CHAVIS et al v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 3/12/2018. (ld, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
SHARON CHAVIS and MYA CHAVIS,
Civ. No. 17-2855 (KM) (JBC)
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, CHRIS
CHRISTIE, JERSEY CITY MEDICAL
CENTER, and MEADOWWEW
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:
The plaintiffs, Sharon Chavis and her daughter Mya Chavis, seek
injunctive relief and damages against the defendants, Jersey City Medical
Center (“JCMC”), Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital (“Meadowview”), former
Governor Chris Christie, and the State of New Jersey. After an altercation with
some relatives, Sharon Chavis was admitted as a patient to JCMC, and shortly
thereafter transferred to Meadowview. Plaintiffs allege that the defendants have
violated several New Jersey and federal laws concerning the treatment of
patients and disabled people. All of the defendants have moved to dismiss.’ I
have liberally construed the allegations of these pro se plaintiffs, but
nevertheless I must grant the motions to dismiss.
Meadowview, represented by Hudson County counsel, has made a “Motion to
Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and/or Summary Judgment.” (ECF no. 62.) Given
that no discovery has been taken at this point, I will interpret the motion as one for
dismissal under Fed. I?. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (5).
Sharon Chavis suffered a “minute and temporary” mental breakdown
after an altercation with one of her daughters, Karen Chavis, and that
daughter’s boyfriend, Darryl Medina, over the treatment of the grandchildren.
Sharon3 was admitted to Jersey Cm’ Medical Center for physical and mental
§ 2; see also P1. Opp. at 16.) The complaint alleges that Karen
retaliated against her mother by telling JCMC a fabricated story that Sharon
was responsible for starting two fires. (Id.)
Mya, Sharon’s other daughter and plaintiff in this case, went to JCMC to
visit her mother (Id.
§ 3.) On the morning of March 30, 2017, a nurse informed
Mya that the hospital had released Sharon’s information to Sharon’s brother
and could not release it to them. (Id.) Sharon has no brother. (Id.) Mva claims
she was eventually able to figure out from a stranger at JCMC that her mother
had been transferred to Meadowview the previous day, March 29, 2017. (Id.) At
some point (the complaint is unclear as to when), a transfer from Meadowview
to Kings Adult Care Center in Brooklyn, New York, was requested, but denied.5
The complaint and moving papers do not provide a linear narrative of the
events. I have pieced together a narrative from specific allegations and drawn
inferences from the complaint where they could be fairly made. For purposes of this
motion, the complaint’s factual allegations are assumed true. For ease of reference, I
will abbreviate the Complaint as “Cplt.” [ECF no. lj and the Plaintiffs’ Opposition [ECF
no. 661 as “P1. Opp.”
I observe parenthetically that this matter came before the court on motions for
emergent relief implying that Sharon was being held at Meadowview incommunicado
and against her will, and omitting the fact that the parties were regularly appearing in
state court, where Sharon’s situation was under review. I set aside certain
irregularities, heard the parties in person, and attempted to bring about a practical
resolution. Sharon was released from Meadowview on August 3, 2017. (ECF no. 52)
To distinguish them readily, I will refer to Sharon Chavis, Mya Chavis, and
Karen Chavis by their first names. No disrespect is intended or should be inferred.
The Complaint is not in the traditional paragraph-enumerated style. I will cite
to the section in which the information appears.
The Complaint is also unclear as to whether Jersey City Medical Center,
Meadowview, or Kings Adult Care Center allegedly denied the transfer.
a. Standard of Review
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole
or in part, if it fails to state claim upon which relief can be granted. The
defendants, as the moving parties, each bear the burden of showing that no
claim has been stated against them. 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 plaintiff. N.J. Carpenters &
the Trustees Thereof a Tishman Const. Corp. of N.J., 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir.
Moreover, when plaintiffs proceed pro se and without counsel, the
complaint is to be “liberally construed,” and, “however inartfully pleaded, must
be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”
Erickson z.’. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93—94 (2007). Nevertheless, “prose litigants
still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim.” Mala a
Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013). “While a litigant’s
pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint
liberally, a litigant is not absolved from complying with Twombly and the
federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds pro se.” Thakar v.
Tan, 372 F. App5c 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
b. Request for Injunctive Relief
Plaintiffs request injunctive relief repeatedly throughout the Complaint.
However, they never explicitly state what form the injunctive relief should take
or identify the persons against whom it should be ordered. This is of some
concern because many of the alleged actions were not taken by or connected to
some of the named defendants in the case (in particular, former Governor Chris
Christie and the State of New Jersey).6
In fact, the only factual allegations against former Governor Christie comes in
the opposition brief filed by plaintiffs, where they allege that there was a political
The nearest the Complaint comes to requesting such relief is the request
by plaintiffs that “[Sharon Chavisi be immediately removed from the
jurisdiction of both hospitals[,] Jersey City Medical Center [and] Meadowview
Psychiatric Hospital[,] as there is no legally substantiated reason why she is
§ 16.) She seeks this relief under the Civil Rights of
Institutionalized Persons Act (“CRIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq. I will interpret
being held there.” (Cplt.
this as a request for injunctive relief against JCMC and Meadowview in the
form of a court order mandating Sharon Chavis’s release from either of those
Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdictional
authority granted to district courts to those cases and controversies that are
actual and ongoing. Borough of Avalon v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, No. 168057, 2017 WL 3917138, at *3 (D.N.J. Sept. 7, 2017) (citing Khodara Enuti.,
Inc. ex rd. Eagle Envtl., L.P. v. Beckman, 237 F.3d 186, 192—93 (3d Cir. 2001)).
If the issues presented in a case are no longer “live,” the case is moot, and for
an issue to be considered “live” there must be a real and substantial
controversy between the parties that could be resolved through specific relief
granted by the court. Id. (citing Old Bridge Owners Coop. Corp. v. flop, of Old
Bridge, 246 F.3d 310, 314 (3d Cir. 2001)). Putting aside whether the scheme
under CRIPA is applicable in this case, I must first consider whether I have the
authority to order the defendants to release Sharon.
By the plaintiffs’ own admission, even at the time of the filing of the
complaint, Sharon had been transferred out of JCMC. Even when she was
there, it appears that she was not under any restraints and was free to leave.
§ 2 (“The Plaintiff Sharon Chavis was seen and evaluated by Jersey City
Medical Center Psychiatrist and Social Worker where she [was] verbally told
argument between Sharon Chavis and JCMC staff over former Governor Christie, and
that he appointed the administrative judge (not named in the Complaint or moving
papers) who was assigned to the facility. (Fl. Opp. at 16.) Because there are no
relevant allegations sufficient to set forth a claim, the motion to dismiss is granted as
to the State and the former governor.
that she was fit to be released by Jersey City Medical Center Medical Doctors.
Plaintiff Sharon Chavis was then advised that she should stay in patient
Voluntary Unit of Jersey City Medical Behavioral Health unit of that Hospital.
At oral argument, and thereafter, the parties represented to the court
that Mya was voluntarily, not involuntarily, committed to Meadowview. At oral
argument, it became clear that the real relief requested was a transfer to a
facility in Brooklyn that Mya regarded as superior and more appropriate. That
desire is understandable, but unrelated to the injunctive application. At any
rate, there seems to be no dispute that Sharon was discharged from
Meadowview on August 3, 2017. (ECF no. 52)
Though there are exceptions to the mootness doctrine, such as whether
the issue is “capable of repetition but evading review,” none of them apply here.
See, e.g., Seneca Resources Corp. a Twp. of Highland, Elk County, Pa., 863 F.3d
245, 254 (3d Cir. 2017) (stating that the plaintiff bears the burden of showing
that the “inherently transitory” exceptions to mootness apply). Without a live
controversy, I am without the authority to act on this request for injunctive
relief for release from Jersey City Medical Center and Meadowview. That
injunctive claim is dismissed.
c. The Fair Housing Act
The beginning of the complaint cites the Fair Housing Amendments Act
of 1988 (“FHAA”), 42 U.S.C.
3601, et seq., as grounds for relief. (Cplt.
(Introduction).) The FHAA, together with the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) itself,
bans discrimination “against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges
of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in
connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or
national origin” and “discrimination “in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make
In the opposition brief, plaintiffs state: “[Sharon Chavis’s] total duration of
confinement surpassed 120 days[ ,w}hen one day she [wasj then kicked out
Opp. at 20.) Plaintiffs are referring here to Meadowview, which is the last place, per
the Complaint, to which Sharon Chavis was transferred. (Cplt. § 2—3.)
unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of
(A) that buyer or renter, (B) a person residing in or intending to reside in that
dwelling after it is so sold, rented, or made available; or (C) any person
associated with that buyer or renter.” 42 U.S.C.
The complaint fails to explain the applicability of that law or set out
enough facts to show that either Act applies in this case. Even construed
liberally, it does not meet the minimal standard set by Twombly. Presumably,
the plaintiffs are making a claim under the FHA/FHAA based on their
applications for release from Meadowview and/or the denial of a transfer to
Kings Adult Care Center in Brooklyn, New York. The complaint focuses on the
violation of various procedures afforded under the New Jersey Patients’ Bill of
Rights, stemming from denials to the right to counsel and “closed door”
proceedings, among other things. (Cplt.
2.) The plaintiffs, however, do not
allege that the denial occurred on account of some protected category, such as
Sharon Chavis’s race or disability. Nor do they set out facts suggesting that
either facility is a “dwelling” that falls under the purview of those Acts.
The plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for relief under the FHA/FHAA.
ci. The Americans with Disabilities Act
Plaintiffs also make claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), 42 U.S.C.
12101, et seq. (Cplt.
11.) They claim that Sharon was
denied the “right” to a housing interview with Kings Adult Care Center based
on her “disability” and that they denied her the ability to “contest” such a
hearing. (Id.) They specifically allege that the administration of Jersey City
Medical Center advised Sharon Chavis that “she had no right to a [l]awyer [or]
[l]egal [r]epresentation, [or to have] family, next kin [or] any legal counsel
2.) They allege that Jersey City Medical Center, instead, held
a “closed door” hearing over whether Sharon would be transferred to Kings
Adult Care Center. (Id.)
Plaintiffs make a conclusory statement that Sharon Chavis “was denied
a[j housing interview with Kings [Adult Care Center] based on her
disability and the inability to contest such a hearing [a]t Meadowview.” (Cplt.
11.) However, plaintiffs offer no more than “labels and conclusions” that she
was discriminated against because of her disability.8 Bell AU. Corp. i-c Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (“[A] plaintiffs obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of
[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.”). These
allegations state no more than the thwarting of the plaintiffs’ wish for a transfer
to a particular facility, not any disability-based discrimination.
Even under the minimal standards set out by Twombly, plaintiffs have
not sufficiently pled grounds for relief under the ADA.
e. Rights of Patients and Other Claims under New Jersey Law
Finally, plaintiffs allege several violations of the Rights of Patients,
N.J.S.A. 30:4-24.2 (also known as the New Jersey Patients’ Bill of Rights). (See,
§ 2.) Among other things, they claim that Sharon Chavis was denied
her “right to [a] fair hearing” under that law. (Id.) However, the Patients’ Bill of
Rights provides no substantive or procedural rights regarding the transfer of a
patient from one mental health facility to another independent facility
(especially from a state facility to one that is out-of-state and not run by the
State of New Jersey). The Patient Bill of Rights, instead, deals more broadly
with the procedures surrounding a determination that a person is
incapacitated, mentally ill, or mentally disabled. See In re Absentee Ballots Cast
by Flue Residents of Trenton Psychiatric Hosp., 331 N.J. Super. 31, 36 (App.
Div. 2000) (“New Jersey’s commitment statute sets forth the framework for
involuntary commitment of mentally-ill, and mentally [disabled] persons to
state institutions designed for their care.”).
Plaintiffs also make a claim under N.J.S.A. 30:4-27, et seq., which
concerns the involuntary commitment of patients at mental health institutions
It is also unclear from the complaint whether Sharon was allegedly being
discriminated against by Jersey City Medical Center on account of her mental
disability, her legal blindness, or both.
and rights afforded to such patients. Again, the plaintiffs have not alleged that
Sharon has been involuntarily committed; rather they seek to have her
committed elsewhere, La, Kings Adult Care Center.
Plaintiffs also claim that Sharon Chavis is being “abused, exploited[,] and
neglected causing her [p]hysical health to decay” and that they are entitled to
relief under the Adult Protective Services Act, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-406, et seq.
However, this statute vests the authority to institute legal action “to protect a
vulnerable adult” solely to the county director or his or her designee, N.J.S.A.
52:27D-416, and lays out detailed procedures for the provision of protective
services to a vulnerable adult. See In re Frankopf, 363 N.J. Super. 382, 385—86
(App. Div. 2003) (“The [Adult Protective Servicesj Act constitutes a legislative
response to the risks and dangers of abuse, neglect, and exploitation faced by
our older, infirm, and vulnerable citizens, as well as other adults who are
physically or mentally disabled or deficient. To meet these concerns, the Act
created an efficient system for reporting the neglect, abuse, and exploitation of
vulnerable adults, and established the authority by which the Superior Court
may intervene, on an expedited basis, to protect ‘vulnerable adults.”’). Outside
of that process, the statute provides no relief for the abuse, exploitation, and
neglect alleged in the Complaint.
For the reasons set forth above, the motions to dismiss the complaint are
granted without prejudice as to all defendants. Because this is an initial
dismissal, it is without prejudice to the filing, within 30 days, of an amended
complaint that remedies the deficiencies identified here.
An appropriate order follows.
Dated: March 12, 2018
United States District Judge
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