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Myers v. Atlantic Health Systems

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 4, 2014

CORINNE MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
ATLANTIC HEALTH SYSTEMS, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES B. CLARK, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Atlantic Health Systems d/b/a Morristown Medical Center, Joseph Pasquarosa and Dorothy Zarillo's ("Defendants") motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [Docket Entry No. 5]. Plaintiff Corinne Myers ("Plaintiff") opposes Defendants' motion and has cross-moved to amend her complaint. [Docket Entry No. 8]. The Court has fully reviewed and considered all arguments made in support of, and in opposition to, both motions. The Court considers both motions 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 DENIED IN PART and it is RECOMMENDED that Defendant's motion be GRANTED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

This case was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §12101, et seq., as well various state law and common law claims in connection with the termination of Plaintiff from her position as a Registered Nurse ("RN") at Morristown Medical Center ("MMC"), which is owned by Defendant Atlantic Health Systems ("AHS"). Compl. at ¶1; Docket Entry No. 3. Plaintiff was employed full-time by AHS from 2001 to 2009. Id. at ¶4. Defendant Zarillo was Plaintiff's manager during her employment there. Id. at ¶5. Plaintiff alleges that during her employment with AHS, she and Defendant Zarillo developed an "antagonistic relationship" which was brought on by several incidents. Id. For instance, Plaintiff alleges that Zarillo improperly assigned her to a division of the Surgical Floor where patients "were connected to monitors and machines on which Plaintiff had not been trained and [with which] she did not feel herself qualified or competent to work... without prior training." Id. at ¶7. Plaintiff alleges that "[t]here was a great deal of dissatisfaction among the nursing staff with Defendant Zarillo" and that eventually, a letter submitted by the nurses complaining of her, and Zarillo was subsequently disciplined. Id. at ¶10. Plaintiff states that she did not send the letter but that "[i]t was a common belief among the... nursing staff that Plaintiff has been the author of the letter." Id. The bulk of Plaintiff's complaint, however, stems from an incident regarding Plaintiff's distribution of the drug Dilaudid to a patient.

Plaintiff states that on October 20, 2012, Plaintiff was caring for a patient, R.L, "who was recuperating from abdominal surgery" and who had a drip of Dilaudid for pain control. Id. at ¶12. Around 10:00am that morning, Plaintiff noticed that R.L.'s drip bag was empty and so she went to the Pyxis machines to get more. Id. at ¶12-13. Plaintiff claims that, pursuant to hospital protocol, she "began removing 1mg Dilaudid syringes from the Pyxis machine for R.L." and further, that she properly noted each removal and that another RN witnessed her taking it. Id. at ¶14. On November 8, 2012, Plaintiff alleges that she was "confronted at work by the head of security, and was advised that there was an issue with the Pyxis machine.'" Id. at ¶16. She further claims that she was suspended without pay at this point, pending an investigation. Id. On November 14, 2012, Plaintiff reported to the security office at MMC, where she met with Defendant Zarillo and Defendant Pasquarosa, MMC's Investigator. Id. at ¶17. At this point, Defendant Pasquarosa told Plaintiff that the "investigation showed that she had apparently been diverting prescription medications on October 20." Id. Plaintiff alleges that she was confined in that room for three hours and was pressured into admitting to taking to the drugs herself, for fear of losing her "job, license, career and pension[.]" Id. Plaintiff alleges that Pasquarosa "told her that if she would admit to it, they would put her into the RAMP (Recovery And Monitoring Program, run by the New Jersey Board of Nursing)[.]" Id. Plaintiff claims that she admitted to taking the drugs under duress, was admitted to RAMP, and subsequently terminated. Id. at ¶20. Plaintiff states that Defendants forced her into RAMP and in so doing, "Defendants were acting as the agents of the New Jersey State Board of Nursing... and as such were acting under color of state law." Id. at ¶19.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Motion to Amend

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1), "[a] party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course within: (A) 21 days after serving it; or (B) if the pleading is one to which a responsive pleading is required, 21 days after service of a responsive pleading or 21 days after service of a motion under Rule 12(b), (e), or (f), whichever is earlier." Otherwise, pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2) "a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires."

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 faith, prejudice or futility, a motion for leave to amend a pleading should be liberally granted. Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004). The Third Circuit has recognized that "prejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone for the denial of an amendment." Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Cornell & Co. v. Occupational Safety & Health Review Comm'n, 573 F.2d 820, 823 (3d Cir. 1978)) (internal quotations omitted). "Delay alone is not sufficient to justify denial of leave to amend... When a party fails to take advantage of previous opportunities to amend, without adequate explanation, leave to amend is properly denied." Id. (internal citations omitted).

An amendment is futile if it "is frivolous or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face." Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Imp., Inc., 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). To evaluate futility the District Court uses "the same standard of legal sufficiency" as applied for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000). "Accordingly, if a claim is vulnerable to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), but the plaintiff moves to amend, leave to amend generally must be granted unless the amendment would not cure the deficiency." Id.

B. Motion to Dismiss

The Supreme Court refined the standard for summary dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009). The Court examined Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which provides that a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED.R.CIV.P. 8(a)(2).[1] Citing its opinion in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), for the proposition that "[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, '" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), the Supreme Court identified two working principles underlying the failure to state a claim standard.

First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.... Rule 8... does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the ...

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