The opinion of the court was delivered by: TEITELBAUM
Currently before this Court are the defendants' Motion to Dismiss all the counts in the plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and, in the alternative, a Motion on behalf of the County of Washington (County) and the Washington County Board of Prison Inspectors (Prison Board) for a More Definite Statement. In order to adequately consider the motions, it is necessary to review the entire case.
In May of 1979, plaintiff filed her initial Complaint. The gravamen of that complaint was that the County, the County Commissioners, individually and as Commissioners 1; the Prison Board; the members of the Prison Board, individually and as Prison Board Members
, the Washington County Prison; the Warden, Deputy Warden and several Correctional Officers, individually and in their official capacities, were liable for wrongfully denying requested medical attention to plaintiff's decedent and thus causing his death. The plaintiff indicated that causes of action arose under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution; the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and under state law.
The defendants filed motions to dismiss and for a more definite statement.
These motions were considered in an exhaustive opinion by the late Honorable Daniel J. Snyder, Jr., to whom this case was initially assigned. In explaining his holding, Judge Snyder stated,
The Fourteenth Amendment cause of action and the claim against the County will be dismissed. The cause of action against the Prison Board fails to state a claim, but Defendants' Motion for a More Definite Statement will be granted. Defendants' Motion based on immunity will be denied as premature at this time, and the Court in its discretion will decline to hear the pendent state claims.
Plaintiff was permitted to file an Amended Complaint pursuant to the granting of defendants' motion for a more definite statement. Instead, defendant filed a Motion for Reargument and Reconsideration of Judge Snyder's Order for alleged error in not granting leave to amend the Fourteenth Amendment cause of action and the claim against the County. Attached thereto were a Policy Manual for Operating Procedures at the prison and an alleged contract between the County and Washington Hospital (Hospital) pertaining to medical treatment and services for inmates at the Prison. Judge Snyder denied the motion without argument. Thereafter, plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint and defendants renewed their motion to dismiss. Before that motion could be considered, Judge Snyder met an untimely death. The case was then assigned to this member of the Court.
Before this Court acted on the pending motions, plaintiff requested permission to file a Second Amended Complaint. That request was granted and the pending motions became moot. The plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint. Once again the defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss and for a More Definite Statement. It is these motions which are currently before the Court.
First, the defendants propose that Counts One and Six
of the Second Amended Complaint be dismissed because these Counts are based on the supposed Fourteenth Amendment cause of action previously dismissed by Judge Snyder. This Court agrees that both Counts must be dismissed.
Judge Snyder considered whether or not an independent cause of action existed under the Fourteenth Amendment in light of Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978) (municipalities are persons for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983) and Turpin v. Mailet, 591 F.2d 426 (2nd Cir. 1979) (per curiam) (no fourteenth amendment claim needed for municipal liability in light of Monell ). In a comprehensive opinion on that subject that need not be added to here, Judge Snyder determined there was none.
That is the law of this case.
The Court is aware that the unavailability of a Judge and a change in circumstances may, at times, permit the rendering of a different result by a Judge with concurrent jurisdiction from that of one of his colleagues in the same case. Rogers v. Exxon Research and Engineering Co., 550 F.2d 834, 843 (3rd Cir. 1977) and United States v. Wheeler, 256 F.2d 745, 747 (3rd Cir. 1958) cert. denied 358 U.S. 873, 79 S. Ct. 111, 3 L. Ed. 2d 103 (1958). However, that is inappropriate in this case. As pointed out in Rogers, the unavailability of the original Judge to consider the matter anew means that "different considerations apply." Rogers v. Exxon Research and Engineering Co., 550 F.2d 834, 843 (3rd Cir. 1977). The "different consideration" discussed there was that if the previous Judge was available he would be able to "reconsider the ruling upon changed circumstances..." Id.
Judge Snyder had declined to reconsider his earlier opinion before his death, and this Court perceives no change in circumstances. The rule of law has not changed. Even if this Court would reconsider the existence of the Fourteenth Amendment claim, it would agree with Judge Snyder that there is no independent Fourteenth Amendment claim. Thus, the First and Sixth Counts of the Second Amended Complaint are to be dismissed except to the extent that they provide a basis for the claim asserted under Count Two, the 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 claim discussed infra.
The action as to the County must also be dismissed on principles of the law of the case. As noted above, when the previous Judge is unavailable, a Judge sitting on the same Court need not blindly follow the law of the case. Rather, it must be taken into consideration that the previous Judge cannot reconsider the matter on changed circumstances. However, in this case the plaintiff had filed a motion for Reconsideration and Reargument including a copy of an alleged contract between the County and the Hospital. Although plaintiff asserts that they were given no hearing or oral argument on that matter, the fact remains that Judge Snyder, in denying that motion, had access to two exhibits that the plaintiffs appeared to believe represented changed circumstances. So the plaintiffs have had a ruling by the previous Judge and trying to reargue their contention now is more in the nature of an appeal rather than a reconsideration or changed circumstances.
In addition, it is apparent from Judge Snyder's opinion that he set forth and applied the correct legal standards, recognizing specifically that "dismissal should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim which would entitle him to relief."
After reviewing the original complaint he implicitly decided that no sufficient facts could be alleged by dismissing the claims against the County. In also denying a motion for reargument and reconsideration, it may be inferred that even with the new documents Judge Snyder again held the same view. So even if these documents represent changed circumstances, they have already been decided to be insufficient. This Court, in applying the "different considerations" of Rogers finds no "changed circumstances" that compel a deviation from the principles of the law of the case. Therefore, all claims against the County are dismissed.