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Hennis v. Balicki

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 10, 2019

ESTATE OF DAVID HENNIS and PATRICIA HENNIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
WARDEN ROBERT BALICKI and CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs,
v.
CFG HEALTH SYSTEMS, LLC, Third-Party Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff Patricia Hennis (“Plaintiff”) brings several causes of action arising from the suicide death of her son, David Hennis, while in custody of Cumberland County Jail, including failure to properly screen and monitor Mr. Hennis for any suicidal tendencies. As relevant here, CFG Health Systems, LLC (“CFG Health” or “Third-Party Defendant”) was not originally named as a Defendant when the Complaint was filed on July 12, 2016 [Docket Item 1] and was later added as a Defendant in an Amended Complaint [Docket Item 26] that was filed after the statute of limitations had expired and not timely served upon CFG Health. For the reasons discussed in detail in the Court's Opinion dated March 29, 2018 [Docket Item 105], and as summarized briefly below, CFG Health was subsequently dismissed as a Defendant in this matter with prejudice. Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs Warden Robert Balicki and Cumberland County (collectively, “Third-Party Plaintiffs”) have since filed a Third-Party Complaint and implead CFG Health for indemnification and/or contribution. [Docket Item 128.] Pending before the Court is CFG Health's motion to strike the Third-Party Complaint against it pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 14(a)(4). [Docket Item 129.] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny CFG Health's motion and permit Third-Party Plaintiffs to pursue claims against CFG Health for indemnification and/or contribution. The Court finds as follows:

1. Factual and Procedural Background.[1] David Hennis was arrested by the Vineland Police Department on July 22, 2014. [Docket Item 26 at ¶ 15.] He was subsequently incarcerated at the Cumberland County Jail on July 22, 2014, until his death by suicide on July 30, 2014. [Id. at ¶¶ 16, 19.] At the time of Mr. Hennis's death, and as discussed below, CFG Health was under contract to provide health care services to inmates at the Cumberland County Jail. [Id. at ¶ 12.] According to the Amended Complaint, Defendants and CFG Health “failed to properly screen David Hennis for suicidal tendencies, or any other psychological problems, and also failed to monitor Mr. Hennis, even though they were aware of prior attempts to commit suicide by Mr. Hennis.” [Id. at ¶ 21.]

         2. Patricia Hennis, as administrator of Mr. Hennis's estate and in her own right, is the named plaintiff in parallel actions that were filed within two years of Mr. Hennis' death, which the parties refer to as Hennis I and Hennis II. Relevant to the motion currently pending before the Court, Plaintiff initially named CFG Health as a Defendant in the first case (“Hennis I”), which was filed on June 28, 2016 and docketed as Civil No. 16-3858, but not in the second case (“Hennis II”), which was filed on July 12, 2016 and docketed as Civil No. 16-4216. The statute of limitations expired on July 30, 2016, two years after Mr. Hennis's suicide.

         3. On August 2, 2016, Plaintiff's former attorney, Mr. Adam Starr, filed a Voluntary Stipulation of Dismissal in Hennis I, which stated, in relevant part, “[t]his Stipulation of Dismissal shall have no bearing on any other cause of action filed on behalf of the Est. of David Hennis.” [Hennis I, Docket Item 8.] The Clerk of Court then closed Hennis I upon the docket.

         4. For several months, Plaintiff and her new attorney, Mr. Conrad J. Benedetto, actively prosecuted Hennis II without any mention of CFG Health, which was not a named Defendant. Then in December 2016, well after the statute of limitations had run, Plaintiff sought leave to add CFG Health as a defendant in Hennis II for the first time, by way of motion for leave to amend the Complaint. [Docket Item 23.] The Honorable Ann Marie Donio granted Plaintiff's unopposed motion [Docket Item 24], and Plaintiff's counsel filed the Amended Complaint on the docket on January 11, 2017. [Docket Item 25.] But Plaintiff did not serve CFG Health the Amended Complaint until June 8, 2017 [Docket Item 36-12], which is 148 days after the Amended Complaint was filed and well beyond the strict 90-day requirement set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).

         5. Then-Defendant CFG Health moved to dismiss all claims against it in Hennis II on the grounds of insufficient service of process and/or the applicable two-year statute of limitations. [Docket Item 36.] One month later, CFG Health moved for sanctions against Plaintiff under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. [Docket Item 46.] In response to CFG Health's motions to dismiss and for sanctions, Plaintiff cross-moved in Hennis II to vacate the Voluntary Stipulation of Dismissal filed in Hennis I, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6), on the basis that the Voluntary Stipulation of Dismissal was purportedly filed by Plaintiff's former attorney, Mr. Starr, without Plaintiff's knowledge or permission, and to consolidate Hennis I and Hennis II under Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a). Reopening Hennis I and consolidating the two cases, Plaintiff reasoned, would resolve the statute of limitations or service of process issues. After new evidence was brought to the Court's attention after oral argument, including that Plaintiff herself had explicitly given Mr. Starr permission to file the Voluntary Stipulation of Dismissal, the Court denied Plaintiff's cross-motion to vacate and consolidate. Hennis v. Balicki, 2018 WL 1558142, at *9-12 (D.N.J. Mar. 29, 2018). Then, because Plaintiff failed to name CFG Health as a Defendant within the statute of limitations and none of the equitable tolling doctrines applied, the Court granted CFG Health's motion to dismiss with prejudice. Id. at *12-14 (D.N.J. Mar. 29, 2018).

         6. Shortly thereafter, Warden Balicki and Cumberland County filed a Third-Party Complaint against CFG Health. [Docket Item 128.] According to the Third-Party Complaint, at the time of Mr. Hennis's death, CFG Health was under an agreement with Cumberland County to provide various medical services at the jail, including those related to inmate mental health suicide prevention (hereinafter, “the Agreement”). [Id. at ¶¶ 26-27.] “Specifically, CFG [Health] personnel were required to assess the mental health of inmates upon their entry into the jail; provide necessary counseling/treatment and also to manage the mental health of inmates throughout their incarceration.” [Id. at ¶ 27.] Moreover, “[t]he Agreement also provided CFG [Health] would indemnify [Third-Party Plaintiffs] from liability resulting from CFG [Health's] performance under this Agreement.” [Id. at ¶ 29.] In relevant part, the indemnification clause of the Agreement reads as follows:

[CFG Health] further covenants and agrees to indemnify and save harmless [Cumberland County] from the payment of all sums of money or any other consideration(s) by reason of any, or all, such accidents, injuries, damages, or hurt that may happen or occur upon or about such work and all fines, penalties and loss incurred for or by reason of the violation of any owner regulation, ordinance or laws of the State, or the United States while said work is in progress.

[Ex. A to Docket Item 120-1 at 3-4.]

         7. CFG Health moved to strike the Third-Party Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 14(a)(4). [Docket Item 129.] Third-Party Plaintiffs have opposed CFG Health's motion [Docket Item 136], and CFG Health filed a reply brief. [Docket Item 138.] The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition. The Court decides the motion without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78.

         8. Standard of Review. Rule 14 provides that “[a] defending party may, as a third-party plaintiff, serve a summons and complaint on a nonparty who is or may be liable to it for all or part of the claim against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 14(a)(1). Once served, the third-party defendant:

(A) must assert any defenses against the third-party plaintiff's claim under Rule 12;
(B) must assert any counterclaim against the third-party plaintiff under Rule 13(a), and may assert any counterclaim against the third-party plaintiff under Rule 13(b) or any ...

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