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Estate of Alissa Marie Allen v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 20, 2018

CUMBERLAND COUNTY, A. GARCIA, RN, et al., Defendants.


          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint.[1] (See Pl.'s Mot. [Docket Item 129].) Plaintiff's present motion is opposed by Defendant Melanie Loatman, (see Def. Loatman's Opp'n [Docket Item 132]), Defendant Amber Garcia, RN, (see Def. Garcia's Opp'n [Docket Item 133]), and Defendants Cumberland County, Warden Robert Balicki, Corrections Officer Richard Serano, Corrections Officer Michael Puglise, Corrections Officer D. Ortiz, Corrections Officer Michael Fowlkes, Corrections Officer Floyd, Corrections Officer Santos, and Corrections Officer Badge No. 120 (hereinafter, collectively, “County Defendants”). (See County Defs.' Opp'n [Docket Item 137].) Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (See Pl.'s Reply [Docket Item 138].) The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides the pending motion [Docket Item 129] pursuant to Rule 78(b), Fed.R.Civ.P. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion to file an amended complaint will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court finds as follows:

         1. Factual and Procedural Background.

         The factual and procedural background of this case was thoroughly described in this Court's Opinion of March 13, 2018, Estate of Allen v. Cumberland Cnty., No. 15-6273, 2018 WL 1293154 (D.N.J. Mar. 13, 2018), and shall not be repeated herein, except as necessary for the determination of the present motion.

         2. In the Court's prior Opinion and the accompanying Order, the Court denied two of Plaintiff's prior motions to amend the complaint and simultaneously “grant[ed] leave to Plaintiff to file a new motion for leave to amend, with a proposed Amended Complaint that addresses the deficiencies noted” in the Court's prior Opinion. Id. at *12. In particular, the Court directed Plaintiff to correct certain deficiencies with Plaintiff's constitutional claims against Defendant Loatman. See id. at *10-14. Subsequently, Plaintiff timely filed the present motion.[2]

         3. Standard of Review.

         Rule 15(a)(2) permits Plaintiff to amend “only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Although “[t]he court should freely give leave when justice so requires, ” id., the decision to grant leave to amend a complaint rests within the sound discretion of the trial court. Massarsky v. General Motors Corp., 706 F.2d 111, 125 (3d Cir. 1983). The district court may deny leave to amend only if (a) the moving party's delay in seeking amendment is undue, motivated by bad faith, or prejudicial to the non-moving party; or (b) the amendment would be futile, meaning that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Travelers Indem. Co. v. Dammann & Co., 594 F.3d 238, 243 (3d Cir. 2010); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000).

         4. In assessing “futility, ” the court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Shane, 213 F.3d at 115. In other words, the amended complaint must be dismissed (or leave to amend ought not be granted) if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court concludes that the plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); Fleisher Standard Ins. Co., 679 F.3d 116, 120 (3d Cir. 2012). Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, that tenet is “inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” and “[a] pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         5. Discussion.

         Plaintiff's present motion seeks leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to the Court's prior Opinion, which identified certain deficiencies in Plaintiff's constitutional claims against Defendant Loatman. See Estate of Allen, 2018 WL 1293154, at *10-14. In that Opinion, the Court stated that

[i]n the context of an Eighth Amendment[3] claim regarding a prisoner's medical needs, “a failure to provide adequate care that was deliberate, and motivated by non-medical factors is actionable . . ., but inadequate care that was a result of an error in medical judgment is not.” Parkell [ Danberg], 833 F.3d [313, ] 337 [(3d Cir. 2016)] (citing Durmer O'Carroll, 991 F.2d 64, 69 (3d Cir. 1993)) (internal quotations omitted).
A constitutional claim based on a prison or its official's failure to prevent a detainee's suicide can be analyzed within this rubric. “[A] vulnerability to suicide claim . . . is simply a more specific articulation of the Eighth Amendment rule that prison officials must not be deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs[.]” Mullin v. Balicki, 875 F.3d 140, 158 (3d Cir. 2017) (“Mullin II”). However, “[w]e cannot infer from the prisoner's act of suicide itself that the prison officials have recklessly disregarded their obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect the safety of prisoners entrusted to their care.” Freedman v. City of Allentown, Pa., 853 F.2d 1111, 1115 (3d Cir. 1988).

Id. at *7.

         6. The Court went on to quote the Third Circuit's test, which ...

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