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Estate of Smith v. City of Wildwood

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 27, 2018

ESTATE OF CLAYTON SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF WILDWOOD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Liudmila Smith, both as the administratrix of the estate of Clayton Smith and in her own right, (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) brings this action against Defendants City of Wildwood, James Neill, Louis Raniszewski, Ryan Troiano, and Aldo Sacco (hereinafter, collectively, “Defendants”)[1] alleging a variety of claims arising from the unfortunate death of Clayton Smith on February 19, 2016. (See Complaint [Docket Item 1].) This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (See Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Item 41].) Plaintiff opposes Defendants' motion. (See Brief in Opposition (hereinafter “Pl.'s Opp'n”) [Docket Item 44].) Defendants assert six separate bases for granting summary judgment in their favor. (See generally Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter “Defs.' Br.”) [Docket Item 41-1].) Defendants allege that:

1. EMT Defendants are granted immunity by N.J.S.A. § 26:2K-29;
2. EMT Defendants are granted immunity by N.J.S.A. § 26:2K-14;
3. Plaintiff has failed to provide an Affidavit of Merit, pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 2A:53A-27;
4. Plaintiff has not shown a policy or custom sufficient to prove a Monell claim against City Defendant;
5. City Defendant is immune if EMT Defendants are found to be immune under either N.J.S.A. §§ 26:2K-29 or 26:2K-14;
6. Defendants are not liable for punitive damages under either New Jersey or federal law.

(See generally id.) The Court will address each of these bases in turn, below. The Court finds as follows:

         1. Factual and Procedural Background.[2]

         On February 23, 2014, at 7:10 a.m., Plaintiff was awoken by a noise from the bathroom. (See Plaintiff's Answers to Initial Interrogatories (hereinafter “Pl.'s Answers”) [Docket Item 41-6], ¶ 22.) Upon entering the bathroom, Plaintiff found her husband, Clayton Smith, on the bathroom floor, breathing hard; she immediately called 911. (See id.) At 7:12 a.m., Wildwood Rescue Unit #391 (hereinafter “Unit #391”) and Wildwood Fire Department Engine #338 (hereinafter “Engine #338”) were dispatched to respond to Plaintiff's call. (See Wildwood Fire Department Patient Record [Docket Item 41-3], 1; Wildwood Fire Department Report [Docket Item 41-4], 2 on the docket.) Unit #391 was driven by Defendant Neill and was carrying Defendant Raniszewski; Engine #338 included Defendant Sacco; the record is unclear as to how Defendant Troiano arrived at the scene.[3] (See Wildwood Fire Department Patient Record [Docket Item 41-3], 1; Wildwood Fire Department Report [Docket Item 41-4], 2 on the docket.) The times that the vehicles arrived at the Smiths' residence is disputed; Plaintiff contends that Unit #391 arrived around 7:22 a.m. and that Engine #338 arrived at sometime thereafter. (See Transcript of the Deposition of Liudmila Smith (hereinafter “Smith Dep.”) [Docket Item 44-2], 37:21-23.) Upon Unit #391's arrival, the parties agree that Plaintiff directed them to the bathroom where her husband was on the floor “unconscious, unresponsive, and not breathing, ” (Wildwood Fire Department Patient Record [Docket Item 41-3], 3). Plaintiff contends, however, that she was never asked about Mr. Smith's cardiac health history. (See Smith Dep. [Docket Item 44-2], 40:18-41:19.) The members of Unit #391 then moved Mr. Smith from the bathroom into the living room and checked for his pulse and breathing, neither of which were detected. (Wildwood Fire Department Patient Record [Docket Item 41-3], 3.) At this point the Engine #338 arrived, and its personnel joined the members of Unit #391 in the Smiths' living room. (See id.) Plaintiff contends that EMT Defendants did not provide Mr. Smith with any cardiopulmonary resuscitation (hereinafter “CPR”) or supplemental oxygen while he was in the Smiths' apartment, despite her requests to provide care. (See Pl.'s Answers [Docket Item 41-6], ¶ 22.) EMT Defendants loaded Plaintiff onto a stretcher and transported him from the living room into either an ambulance or a fire truck. (See Smith Dep. [Docket Item 44-2], 46:16-48:8.) Four separate witnesses have testified that no CPR or supplemental oxygen was being provided to Mr. Smith as he was being transported to the vehicle. Once inside the vehicle, EMT Defendants administered two separate shocks to Mr. Smith using an automated external defibrillator. (Wildwood Fire Department Patient Record [Docket Item 41-3], 3.) Plaintiff asserts that it then took another 25-30 minutes for EMT Defendants to begin driving Mr. Smith to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. (See Pl.'s Answers [Docket Item 41-6], ¶ 22.)

         2. On February 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant action. (See Complaint [Docket Item 1].) Defendants filed their Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint on May 12, 2016. (See Answer [Docket Item 11].) On October 31, 2017, the parties stipulated to the dismissal, with prejudice, of Counts Two and Five of Plaintiff's Complaint. (See Stipulation of Dismissal [Docket Item 40].) The remaining counts of Plaintiff's Complaint allege the following:

• Count One: EMT Defendants violated Mr. Smith's “constitutional rights, particularly his right to be free of state-created danger under the Due Process Clause;”
• Count Three: EMT Defendants “violated Mr. Smith's “constitutional rights, particularly his right not to be put in a class of one under the Equal Protection Clause;”
• Count Four: EMT Defendants violated Mr. Smith's “constitutional rights, particularly his due process right to be free of state-created danger under Article I, Paragraph I of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey;”
• Count Six: EMT Defendants violated Mr. Smith's “constitutional rights, particularly his equal protection right not to be put in a class of one under Article I, Paragraph I of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey;”
• Count Seven: EMT Defendants “caused the wrongful death of [Mr. Smith]” and City Defendant is “vicariously liable for the wrongful death of [Mr. Smith], caused by the acts of their employees, [EMT Defendants];”
• Count Eight: EMT Defendants' negligence “was a substantial contributing factor to the loss of the last clear chance to save the life of [Mr. Smith]” and City Defendant is “vicariously liable for the negligent acts of [its] employees, [EMT Defendants];”
• Count Nine: EMT Defendants' negligence “was a direct and proximate cause of bystander emotional distress under Portee v. Jaffe to Plaintiff” and City Defendant is “vicariously liable for the negligent acts of [its] employees, [EMT Defendants].”

(Complaint [Docket Item 1], ¶¶ 84, 86, 88, 90, 92-97.) Plaintiff is seeking damages from Defendants for compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs, and fees. (Id. at 12.)

         3. Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment, arguing that they are entitled to summary judgment in their favor as to each Count of the Complaint, for the reasons outlined, supra. (See generally Defs.' Br. [Docket Item 41-1].) Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition. (See Pl.'s Br. [Docket Item 44].) Defendants filed a reply. (See Defendants' Reply Brief (hereinafter “Defs.' Reply”) [Docket Item 48].) Plaintiff was granted leave to file a sur-reply, (see Text Order [Docket Item 50]), and did so. (See Sur-Reply Brief [Docket Item 51].) The pending motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition. The Court will decide the motion without oral argument, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78.

         4. Standard of Review.

         At summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to examine the evidence in light most favorable to the ...


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