.]" ( Id. at ¶17). Plaintiffs claim that because the amended complaint "merely clarifies with greater specificity which defendant is being sued under what theory, there is no prejudice against the defendants." ( Id. ) As such, Plaintiff requests that this Court grant the motion to amend.

Plaintiff further requests that this Court remand this action back to state court, as no federal claims would remain in the amended complaint. ( Id. at ¶¶19, 22). Plaintiff points to 28 U.S.C. §1337(c)(3) which states that a district court may decline jurisdiction over a claim if "the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction[.]" ( Id. at ¶20, citing Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Delaware County, PA, 983 F.2d 1277, 1284 (3d Cir. 1993). Plaintiff argues that this case is in the early stages, with new defendants having recently been added, and that the removal of the federal claims warrants remand to the state court.

Defendants' opposition is twofold. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's motion to amend should be denied for "undue delay, bad faith [and] dilatory motive[.]" ( Defendants' Brief in Opposition at 2; Docket Entry No. 16). Second, Defendants submit that the New Jersey Civil Rights Act "provides for original jurisdiction of Plaintiff's claims in [federal court]" and as such, this action need not be remanded to state court. ( Id. at 2).

Turning to Defendants' first argument, Defendants note that Plaintiff only sought to join them to this case after Plaintiff had settled with other defendants at the state level. ( Id. at 5). Defendants argue that, through his proposed amendment, Plaintiff is "attempting to manipulate the forum in this matter" and that it "would be patently unfair to permit Plaintiff to manipulate the forum after a timely and appropriate removal by [Defendants]." ( Id. at 7). Defendants argue that to have this action remanded to state court, where eighteen months of litigation have already ensued, would "not equate to the fairness and justice to which these Defendants are entitled" as "Defendants have never appeared before the state court[.]" ( Id. at 6).[1]

Defendants alternatively argue that this Court would not be stripped of jurisdiction, as "the New Jersey Civil Rights Act provides for redress of both state and federal laws while providing that a complaint may' be brought in the Superior Court." ( Id. at 3). Further, Defendants submit that "the Act is nearly identical to and analogous to its federal counterpart, 42 U.S.C. § 1983" and that "there is no reason to permit Plaintiff to amend his complaint simply to paint his claims with a state law' brush and avoid having this matter heard in federal court following the timely and proper removal by these Defendants." ( Id. at 5). As such, Defendants request that the Court deny Plaintiff's motion in its entirety.

Plaintiff's reply argues that amendment and remand is proper as "the gravamen of the claims are state claims for medical malpractice and negligence." ( Plaintiff's Brief in Reply at ¶4; Docket Entry No. 18). Plaintiff reiterates that during the July 23rd conference, the Court seemed willing to permit Plaintiff to substitute the state civil rights laws for the federal ones, and indeed, suggested the switch. ( Id. at ¶9). Plaintiff states that the action taken on the Court's suggestion "can hardly be said to be acting in bad faith or in a dilatory manner or attempting to unduly delay this matter." ( Id. at ¶10). Plaintiff also argues that the Defendants were properly added "with leave of the New Jersey State Court...after lengthy discovery had occurred in the matter." ( Id. at ¶16). Lastly, Plaintiff refutes Defendants' argument that this Court would continue to retain jurisdiction over the amended complaint by arguing that Defendants' case law is inapposite in that it "does not stand for the proposition that a Federal Court must keep jurisdiction over a State Law claim" but instead "merely instructions how a state law claim must be analyzed in Federal Court." ( Id. at ¶21).

III. Analysis

a. Motion to Amend

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.15(a)(2), leave to amend the pleadings is generally granted freely. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court may deny a motion to amend where there is "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment." Id. However, where there is an absence of undue delay, bad ...


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