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Tulli-Makowski v. Community Education Centers, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 16, 2013

ESTELA TULLI-MAKOWSKI, as Administrator ad Prosequendeum of the ESTATE OF VIVIANA TULLI, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMUNITY EDUCATION CENTERS, INC., et al., Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

After David Goodell was paroled and assigned to a halfway house called Logan Hall, he faked a seizure and was transported to UMDNJ-University Hospital. Goodell escaped from the hospital and proceeded to murder a woman named Viviana Tulli. After the murder, Plaintiff Estella Tull-Makowski, the administrator of Viviana Tulli's estate, brought the instant suit against a host of state agencies and state contractors, alleging, inter alia, negligence under New Jersey state law and a state created danger under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter comes before the Court on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) motion brought by Defendants Logan Hall, Community Education Centers, Inc. ("CEC") and Education and Health Centers of America, Inc. ("EHCA"), which controlled Logan Hall, as well as the following owners, shareholders, principals, directors, officers, and/or employees of Logan Hall, CEC, and EHCA: John J. Clancy, William J. Palatucci, Dr. Robert Mackey, Michael Hellriegel, Michael Caltabiano, Debra Shannon, Michael Pelletier, Robert Mann and Maria Canevale (together with Logan Hall, CEC, and EHCA, "Defendants"). There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART, and DENIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges as follows: Viviana Tulli, who the Court will refer to as "Plaintiff, " became acquainted with David Goodell in high school. Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 1. On October 7, 2008, Goodell was arrested and charged with criminal terroristic threats and aggravated assault against a girlfriend. Id. ¶ 21. Goodell pled guilty and was given a four year sentence. Id. While he was incarcerated, Goodell communicated with Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 22. When Plaintiff rejected Goodell's romantic overtures, Goodell threatened Plaintiff and Plaintiff's family. Id. Goodell's relationship with Plaintiff was "known to certain of the defendants" through monitoring of Goodell's phone calls. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff alleges that "defendants" knew and/or should have known that Goodell posed a danger to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff also alleges that "certain of the defendants" knew that Goodell was capable of faking conditions requiring medical care. Id. ¶ 26.

Before Goodell's sentence was up, he was paroled and assigned to Logan Hall, a halfway house organized and established by EHCA. Id. ¶¶ 1, 28, 34. Pursuant to a contract with CEC, EHCA, a for-profit company, acted as the service provider for Logan Hall, as well as a number of other halfway houses in the "EHCA-CEC Halfway House System." Id. ¶¶ 28, 31. According to the Complaint, the EHCA-CEC Halfway House System is "plagued with deficiencies, problems, and mismanagement." Id. ¶ 31. It has "experienced [an] inordinate number of prisoner escapes, illegal drug activity, crime, and other unlawful conduct, presenting a continuing and real and present danger to the general public." Id. ¶ 32.

On August 29, 2010, Goodell faked a seizure at Logan Hall. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants should have recognized that Goodell was faking the seizure. Id. ¶ 36. In any event, Goodell was transported to UMDNJ-University Hospital along with a single, unarmed CEC employee. Id. ¶ 36. Goodell escaped from the hospital and proceeded to murder Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 40. Plaintiff alleges that the murder was caused, in part, by Defendants' "[f]ailure to adequately fund, staff, equip, manage, and operate the EHCA-CEC Halfway House System." Id. ¶ 39(j).

The instant Complaint, alleging violations of state law as well as 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was filed in state court and then removed to this Court on September 28, 2012. ECF No. 1. In late 2012, motions to dismiss were filed by the New Jersey State Parole Board, the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the State Of New Jersey, the University Of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, UMDNJ-University Hospital and UMDNJ's Department of Public Safety (together the "State Defendants"). ECF Nos. 9, 13. The Court determined that the State Defendants were immune under New Jersey law, and the Court dismissed all state law claims against the State Defendants. Tulli-Makowski v. Community Educ. Centers, Inc., No. 12-6091, 2013 WL 1987219, at **3-4 (D.N.J. May 13, 2013). The Court dismissed the federal Section 1983 claims against all State Defendants save UMDNJ and UMDNJ-University Hospital. Id. at **2-3.

On May 5, 2013, Defendants Logan Hall, CEC, EHCA, Clancy, Palatucci, Mackey, Hellriegel, Caltabiano, Shannon, Pelletier, Mann, and Canevale - but not the State Defendants - moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), judgment on the pleadings will be granted only if "the movant clearly establishes there are no material issues of fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Sikirica v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir.2005) (citing Society Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980)). The court "must view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Id. In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court considers the pleadings and attached exhibits, undisputedly authentic documents relied on by plaintiffs and attached to the motion, and matters of public record. Atiyeh v. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford, 742 F.Supp.2d 591, 595 (E.D. Pa. 2010).

III. DISCUSSION

The Complaint asserts the following claims against Defendants: Count I is a claim for survivorship. Count II is a claim for wrongful death. Count III is a claim for state created danger under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count IV is a claim under the doctrine of fundamental fairness. Count V is a claim for illegal operation of a halfway house. Count VI is a claim for piercing the corporate veil. Count VII is a claim for corporate officer/manager participating in tort. Defendants move to dismiss Counts I-VII.

A. Counts Sounding in Negligence (Counts I, II, and VII)

Counts I is a claim for survivorship. Count II is a claim for wrongful death. Count VII is a claim for corporate officer/manager participating in tort. The parties agree that all counts rise or fall depending on whether Defendants were negligent.

Defendants offer two arguments for why Counts I, II, VII should be dismissed. First, they argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for negligence because she has failed to plead the existence of a duty. Second, Defendants argue that they are derivatively immune from suit ...


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