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Hansen v. Atlantic County Justice Facility

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 30, 2017


          Anton Kaminsky, Esq. David P. Heim, Esq. BOCHETTO AND LENTZ, PC Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          James T. Dugan, Esq. Atlantic County Department of Law Attorney for Defendant.




         This dispute arises out of a head injury suffered by Plaintiff Brooke Hansen (“Plaintiff”) while she was incarcerated at the Atlantic County Justice Facility. Approximately one year after she was injured, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Atlantic County Justice Facility, Atlantic County Department of Public Safety, Atlantic County of New Jersey, and their agents (collectively, “Defendants”), bringing claims under the U.S. Constitution and New Jersey Civil Rights Act, as well as the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“NJTCA”). [Docket Item 1.] Specifically, Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action: (1) substantive due process civil rights violation under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and N.J.S.A. § 10:6-2; (2) negligence; (3) negligent supervision; and (4) dangerous conditions of public property pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:4-2. [Docket Item 7.]

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). [Docket Item 17.] The principal issue to be determined is whether Plaintiff has stated a claim for violation of her substantive due process rights upon which relief can be granted. As discussed below, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to allege a plausible claim that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need and will, therefore, grant Defendants' motion to dismiss Count One without prejudice.

         Also before the Court is the issue of whether Plaintiff's tort claims (Counts Two, Three, and Four) are barred by her failure to timely file a notice of claim under the NJTCA. For the reasons discussed infra, the Court fully endorses and incorporates the Memorandum Opinion and Order of the Honorable Joel Schneider, U.S.M.J., dated August 18, 2017, in which Judge Schneider determined that Plaintiff failed to timely file notice of her NJTCA claims and that “extraordinary circumstances” did not warrant a late filing of notice. [Docket Item 24.] Because Plaintiff failed to satisfy a critical statutory element of the NJTCA, see N.J.S.A. 59:8-8(a), the Court will dismiss Counts Two, Three, and Four with prejudice.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         On January 28, 2016, Plaintiff was arrested by an unnamed New Jersey State Police officer during a traffic stop on a drug-related warrant issued out of Atlantic County. (Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 17-22.) Plaintiff admitted she was under the influence of alcohol, heroin, and Xanax at the time of arrest and claims she was visibly intoxicated during the traffic stop. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff asserts that these visible traits included severely slurred speech, drifting in and out of consciousness, dilated pupils, and an impaired ability to walk. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Upon arrest, Plaintiff was taken into police custody and transported to the Atlantic County Justice Facility. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

         Around 1:30 p.m., Plaintiff was received into an admissions holding cell at the Atlantic County Justice Facility. [Docket Item 14 at Exhibit B.] There, Plaintiff maintains, she remained visibly intoxicated. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff avers that her obvious impairment put Defendants on notice she had a “high risk of losing consciousness and/or falling.” (Id. at ¶ 29.)

         At 3:48 p.m., Plaintiff lost consciousness and collapsed, hitting her head against the glass barrier of the holding cell and then on the concrete floor. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 30.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was immediately transported to Shore Medical Center, where she was seen by a doctor at 5:42 p.m. [Docket Item 7 at Exhibit A.] A computerized tomography (“CT”) scan of Plaintiff's brain revealed “increased attenuation within apparent 2.3 1.3 cm mass within the medial aspect of the right temporal fossa adjacent to the sphenoid bone, ” which “may be related to meningioma.” [Id.] Later that evening, Plaintiff was discharged from Shore Medical Center and transported back to Atlantic County Justice Facility. [Docket Item 14 at Exhibit B.] At around 10 p.m., a registered nurse performed a “Visual Triage, ” completed a “Registered Nurse Assessment, ” and approved Plaintiff for the general population. [Id.] The registered nurse assigned Plaintiff with a “special needs” status, which required “lower level, lower bunk” medical housing through February 12, 2016, due to concerns of withdrawal symptoms, including possible seizures. [Docket Item 14 at Exhibits C and D.]

         On February 11, 2016, Plaintiff was transported back to Shore Medical Center for further testing, which revealed a “large flow void arising from the right internal carotid artery measuring 2 cm in greatest dimension, most consistent with giant aneurysm.”[2] [Docket Item 7 at Exhibit B.] During the remainder of her incarceration, Plaintiff underwent detoxification for her heroin addition, suffered from depression and anxiety, and on, multiple occasions, reported to prison officials an intent to commit suicide. (Id. at ¶ 39, 42-43.) Plaintiff was released from the Atlantic County Justice Facility on April 30, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 38.)

         Six months after her release, on November 2, 2016, Plaintiff visited Kennedy University Hospital, “complaining of severe pains in her head and abnormal swelling and blurry vision in her right eye.” (Id. at ¶ 50.) A CT scan and MRI revealed that Plaintiff's brain aneurysm had increased in size and required emergency surgery. (Id. at ¶¶ 51-52.) On December 14, 2016, Plaintiff successfully had her aneurysm removed. (Id. at ¶ 58.)

         On or about November 2, 2016, Plaintiff retained present counsel who served Defendants with a notice of claim on November 10, 2016. [Docket Item 7 at Exhibit D.] On January 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed her first Complaint against Defendants. [Docket Item 1.] Four days later, Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint. [Docket Item 7.] In the four-count Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, in addition to the brain aneurysm she had removed, the January 28, 2016 fall caused her emotional and physical harm, including regular severe headaches; short and long term memory loss and an ability to maintain focus on tasks; loss of cognitive function; severe irritability and anger due to the headaches and inability to focus; restlessness and insomnia; loss of inhibition and passion for her profession due to her other symptoms; nausea, loss of appetite, and hair ...

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