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Mendez v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 9, 2016

MARY MENDEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.

          LOREN FINESMITH, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiffs.

          WILLIAM FITZPATRICK, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY By: Jordan M. Anger, A.U.S.A. Counsel for Defendant United States of America.

          PARKER MCCAY PA By: Jarad L. Silverstein, Esq. Carolyn R. Sleeper, Esq. Counsel for all other Defendants.


          Noel L. Hillman, U.S.D.J.

         This is a medical malpractice suit. Plaintiff Mary Mendez asserts that the negligence of the various medical professionals who treated her during her pregnancy caused the death of her baby during, or shortly after, the baby's birth.

         One of those medical professionals is Dr. Eric Chang, who is employed by CAMcare Health Corporation (“CAMcare”). CAMcare is a federally qualified health center (“FHQC”), and the United States has been substituted for Dr. Chang pursuant to the provisions of the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671-2680.

         The United States presently moves to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or alternatively, for partial summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. At issue is whether the New Jersey Charitable Immunities Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-7 et seq., applies to the claims against Dr. Chang; and if so, whether the NJCIA's absolute immunity provision, or the damages cap provision, applies.

         If the absolute immunity provision applies, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction by operation of the United States' limited waiver of sovereign immunity in the FTCA. See 28 U.S.C. § 2674. If the damages cap applies, the United States is entitled to summary judgment limiting its liability to $250, 000. If the NJCIA does not apply at all, as Plaintiff contends, then the United States' Motion should be denied in its entirety.

         For the reasons stated herein, the Court holds that the NJCIA's damages cap provision applies. Accordingly, the United States' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction will be denied, and the motion for partial summary judgment will be granted.


         Four other opinions have been written in this case. See Mendez v. United States, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16153 (D.N.J. Feb. 3, 2017); Mendez v. United States, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168854 (D.N.J. Dec. 7, 2016); Mendez v. United States, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102381 (D.N.J. Aug. 5, 2015); Mendez v. Chang, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152131 (D.N.J. Oct. 23, 2013). The Court recites only the facts directly relevant to the instant motion.

         CAMcare is classified as a public charity under the Internal Revenue Code. (Plaintiff's Response to United States' Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (“PSUF”) ¶ 1) It provides “primary health care” services to “underserved families” through its operation of eight “health centers” located in Camden and Gloucester Counties. (PSUF ¶¶ 1-2)

         CAMcare has no inpatient facilities and provides “no trauma care, not even suturing.” (PSUF ¶ 1) However, the services CAMcare does provide-- “including primary care (internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrical, gynecological, prenatal and perinatal services, and podiatry), preventive care (family planning, well-child services, dental services, and nutrition), [and] related support and enabling health services”-- are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (PSUF ¶ 17-18).

         CAMcare's Certificate of Incorporation states that CAMcare's corporate purposes are:

a. To provide primary health services, including the services of physicians and other health providers, and, where feasible, services of physicians' assistants and nurse clinicians, mental health services, dental services, diagnostic laboratory and radiologic services, preventive health services (including children's eye and ear examinations to determine the need for vision and hearing corrections, prenatal services, well child services, preventive dental services, and family planning services), emergency medical services, and transportation services as required for adequate patient care;
b. To provide as appropriate supplemental health services necessary for the adequate support of primary health services, including hospital services, home health services, extended care facility services, extended care facility services, rehabilitative services (including physical therapy) and long term physical medicine, mental health services, dental services, vision services, allied health services, pharmaceutical services, therapeutic radiologic services, public health services (including nutrition education and social services), health education services, and services which promote optimal use of primary and supplemental health services, including as necessary and appropriate the services of bilingual outreach workers;
c. To provide referrals to providers of supplemental health services and patients, as appropriate and feasible, for the provision of such services; d. To provide, as may be appropriate, environmental health services;
e. To provide information on the availability and proper use of health services;
f. To raise funds from private donations and to apply for and receive governmental and ...

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