BYRNES v. GREYSTONE PARK PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Jose L. Linares on 3/22/16. (DD, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 15-7934 (JLL) (JAD)
GREYS TONE PARK PSYCHIATRIC
HOS PITAL, JAMES FREY (in his individual and
official capacities), and JOHN & JANE DOES
LINARES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court by way of the Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General of New Jersey, by
Christopher J. Kelly, Deputy Attorney General, on behalf of Defendants, Greystone Park
Psychiatric Hospital ("Greystone") and James Frey ("Frey") (collectively "Defendants"). (ECF
The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter without oral
argument pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court grants in part the Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiff Lynnette Byrnes ("Plaintiff') was hired as an Assistant Supervisor of Education
Services by Greystone in October 2011. (ECF No. 1 ("Compl.") if 11.) Plaintiff had a positive
1 This background is derived from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which the Court must accept as true at this stage
of the proceedings. See Winer Family Trust v. Queen, 503 F.3d 319, 327 (3d Cir. 2007).
performance record, and her supervisor, Gene D' Aquila, submitted a request to Human Resources
concerning a promotion for Plaintiff in October 2013. (Id.
iii! 12, 13.)
On October 24, 2013, Plaintiff suffered a manic episode and was transported from
Greystone to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where she received treatment. (Id.
Plaintiff was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, an alleged disability. (Id.
iii! 14, 15.)
if 16.) Plaintiff was
prescribed medication in order to manage and prevent further manic episodes related to her bipolar
if 19.) On October 31, 2013, Plaintiff was released to "return to work on full duty"
by her psychiatrist. (Id.
if 20.) Plaintiff notified Greystone of her release and requested to return
to work. (Id.)
Plaintiff returned to work on November 6, 2013. (Id. at if 21.) That same day, Plaintiff
met with Gene D'Aquila, Angela Chenowski (her union representative), Defendant James Frey
(Employee Relations Officer), and Deborah Sharpe (human resources representative) ("Sharpe").
(Id.) During the meeting, Plaintiff was asked by Frey and Sharpe to provide a doctor's note
concerning her release and ability to work without restrictions. (Id.
if 22.) Plaintiff was also asked
a series of questions regarding her work performance at Greystone. (Id.
As requested, Plaintiff provided Greystone with a doctor's note releasing her to work. (Id.
if 24.) However, Frey and Sharpe instructed Plaintiff to "take a week off before returning to work."
On or about November 13, 2013, and while Plaintiff was out of work on her week off,
Plaintiff received a letter from Frey informing her that "her position as Assistant Supervisor of
Education was terminated 'in accordance with CWA Contract Article 5.K.c.i. "' effective
November 23, 2013. (Id.
if 26.) Plaintiff alleges that the at the time she was terminated, she could
perform the essential functions of her job without accommodation. (Id.
Asserting that she was terminated "in retaliation for her disability leave, and Defendants'
fear of a perceived disability," Plaintiff filed a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on December 12, 2013. (Id.
ifif 28-29.) Plaintiff
was given a Notice of Right to Sue by the EEOC on September 23, 2015. (Id.
Plaintiff commenced this action on November 6, 2015 by filing a five count Complaint
alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42. U.S.C. § 12112, et seq. ("ADA")
and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:15-1, et seq. ("NJLAD"). (Compl.)
Specifically, Count 1 alleges disability discrimination in violation of the ADA; Count 2 alleges
perceived disability discrimination in violation of the ADA; Count 3 alleges disability
discrimination in violation of the NJLAD; Count 4 alleges perceived disability discrimination in
violation of the NJLAD; and Count 5 alleges "aiding & abetting" in violation of the NJLAD. (Id.)
All counts are pleaded against "Defendants" generally. (Id.) In her prayer for relief (see id. at 1011 ), Plaintiff "demands judgment against all Defendants, jointly and severally" and seeks in part
the following: compensatory damages under the NJLAD
under the NJLAD
(if a) and ADA (if d); punitive damages
(if c) and ADA (if e); back pay and future pay under the NJLAD (if b); and
"[ o ]ther injunctive relief' (if k.)
On December 9, 2015, upon direction by the Court, Plaintiff filed a request for an entry of
default against Defendants in accordance with Rule 55(b)(2)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. (ECF No. 7.) The Clerk entered default against Defendants on December 10, 2015,
and Plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment on December 21, 2015. (ECF No. 9.) However,
the parties agreed to a stipulation vacating the entries of default against Defendants, which the
Court "so ordered" on December 29, 2015. (ECF No. 12.)
Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, in lieu of an Answer, pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on January 18, 2016. (ECF. No. 13 ("Mov. Br.")) Greystone moves to
dismiss Counts 1 and 2; Frey moves to dismiss all counts (1-5). Plaintiff filed opposition on March
7, 2016. (ECF No. 15 ("Opp. Br.").) Defendant filed a reply on March 14, 2016. (ECF No. 16
("Reply Br.").) The matter is now ripe for resolution.
To withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows
the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to
a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal in the Third Circuit,
the court must take three steps: first, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead
to state a claim; second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than
conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth; finally, where there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly
Plaintiff argues that the Motion to Dismiss should be denied, but also seeks leave to amend in the event the Motion
to Dismiss is granted. (Opp. Br. at 14-15.)
give rise to an entitlement for relief. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d
Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). "In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only
the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of the public record, as well as
undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents."
Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010).
The Court's role is not to determine whether the non-moving party "will ultimately prevail"
but whether that party is "entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." United States ex rel.
Wilkins v. United Health Grp., Inc., 659 F.3d 295, 302 (3d Cir. 2011). The Court's analysis is a
context-specific task requiring the court "to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64.
For the reasons below, the Court grants in part the Motion to Dismiss.
A. Americans with Disabilities Act
To establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA, a plaintiff must
that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, (2) that he is otherwise qualified for
the job, with or without reasonable accommodations, and (3) that he was subjected to an adverse
employment decision as a result of discrimination." Sulima v. Tobyhanna Army Depot, 602 F.3d
177, 185 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). An individual is disabled ifhe has, or is perceived to
have, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life
activities of such individual. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(1) (2009).
Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that Defendants violated the ADA by engaging in
disability discrimination (Count 1) and perceived disability discrimination (Count 2). Plaintiff
asserts that her bipolar disorder is a "mental impairment that substantially limits one or more ...
major life activities," but that she can "perform the essential functions of her employment
position." (Compl. iii! 33-34.) Plaintiff specifically alleges that she was terminated by Defendants
because of her disability and use of disability leave. (Id.
if 36.) Plaintiff further asserts that, though
she could have performed the essential functions of her job at the time of termination, Defendants'
perceived belief regarding her bipolar disorder was the cause of her termination. (Id.
Defendants move to dismiss the ADA claims on separate grounds. Greystone argues that
it is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment because "State Psychiatric Hospitals in
New Jersey are arms of the State," and therefore entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment. (Mov. Br. at 2-3.) Frey argues that the ADA claims must be dismissed as to him
because the "ADA does not provide for individual liability." (Id. at 3.) In opposition, Plaintiff
does not directly address Greystone's argument, but asserts that she is permitted to state a claim
for prospective injunctive relief against Frey in his official capacity pursuant to Ex Parte Young.
The Court grants the motion to dismiss in part, to the extent it seeks relief against Greystone
or to the extent it seeks relief beyond prospective injunctive relief against Frey in his official
capacity. The Court need not belabor the point. Plaintiff herself concedes that the relief available
to her under the ADA is limited, (see Opp. Br. at 5-7), and it is clear that the relief requested in the
Complaint is too broad. Plaintiff seeks both monetary damages and injunctive relief, jointly and
severally against Defendants generally for violating the ADA. (See Compl. at 10-11.) However,
as Plaintiff notes, she can only seek prospective injunctive relief against Frey in his official
capacity under the ADA. 3 Accordingly, Counts 1 and 2 of the Complaint shall be dismissed with
prejudice as to Greystone. Furthermore, although the Court concludes that the Complaint states a
claim for relief against Frey in his official capacity, prayers relief under the ADA that extend
beyond prospective injunctive relief with respect to Frey are dismissed with prejudice.
B. New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
Similar to the ADA, to establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the
NJLAD, a plaintiff must show that "(1) she was disabled within the meaning of the statute; (2) she
was qualified to perform the essential functions of the position of employment; and (3) she suffered
an adverse employment action because of the disability." Fitzgerald v. Shore Mem 'I Hosp., 92 F.
Supp. 3d 214, 235-36 (D.N.J. 2015) (citing Jones v. Sch. Dist., 198 F.3d 403, 411 (3d Cir. 1999);
Victor v. State, 401 N.J. Super. 596, 952 A.2d 493, 504 (2008)).
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the NJLAD by engaging m disability
discrimination (Count 3), perceived disability discrimination (Count 4), and aiding & abetting
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that her termination "would not have occurred but for"
her bipolar disorder, a disability under the LAD. (Compl. iiiI 42, 45 (Count 3).) Additionally,
Plaintiff asserts that Defendants' perception of Plaintiffs disability was the reason for her
termination and, but for that perception, Plaintiff would not have been terminated. (Id. at iiiI 48,
50 (Count 4).) Further, Plaintiff alleges that "Defendants, its administrators, upper-management
and/or supervisors wrongfully aided and abetted Defendants co-employees, administration, and
In short, under the ADA, Greystone is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment because it is an "arm of
the state," while Frey cannot be held liable in his individual capacity. See generally Koslow v. Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, 302 F.3d 161 (3d Cir. 2002) (explaining contours of Eleventh Amendment immunity); Dept. ofEnvtl.
Protection v. Gloucester Envtl. Mgmt. Sen s., 923 F. Supp. 651, 660 (D.N.J. 1995) (concluding that state psychiatric
hospitals are arms of the state); Emerson v. Thiel Coll., 296 F.3d 184, 189 (3d Cir. 2002) (noting approvingly that
other courts of appeals have held that "individuals are not liable under Titles I and II of the ADA").
upper-management in its unlawful, discriminatory treatment of Plaintiff' in violation of the
if 52 (Count 5).)
Defendants move to dismiss the NJLAD claims against Frey only. (See Mov. Br. at 4-9.)
First, Frey argues that the Counts 3 and 4 must be dismissed as to him because there is no individual
liability under the NJLAD, absent proof that the individual was aiding and abetting discrimination
by the employer. (Id. at 4-5.) Second, Frey argues that Count 5 (aiding and abetting) must be
dismissed because the facts as alleged do not give rise to a claim against him, and also because an
individual cannot aid and abet his own conduct. (Id. at 5-9.) In opposition, Plaintiff argues that
there is in fact individual liability under the NJLAD, as demonstrated by the plain language of the
statute, its broad, remedial purpose, and relevant case law. (Opp. Br. at 7-14.)
Although the Complaint fails to indicate the specific sections of the NJLAD that are being
invoked for relief, the Court finds that Counts 3 and 4 must be dismissed as to Frey, but finds that
Count 5 sufficiently states a claim against him. Counts 3 and 4 must be dismissed as to Frey
because the Court finds that there is no direct individual liability under the NJLAD, specifically
N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12a. Subsectionaprohibitsdiscriminationby"anemployer." Id. The New Jersey
Supreme Court has indicated that an individual supervisor is not an "employer" under the NJLAD
and may not be held personally liable as such. See Tarr v. Ciasulli, 181 N.J. 70, 82-85 (2004). In
contrast, subsection e makes it unlawful "[ f]or any person, whether an employer or an employee
or not, to aid, abet, incite, compel or coerce the doing of any of the acts forbidden [under the
NJLAD]." N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12e. As the New Jersey Supreme Court has held, "individual liability
of a supervisor for acts of discrimination or for creating or maintaining a hostile environment can
only arise through the 'aiding and abetting' mechanism that applies to 'any person."' Cicchetti v.
Sheriffs Office, 194 NJ. 563, 594 (2008) (emphasis added). Accordingly, to the extent
Counts 3 and 4 are premised on a violation ofNJ.S.A. § 10:5-12a, as opposed to N.J.S.A. § 10:5l 2e, they are dismissed with prejudice as they pertain to Frey. The Court next addresses the
sufficiency of Count 5.
In order to hold an employee liable as an aider or abettor under N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12e, a
plaintiff must show that "'(l) the party whom the defendant aids must perform a wrongful act that
causes an injury; (2) the defendant must be generally aware of his role as part of an overall illegal
or tortious activity at the time that he provides the assistance; [and] (3) the defendant must
knowingly and substantially assist the principal violation.'" Tarr, 181 N.J. at 84 (citing Hurley v.
Atl. City Police Dep't, 174 F.3d 95, 127 (3d Cir. 1999)) (citations omitted); see also Cicchetti, 194
NJ. at 594 (reiterating standard).
The Court finds that Count 5 sufficiently states a cause of action under N.J.S.A. § 10:512e against Frey. In essence, the Complaint alleges that Frey aided Greystone in the alleged
discrimination by directing Plaintiff to take a week off of work despite the fact that she had
provided a doctor's note approving her return, and then by mailing Plaintiff a letter terminating
her position because of her disability. When viewed holistically and in a light most favorable to
Plaintiff, the Complaint sufficiently alleges facts to establish a prima facie violation ofN.J.S.A. §
10:5-12e. 4 Thus, the motion to dismiss Count 5 is denied and the claim shall proceed.
Frey also argues that he cannot be held liable as an aider or abettor because the only bad conduct alleged is his own,
and he cannot logically aid or abet his own actions. (Reply Br. at 4-5.) The Court disagrees. As previously noted, it
is this Court's view that a principal wrongdoer can be held liable for aiding and abetting his own conduct under the
NJLAD. See Godfrey v. Thermco, No. 13-4750 JLL, 2013 WL 5952046 (D.N.J. Nov. 4, 2013) (citing Rowan v.
Hartford Plaza Ltd., No. A-0107-l 1T3, 2013 WL 1350095, at *6-8 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 5, 2013)).
Although it is an "awkward theory" to permit individual liability for aiding and abetting one's own conduct, to hold
otherwise would undermine the NJLAD's broad and remedial purpose. Id.
For the reasons above, the Court grants in part the Motion to Dismiss. An appropriate
Order accompanies this Opinion.
(TED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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