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Mendez v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 3, 2017

MARY O. MENDEZ, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., Defendants.

          LOREN T. FINESMITH 1521 LOCUST STREET On behalf of Plaintiffs Mary O. Mendez, Estate of Bryan Jadiel Mendez

          JARAD L. SILVERSTEIN, CAROLYN R. SLEEPER, PARKER MCCAY PA On behalf of Defendants Cindy Aves, Beryl Kelley, Christine Ward, Cooper Anesthesia Associates, Cooper University Hospital, and Cooper University Physicians

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge

         Initially before the Court was the motion (Docket No. 96) of Defendants[1] Cindy Aves, Beryl Kelley, Christine Ward, Cooper Anesthesia Associates, Cooper University Hospital, and Cooper University Physicians (“Defendants”) for partial summary judgment as to any and all claims for punitive damages made by Plaintiff Mary Mendez both individually in her own right and as the Administrator of the Estate of her son, the Estate of Brian Janiel Mendez, Deceased (“Plaintiffs”). Defendants also moved for partial summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' claim for intentional misrepresentation in Count 7.[2]

         For the reasons described below, Defendant Kelley (“Defendant”) is now the only Defendant moving for partial summary judgment as to punitive damages and the punitive damages claims in Counts 6 and 13 are now the only claims contested in this motion.[3] Defendant Kelley's motion will be granted.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This Court laid out the facts of this action in depth in its Opinion of December 7, 2016. (Docket No. 103.) To summarize, this is an obstetrics medical malpractice action involving the death of a newborn baby, Bryan Jadiel Mendez, and emotional and physical pain to his mother, Mary O. Mendez. In the accompanying Order of December 7, 2016, we granted Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment and dismissed any and all claims of the sister of Mary Mendez, Miletzy Hernandez, who had claimed negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Docket Nos. 103 (Opinion) and 104 (Order).) Presently before the Court is Defendant Kelley's motion for partial summary judgment as to any and all claims made by Plaintiffs for punitive damages.

         JURISDICTION AND CHOICE OF LAW

         This Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) and 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) in that one of the Defendants is the United States. The United States has sovereign immunity except where it consents to be sued. U.S. v. Bormes, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 12, 16, 184 L.Ed.2d 317 (2012). The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671 et seq., provides for a limited waiver of the sovereign immunity of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2679(b)(1); White-Squire v. U.S. Postal Service, 592 F.3d 453, 456 (3d Cir. 2010).

         The FTCA gives a federal district court exclusive jurisdiction over civil actions

on claims against the United States, for money damages . . . for injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.

28 U.S.C. § 1346(b); CNA v. U.S., 535 F.3d 132, 141 (3d Cir. 2008)(citing FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 477, 114 S.Ct. 996, 127 L.Ed.2d 308 (1994)).

         FTCA claims are governed by the substantive tort law of the state where the acts or omissions occurred. See FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. at 477-78; Ciccarone v. United States, 486 F.2d 253, 257 (3d Cir. 1973). We therefore apply New Jersey substantive law to this motion for partial summary judgment.

         LEGAL STANDARD: MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that “‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986)(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.) An issue is genuine if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is material if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. “In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not weigh evidence or determine credibility; instead, the nonmoving party's evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”)(citation omitted); see also Singletary v. Pa. Dept. of Corr.,266 F.3d 186, 192 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2001)(“Although the initial burden is on the summary judgment movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ‘the burden on the moving party may be discharged by “showing” - that is, pointing ...


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