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Estate of Conroy v. Cumberland County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 8, 2019

ESTATE OF DAVID B. CONROY, BY AND THROUGH ITS ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM, JENNEY FERGUSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY, et al. Defendants.

          Shanna McCann, Esq., CHANCE & MCCANN, LLP, Attorneys for Defendants Cumberland County and Warden Richard T. Smith.

          Conrad J. Benedetto, Esq. LAW OFFICES OF CONRAD J. BENEDETTO, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter arises out of the unfortunate suicide of David Conroy while he was detained at the Cumberland County Jail. His sister and administrator of his estate, Jenney Ferguson, filed this lawsuit against defendants Cumberland County, Cumberland County Jail warden Richard Smith, former Cumberland County Jail warden Robert Balicki, [1] CFG Health Systems, and John Doe defendants for violations of Mr. Conroy's constitutional rights, negligence, and violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-1 et seq. (“NJCRA”).

         Defendants Cumberland County and Warden Richard Smith now move for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' state tort claims. [Docket Entry 95]. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. [Docket Entry 98]. The principal issue to be decided is whether the state tort claims for wrongful death and negligence must be dismissed due to Plaintiffs' failure to file a notice of tort claim or whether an exception to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“TCA”), N.J.S.A. § 59:1-1 et seq., applies. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that that Plaintiffs have not substantially complied with the TCA. The summary judgment motion is therefore granted.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed their complaint raising claims under state and federal law on September 19, 2017. [Docket Entry 1]. Former Warden Balicki filed a motion to dismiss on September 28, 2017. [Docket Entry 5]. On February 20, 2018, CFG Health filed a motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's medical malpractice/professional negligence claims against CFG Health. [Docket Entry 25].

         The Court granted Balicki's motion to dismiss on May 31, 2018. [Docket Entry 43]. Plaintiff was permitted to file an amended complaint with their claims against Balicki, but they declined to do so even after the Court granted an extension of time to file the amended complaint. [Docket Entry 50]. As such, Balicki is now dismissed with prejudice from the case.

         CFG's motion for summary judgment was denied in September 2018. [Docket Entry 63]. The Court also denied CFG Health's motion for reconsideration. [Docket Entry 90]. While CFG Health's motion was pending, Cumberland County and Warden Smith filed a motion for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' state tort claims. [Docket Entry 60]. The Court dismissed the motion without prejudice based on a failure to comply with Rule 56.1. [Docket Entry 93]. Defendants subsequently refiled the instant motion. [Docket Entry 95]. Plaintiffs submitted their opposition, [Docket Entry 98], and Defendants declined to file reply papers.

         The matter is now ripe for disposition without oral argument.

         B. Allegations in Pleadings

         According to the complaint, Mr. Conroy died by suicide on May 29, 2017 after being detained in the Cumberland County Jail. [Docket Entry 1 ¶ 19]. Plaintiffs allege unidentified corrections officers and representatives of CFG Health failed to properly screen Mr. Conroy “for any suicidal tendencies or any other psychological and/or emotional problems” and did not properly monitor him while he was confined in the jail. [Id. ¶¶ 16-20]. The complaint further alleges Warden Smith “was aware of, should have been aware of, and/or had actual knowledge of the pattern and culture of unconstitutional behavior and indifference on the part of the Corrections Officers and Command Staff under his control and supervision at the Cumberland County Jail” which included “the failure to properly screen inmates for suicidal tendencies, and/or other psychological or emotional problems, failure to adequately monitor and watch inmates, and failure to protect inmates from injury, harm, or death.” [Id. ¶ 37].

         C. Defendants' ...


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