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Banerjee v. Philadelphia Chop

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 21, 2018



          KEARNEY, J.

         New Jersey citizen Rumpa Banerjee filed a pro se complaint asking us to order Children's Hospital of Philadelphia ("CHOP") to release her teenage son A.C. being treated for serious injuries while her lawyers are simultaneously litigating these state law issues in the Pennsylvania appellate courts. It is impossible to not understand Ms. Banerjee's need to protect her son in every possible forum. But a federal district court cannot stop or interfere with ongoing state court proceedings based on Pennsylvania state law claims. We are not an appellate court to review an orphans' court order allowing a hospital to stop life support systems especially when Ms. Banerjee's lawyers are challenging these issues in the Pennsylvania appellate courts. While Ms. Banerjee may proceed in forma pauperis based on her sworn statement and she arguably pleads diversity subject matter jurisdiction, we must dismiss her pro se complaint for failing to state a claim under long-established principles of comity.

         I. Facts in the pro se complaint and noticed from the Pennsylvania court dockets.

         CHOP admitted A.C. on April 15, 2018. CHOP declared him "brain dead" on April 26, 2018. Since then, his mother Rumpa Banerjee has been trying to transfer A.C. to a New Jersey facility. CHOP'S records confirm, at least as of mid-May 2018, she had not persuaded one of her preferred New Jersey facilities to accept A.C. as a patient.

         At some point after April 15, 2018, Ms. Banerjee and her lawyer sought an injunction to ensure continuing life sustaining treatment in the Orphans' Court division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. As this matter is sealed in Orphans' Court, we are unable to find out more information concerning Ms. Banerjee's efforts in the Pennsylvania trial courts.[1]

         We have access to Pennsylvania appellate court dockets. On May 24, 2018, the Orphans' Court in Philadelphia dissolved a special injunction which had restrained CHOP from removing life sustaining measures for Ms. Banerjee's son. Ms. Banerjee immediately appealed through counsel and the Pennsylvania Superior Court stayed CHOP from proceeding with ending life sustaining measures. The Pennsylvania Superior Court ordered Ms. Banerjee to notify it, on or before June 1, 2018, as to possible arrangements to transfer her son to another medical facility. On June 4, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court remanded the matter to the Orphans' Court to determine if the stay should be extended for the limited purpose of Ms. Banerjee securing an alternate placement for her son. On June 14, 2018, the Orphans' Court issued a ruling not provided to us - and not available on public dockets as a sealed matter. On June 18, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court denied Ms. Banerjee's petition for stay and directed its June 4, 2018 stay would expire at 5:00 P.M. on June 20, 2018. Ms. Banerjee, through counsel, filed an emergency application with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Late on June 19, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stayed the Superior Court's June 18, 2018 Order and essentially imposed a stay until further order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

         On June 19, 2018, while her counsel filed papers with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Ms. Banerjee pro se sued CHOP in the District of New Jersey. After a hearing, the district court dismissed Ms. Banerjee's complaint noting Ms. Banerjee may file in this District. A short time later, Ms. Banerjee pro se sued CHOP in this District detailing the facts "[m]y child life support system is about to be pulled off. He is a New Jersey Resident and He is kept as hostage and trying to pull off the life support system"[2] [sic] and seeking an order to "[t]ake my child out of CHOP... Hospital that refused transfer can take him [listing four hospitals]."[3] In her "arbitration certification" form attached to her pro se complaint, Ms. Banerjee writes "Relief other than monetary damages is sought from taking off his life support system and stick to the other date of July 24th" [sic].[4] We read her present request for relief as seeking a transfer of her son from CHOP to alternative placement - similar to the relief discussed with the Orphans' Court - or to do so by July 24, 2018. We are not aware of whether Ms. Banerjee served CHOP with process.

         II. Analysis

         A. We grant Ms. Banerjee leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         We grant Ms. Banerjee leave to proceed in forma pauperis because she swears she is not able to pay the fees necessary to commence this action. We are aware she has counsel in the Pennsylvania appellate courts but have no reason to dispute her sworn statement.

         B. We dismiss Ms. Banerjee's action because does not plead a claim.

         Congress, in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), requires we dismiss the Complaint for which we have granted in forma pauperis status if the plaintiff obtaining the benefit of waived filing fees fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [5] which requires we determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."[6] Conclusory statements and naked assertions will not suffice.[7] As Ms. Banerjee is proceeding pro se, we construe her allegations liberally.[8]

         Ms. Banerjee does not identify a legal claim. She seeks relief which is arguably before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She does not plead either a federal or state law claim. Ms. Banerjee does not plead a federal question. We have no basis to find CHOP is a state actor for possible civil rights claims under the First or Fourteenth Amendments.[9] We have no basis to otherwise invoke federal question jurisdiction.

         We arguably may enjoy subject matter jurisdiction in this controversy between a New Jersey and Pennsylvania citizen. But Ms. Banerjee does not plead an amount in controversy. Absent some pleading of an ...

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