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Gonzalez v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 23, 2019

ZENAIDA GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY. U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Zenaida Gonzalez, as administrator, commenced this action against the State of New Jersey Department of Children and Families Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the "Division"), six individual officials employed by the Division, [1] Kean University, the Child Advocacy Resource Association ("CARAS"), two CARAS employees, [2] Haizel Lazala-Krohn, and Lucrecia Vega. The claims arise from the death of Ms. Gonzalez's daughter, Alison Chavez ("Alison"), who had been placed in foster care. (See AC).[3]

         The Division and the six individual officials employed by the Division (collectively, the "Third-Party Plaintiffs") brought a Third-Party Complaint against Dr. Anita Kishen and Al 8& Jeans Children First and Unique Day Care, Inc. ("Al & Jeans") for contribution and indemnification under a theory of negligence. (SeeTP Comp.).

         Now before the Court is the motion of Al 8& Jeans[4] to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and in the alternative to strike or sever the Third-Party Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 14(a)(4). (See Al 8b Jeans Mot.) For the reasons set forth below, those motions are denied.

         I. FACTUAL SUMMARY

         The Third-Party Complaint alleges the following facts. For purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the allegations of the Complaint are assumed to be true. See Section II .A, infra. Plaintiff Gonzalez alleges in the Amended Complaint that the Defendants /Third-Party Plaintiffs-before, during, and after the placement of the infant, Alison Chavez, in the resource home-failed to adequately provide for Alison's safety and failed to comply with statutory and regulatory standards regarding the care and custody of an infant. (TP Comp. ¶ 8; see generally AC). This failure allegedly caused Alison to suffer physical abuse and neglect that ultimately resulted in her death. (Id.).

         Third-Party Defendant Al 8b Jeans is the day care facility that was responsible for providing care to Alison beginning on August 27, 2012. (TP Comp. ¶ 17). Alison died on November 8, 2012. (AC ¶ 2). Employees of Al 8b Jeans completed seven Day Care Accident Reports for Alison, identifying diaper rash and bruising on her body. (TP Comp. ¶¶ 18, 20). Only one of these accident reports was provided to employees of the Division prior to Alison's death. (Id. ¶ 20).

         The Third-Party Plaintiffs allege that Al & Jeans failed to report its suspicions of child abuse and neglect to the State Central Registry Hotline, and therefore breached its statutory duty under N.J.A.C. 3A:52-4.9. (Id. ¶¶ 21-24). The conduct of Al & Jeans is therefore alleged to have been a substantial contributing factor to any loss that might result in the assessment of damages against the Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs. [Id. ¶ 25). The Third-Party Plaintiffs assert one count for contribution and another count for indemnification against the Third-Party Defendants. [Id. ¶¶ 26-29).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Animal Science Products, Inc. v. China Minmetals Corp., 654 F.3d 462, 469 n. 9 (3d Cir. 2011). For the purposes of a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the complainant. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const. Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of [his or her] 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcrofi v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'. . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Negligence

         Al & Jeans argues that the Third-Party Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim because the relevant child abuse and neglect reporting statute, N.J.A.C. § 3A: 52-4.9, does not give rise to a private cause of action. (Al & Jeans Mot. at 7, 10-14). The Third-Party Plaintiffs counter that they are not asserting a private cause of action under the New Jersey reporting statute, but instead are asserting their claims under a theory of negligence. Al & Jeans' alleged violation of its statutory reporting duty, they say, is cited only as evidence of that negligence. I agree with the Third-Party Plaintiffs that they have sufficiently stated a claim for contribution and indemnification under a negligence theory.

         To state a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must allege the following four elements: "'(1) a duty of care, (2) a breach of that duty, (3) proximate cause, and (4) actual damages.™ Townsend v. Pierre, 221 N.J. 36, 51 ...


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