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Estate of Allen v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 13, 2018

THE ESTATE OF ALISSA MARIE ALLEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, A. GARCIA, RN, et al., Defendants.

          Conrad J. Benedetto, Esq. Melissa Yvette Hoffman, Esq. LAW OFFICES OF CONRAD J. BENEDETTO and Danielle Marie Key, Esq. John E. Kusturiss, Jr., Esq. LAW OFFICES OF CONRAD J. BENEDETTO Attorneys for the Plaintiffs.

          Daniel Edward Rybeck, Esq. John C. Eastlack, Jr., Esq. Lilia Londar, Esq. WEIR & PARTNERS, LLP and Stephen D. Holtzman, Esq. Jeffrey S. McClain, Esq. HOLTZMAN & MCCLAIN, PC Attorneys for Defendant A. Garcia, RN and non-party CFG Health Systems.

          A. Michael Barker, Esq. Vanessa Elaine James, Esq. BARKER, GELFAND, JAMES & SARVAS Attorneys for Defendant Corrections Officer Melanie Loatman.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on four separate motions: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint [Docket Item 61]; (2) Defendant Corrections Officer Melanie Loatman's responsive Cross-Motion to Dismiss [Docket Item 66]; (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Third Amended Complaint [Docket Item 81] to add CFG Health Systems as an additional defendant; and (4) Defendant Amber Garcia, RN's responsive Motion for Sanctions [Docket Item 89].

         On August 18, 2015, Plaintiff Christine Allen, both as the administrator of the estate of Alissa Marie Allen and in her own right, filed a complaint in this Court against several defendants, alleging a variety of claims arising from the unfortunate death of Alissa Allen on March 22, 2015 in the Cumberland County Jail. [Docket Item 1.] The First Amended Complaint was filed with leave of the Court on February 8, 2016. [Docket Item 14.]

         Plaintiff seeks to file the Second Amended Complaint to state a claim against Defendant Loatman (“Loatman”) with additional factual allegations so as to state a plausible claim that Loatman bears liability in this case. [Docket Item 61.] In response, Loatman opposes the motion on the grounds that amendment would be futile as the Second Amended Complaint does not state a claim against Loatman [Docket Item 65]. Loatman also cross-moves for dismissal of the First Amended Complaint [Docket Item 66] on the same grounds and relying on the same brief [Docket Item 65]. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition to the Cross-Motion to Dismiss [Docket Item 72]; Loatman filed a Reply [Docket Item 73].

         Separately, Plaintiff seeks to file the Third Amended Complaint (incorporating the additional allegations against Loatman), which adds allegations and claims against CFG Health Systems, Inc. (“CFG”), the healthcare company that allegedly contracted with Cumberland County to provide medical services at the Cumberland County Jail and employed Defendant Amber Garcia, RN (“Garcia”). [Docket Item 81.] Defendant Garcia and non-party CFG filed a Response in Opposition [Docket Item 82]; Plaintiffs did not submit a Reply.

         In further response to Plaintiff's Motion to File the Third Amended Complaint, Defendant Garcia filed a Motion for Sanctions. [Docket Item 89.] Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition [Docket Item 98], and Garcia filed a Reply [Docket Item 99].

         The Court will first address the proposed Second Amended Complaint with regard to Loatman, and then the proposed Third Amended Complaint alongside the Motion for Sanctions.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny without prejudice the Motion for Leave to File the Second Amended Complaint; grant the Cross-Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint; deny the Motion to File the Third Amended Complaint; and deny the Motion for Sanctions.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The instant action arises out of the death of Alissa Marie Allen on March 22, 2015 in the Cumberland County Jail. Her mother, as administrator of Ms. Allen's estate and in her own right, is the named plaintiff in this action. Plaintiff claims that “Defendants violated the rights of Alissa Marie Allen by failing to keep her in a safe and secure environment where she could be kept free from injury, harm, and death, and by failing to provide her with adequate medical care and attention, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” [Docket Item 62, Proposed Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”), ¶ 2.]

         A. Factual Background and Allegations

         On March 20, 2015, Ms. Allen was arrested by Millville, New Jersey police officers who transported her to and booked her into the Cumberland County Jail in the early morning hours of March 21, 2015. [Docket Item 14 at ¶¶ 14-15.] Plaintiff alleges that Garcia and Loatman, among other jail personnel, “were required to screen Ms. Allen not only for any physical problems, but also to determine if Ms. Allen presented a risk for any psychological problems, including suicide[, ]” and “had a legal duty to maintain a safe and suitable environment where Alissa Marie Allen could be kept free from injury, harm and death.” [SAC ¶¶ 15-16.]

         Plaintiff alleges that Loatman “was the only correction officer assigned to A-Pod where the decedent was housed at the Cumberland County Jail during the overnight period on March 22, 2015.” Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that Loatman began her shift at approximately 12:35 AM on March 22, 2015; performed an initial check of the inmates on A-Pod (including the decedent) at approximately 12:40 AM, which took about five minutes. Although the policy and procedures of the Cumberland County Jail required that Loatman check the inmates every thirty minutes, Loatman failed to perform any checks (or rounds) of the inmates in A-Pod for approximately five hours in the early morning of March 22. Id. ¶¶ 18-21.

         At approximately 5:00 AM, “Loatman assembled the diabetic inmates and hydration inmates, those inmates who were brought into the jail under the influence of drugs or alcohol, housed in A-Pod and brought those inmates to the jail's medical unit.” Id. ¶ 22. Although Ms. Allen was placed “on hydration upon her initial intake” at the jail on March 20, 2015 (and had previously been placed on hydration during a previous incarceration at the jail “several days to a week before March 22, 2015”), Loatman failed to check whether Ms. Allen was on hydration and did not bring her with the other hydration inmates. Id. ¶¶ 23-25.

         When Loatman arrived at the medical unit, she was informed that Ms. Allen “was on hydration and needed to be brought to the medical unit”; accordingly, at approximately 5:15 AM, Loatman “went to retrieve Ms. Allen” from her cell to take her to the medical unit for hydration and there observed her “hanging in her jail cell.” Id. ¶¶ 26-28. An on-duty nurse pulled Ms. Allen out of her cell at approximately 5:35 AM and tried to revive her with CPR. Id. ¶ 29. Tragically, Ms. Allen was unable to be revived. Id.

         Plaintiff further notes that emergency medical personnel responding to a report of “cardiac arrest” reported Ms. Allen “‘to have cool and mottled skin. Bruising consistent with Lividity, noted in the legs, however BLS was unaware if Lividity was in fact, present.'” Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Ms. Allen was pronounced dead at the scene; her death certificate identified the “immediate cause” of her death as “Hanging.” Id. ¶¶ 32-33.

         Plaintiff also alleges that, as “a result of the events of March 22, 2015, Defendant Loatman was suspended for 20 days on charges of violating CCDOC Policy 3.02A, negligence in performing duty; resulting in injury to persons or damage to property”.” Id. ¶ 34. An incident report relating to the suspension addressed to Loatman stated, “‘On March 22, 2015 you failed to make physical checks every 30 minutes stated in the General Post Orders. An inmate was found hanging and unresponsive in her cell, resulting in her death. You had not physically and visually checked on her in four hours and 50 minutes.'” Id. ¶ 35.

         Plaintiff claims that Loatman (among others) “failed to properly screen Alissa Marie Allen for any suicidal tendencies, or any other psychological problems, and also failed to properly monitor Alissa Marie Allen” thereby “breach[ing] their legal duty to maintain a safe and suitable environment[, ]” acting to deprive Ms. Allen of “her rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments[.]” Id. ¶¶ 36-37.

         Plaintiff claims that Loatman is liable for federal constitutional violations (Second Claim for Relief, id. ¶¶ 45-51); violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 et seq. (Fourth Claim for Relief, SAC ¶¶ 58-61); wrongful death (Fifth Claim for Relief, id. ¶¶ 62-67); and survival action (Sixth Claim for Relief, id. ¶¶ 68-73).

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed the initial complaint in this action on August 18, 2015, against Cumberland County, Warden Robert Balicki, and John Doe Corrections Officers 1-50. [Docket Item 1.]

         On November 15, 2015, the Cumberland County Defendants served their initial disclosures on Plaintiff, including, inter alia, medical and intake records signed by Garcia, some of which included the name and/or logo of CFG. [Docket Item 82 at 4.]

         On January 18, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint [Docket Item 12], which was granted on February 3, 2016 [Docket Item 13]. The First Amended Complaint was filed on February 8, 2016; in addition to Cumberland County and Warden Balicki, it named Garcia, eight corrections officers, and John Doe Corrections Officers 9-50 as defendants. [Docket Item 14.]

         Garcia's initial disclosures, including a certificate of insurance coverage naming CFG as the insured and the Cumberland County Jail as the certificate holder, were served on Plaintiff on May 11, 2016. [Docket Items 82 at 5, 82-5 at 4.] No medical defendants beside Garcia were ever impleaded as defendants; nor were any medical defendants or employees or agents of CFG ever impleaded as John Does.

         On December 9, 2016, this case was consolidated for discovery purposes only with three additional cases involving suicides in the Cumberland County Jail: Estate of Hennis v. Cumberland County, 16-cv-4216 (“Hennis”); Estate of Lewis v. Cumberland County, 16-cv-3503 (“Lewis”); and Estate of Watson v. Cumberland County, 16-cv-6578 (“Watson”). [Docket ...


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