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Cruse v. State

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 31, 2013

ALVON CRUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

JOEL A. PISANO, District Judge.

This is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 case brought by Plaintiff Alvon Cruse ("Plaintiff") against Defendants the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Corrections, John Doe, M.D. 1-5; John Doe 1-5; and John Doe Corp. 1-5 (collectively, the "Defendants"). Currently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendants the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Corrections (together, the "State Defendants") [ECF no. 11]. The Court decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

I.Background[1]

Plaintiff Alvon Cruse was incarcerated within the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") from January 15, 2010 until September 24, 2012. Plaintiff's medical records indicate that upon his initial reception and medical intake at NJDOC's Central Reception and Assignment Facility, the only allergies indicated were to eggs and lactose. See Declaration of Ralph Woodward, MD ("Woodward Decl.") ¶ 5; Woodward Decl. Ex. A. According to Mr. Cruse, he also told the prison officials that he was allergic to Vancomycin at his initial intake. See Deposition of Alvon Cruse ("Cruse Dep.") 26:5-20, Apr. 29, 2013.

While in the custody of NJDOC, Mr. Cruse was prescribed Vancomycin. See Cruse Dep. 12:13-19. On June 7, 2010, he was transported to and admitted into Saint Francis Medical Center for evaluation. See Woodward Decl. ¶¶ 6-7; Cruse Dep. 22:13-24:11. Mr. Cruse's kidneys shut down and, as a result, he alleges he lost the majority of his kidney function. See Cruse Dep. 24:12-26:4. He remained at Saint Francis until his discharge on June 20, 2010. Woodward Decl. ¶ 7. The only allergies listed on Mr. Cruse's NJDOC medical records up through his hospitalization in June 2010 are allergies to eggs and lactose. Id. at ¶ 8. His NJDOC medical records do not list a possible allergy to the medication Vancomycin until October 6, 2010. Id. at ¶ 9.

On or about April 12, 2012, Plaintiff Cruse filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges various common law claims, as well as violations of "his rights under the United States Constitution, the Federal Civil Rights, laws, title 42 of the U.S.C., sections 1983, and 1985 et seq., and corollary provisions of the New Jersey State Constitution and Civil Rights, Laws of the State of New Jersey." On June 4, 2012, the State of New Jersey and the NJDOC were served, and they filed a timely Notice of Removal to this Court on June 29, 2012 [ECF No. 1]. On June 7, 2013, the State Defendants filed this motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 11]. The State Defendants argue that as state entities, they are not "persons" amenable to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (the "NJCRA"). They also argue that the § 1983 violations are premised on an inappropriate theory of respondeat superior. The State Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claim for a violation of § 1985 fails to properly state a claim. They also assert that Plaintiff's state law claims are barred because Plaintiff has failed to file a Notice of Tort Claim. Finally, they move for the John Doe defendants to be dismissed. Plaintiff opposes[2] this motion, arguing that there are material facts in dispute that prevent summary judgment from being entered.

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that "a court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The substantive law identifies which facts are material. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A material fact raises a "genuine" issue "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict" for the non-moving party. Healy v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1219 n.3 (3d Cir. 1988).

The Court must consider all facts and their logical inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The Court shall not "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, " but need determine only whether a genuine issue necessitates a trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the non-moving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 250. If the non-moving party fails to demonstrate proof beyond a "mere scintilla" of evidence that a genuine issue of material fact exists, then the Court must grant summary judgment. Big Apple BMW v. BMW of N. Am., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

III. Legal Discussion

A. "Person" Amenable to Suit under Section 1983, Section 1985, or the NJCRA

The State Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as his corollary claims under the NJCRA, are flawed because the State of New Jersey and the NJDOC are not "persons" amenable to suit under § 1983. This argument does not involve a factual analysis of the events that gave rise to this cause of action; rather, it requires a legal analysis of whether Plaintiff may sue the State of New Jersey and the NJDOC for violations of § 1983. This Court finds that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff may not do so.

In relevant part, Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to ...

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