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The Estate of Jon Leon Watson v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 27, 2018

THE ESTATE OF JON LEON WATSON by and through its Administrator ad Prosequendum, HELEN RAY LLOYD, and HELEN RAY LLOYD, in her own right, Plaintiffs,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 by Defendant CFG Health Systems, LLC (“CFG”). CFG seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's medical malpractice/ professional negligence claims for failure to timely provide an Affidavit of Merit as required by N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:53A-29. The Court has reviewed the submissions and decides the matter based on the briefs pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons stated here, Defendant CFG's motion will be granted.

         Background

         CFG provided health services at Cumberland County Jail when Jon Leon Watson was admitted as an inmate. On June 3, 2016, Watson was found hanging in his cell; he had committed suicide.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). Thus, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A).

         An issue is “genuine” if 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 (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 determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. “A nonmoving party may not ‘rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'” Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Indeed,

the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.

         Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, the movant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that “an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [alleged dispute of] fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2).

         In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         Discussion

         New Jersey's Affidavit of Merit Statute was enacted “‘as part of a tort reform package designed to strike a fair balance between preserving a person's right to sue and controlling nuisance suits.'” Nuveen Mun. Trust v. Withumsmith Brown, P.C., 692 F.3d 283, 290 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 579 (3d Cir. 2003)). The Affidavit of Merit Statute requires:

[i]n any action for damages for personal injuries, wrongful death or property damage resulting from an alleged act of malpractice or negligence by a licensed person in his profession or occupation, the plaintiff shall, within 60 days following the date of filing of the answer to the complaint by the defendant, provide each defendant with an affidavit of an appropriate licensed person [stating] that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment ...

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