Justia Health Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
Meyers v. State Health Benefits Commission
The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division in a case concerning the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program Act. The case was brought by James Meyers, a retired state police officer, who challenged the State Health Benefits Commission's (SHBC) decision that he was not exempt from health benefits premium-sharing obligations imposed by the Act. The Act requires public employees to contribute towards the cost of their healthcare benefits upon retirement, with an exemption for employees who had 20 or more years of creditable service in a state or locally administered retirement system as of June 28, 2011. Meyers had 17 years and 9 months of creditable service at that time. Upon his retirement in 2015, he was erroneously offered retiree health benefits at no premium cost. This mistake was discovered in 2017, and the state began deducting premium-sharing contributions from his pension payments.The Court held that Meyers was not eligible for the exemption under the Act, and correcting the erroneous exemption was proper. The court found that neither Meyers' subsequent service nor his purchase of four years of military service credit could change the fact that he did not meet the Act's requirement as of June 28, 2011. The court also agreed with the Appellate Division's determination that it was not necessary to reach the issue of equitable estoppel. The court noted that a governmental entity cannot be estopped from refusing to take an action that it was never authorized to take under the law, even if it had mistakenly agreed to that action. In this case, the SHBC was never authorized to offer Meyers free healthcare benefits, an act beyond the jurisdiction of the SHBC and therefore ultra vires in the primary sense. Thus, the doctrine of equitable estoppel did not apply. View "Meyers v. State Health Benefits Commission" on Justia Law
Conforti v. County of Ocean, et al.
In summer 2010, plaintiff Carol Conforti obtained a restraining order against her husband. On September 8, he was arrested for violating the restraining order by returning to the marital home to see his son. Conforti was taken to the OCJ, where he was evaluated by a staff member of Correctional Health Services (CHS). A CHS staff member wrote on the “Intake Receiving and Screening” form that Conforti reported: (1) drinking half a gallon of vodka each day; (2) major surgery that left him with rods and screws in his back; (3) feeling “hopeless or helpless”; and (4) the “[r]ecent significant loss” of his marriage. A physician prescribed him one extra mattress and medicine for back pain and alcohol dependence, and instructed that he not be assigned work or a top bunk. After 27 days, Conforti was released. Just over a week later, Conforti was arrested for again returning to the marital home to see his son. He arrived at OCJ on October 13, 2010. A document from Conforti’s file acknowledged his previous incarceration and history of binge drinking but stated he had “[n]o current mental health issues/concerns” and was cleared for OCJ’s general population. On October 16, he requested medical attention for back pain. On October 20, Conforti wrote a suicide note to his parents, closed the door to his cell, covered the cell door window with a sheet, and hung himself. During discover, plaintiff submitted an expert report who opined that defendants the County of Ocean and the Ocean County Jail acted negligently by failing to adequately train and supervise OCJ staff to prevent inmate suicide. The County defendants moved for summary judgment on immunity grounds under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA). A jury found defendant negligent and apportioned liability 60% against the County and 40% against Correctional Health Services (CHS). Defendants moved for JNOV, reasserting their medical-facility-immunity argument. The New Jersey Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court’s refusal to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence count at the summary judgment stage, and no error in refusing to overturn the jury’s verdict after trial. View "Conforti v. County of Ocean, et al." on Justia Law
New Jersey v. A.M.
A.M. fatally shot her husband in May 2010 and was convicted of first-degree murder and a weapons offense. In March 2021, following diagnoses of end-stage multiple sclerosis by two physicians, the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release for A.M. A.M. filed a petition with the court, which the State opposed. The State advised the court that A.M.’s children intended to testify against her release at a hearing, as did the victim’s mother. The trial court denied A.M.’s petition for release. The court found that A.M.’s remaining period of parole ineligibility did not bar compassionate release under the Compassionate Release Act (CRA); that A.M. had established by clear and convincing evidence that she had a “permanent physical incapacity” within the meaning of the Act; and that conditions of release “likely could be established” to assure that she “would not pose a risk to public safety.” The trial court, however, concluded that compassionate release was not mandatory when those conditions were met. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that once those factors are met, a trial court has no discretion to deny relief. In 1993, Eddie Oliver, now Al-Damany Kamu, shot and killed a detective in a courthouse to prevent him from testyfying in a criminal case. Defendant shot and wounded two other officers, attempted to kill a third official, and planned to kill the judge, He was convicted of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. The Department of Corrections issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release for Kamau in November 2021. The State and the victims opposed release. Based on the text of the new statute and its legislative history, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the Compassionate Release Act afforded judges discretion to deny relief, in exceptional circumstances, even if the law’s medical and public safety conditions are satisfied. In individual cases, when the medical and public safety factors are met, courts can assess whether extraordinary aggravating factors exist that justify the denial of compassionate release. Absent any such circumstances, petitions for relief should be granted. The Court found the record in A.M.'s case did not present extraordinary aggravating circumstances. The Court therefore modified and affirmed the Appellate Division's judgment to release A.M. The appeal in Oliver/Kamu involved the kind of extraordinary aggravating circumstances that justified denying relief. The Court modified and affirmed the trial court's judgment denying defendant's petition for release. View "New Jersey v. A.M." on Justia Law
Rivera v. Valley Hospital, Inc.
Plaintiffs, the heirs and executor of the estate of Viviana Ruscitto, filed complaints seeking compensatory and punitive damages on numerous counts after Ruscitto’s death from leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that cannot be reliably diagnosed preoperatively, following the hysterectomy she underwent at defendant Valley Hospital with the use of a power morcellation device. Ruscitto sought treatment for uterine fibroids from defendant Howard Jones, a gynecologic surgeon at the hospital with whom Ruscitto met four times before she underwent surgery. Approximately six months before Ruscitto’s surgery, the FDA issued a Safety Communication discouraging the use of power morcellation. Valley Hospital administrators and Dr. Jones exchanged emails about the continued use of power morcellation. They considered factors including that “without the morcellator these cases would be open instead of laparoscopic, which “increases morbidity”; the fact that “the numbers at Valley” did not support the “1 sarcoma in 350 operations” number suggested by the FDA; and the role of informed consent. A “power morcellation group” was convened to draft an informed consent form. A form was prepared and approved by the legal department but was never implemented or used prior to Ruscitto’s surgery. One month after her surgery, the FDA issued an updated communication explicitly warning against the use of power morcellators in the majority of cases. Valley Hospital then discontinued use of the power morcellation device. Plaintiffs brought claims against several defendants, including Dr. Jones and the Valley Hospital administrators, and defendants sought partial summary judgment dismissing the punitive damages claim. The trial court denied the motions, and the Appellate Division denied leave to appeal. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded a reasonable jury could not find by clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages were warranted based on the facts of this case, and partial summary should have been granted. View "Rivera v. Valley Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law
New Jersey v. F.E.D.
Petitioner F.E.D., seventy-three years old, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and would not be eligible for parole until 2040. In February 2021, the Managing Physician of the New Jersey Department of Corrections submitted to the Commissioner of Corrections a Request for Compassionate Release on behalf of F.E.D. Based on the diagnoses provided by the attesting physicians, the Managing Physician found that F.E.D. “meets the medical conditions established” by N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1), the Commissioner issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release. A trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. With regard to whether F.E.D. suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(1), the trial court relied on the list of “activities of daily living” enumerated in the administration of New Jersey’s Medicaid program, which the court identified to be bathing, dressing, toileting, locomotion, transfers, eating and bed mobility. Applying that standard to the medical diagnoses presented in F.E.D.’s petition for compassionate release, the trial court observed that the attesting physicians had found a diminished ability in instrumental activities of daily living but not an inability to perform activities of basic daily living. The court accordingly found that F.E.D. had not presented clear and convincing evidence that he suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1). The Appellate Division found that the Certificate of Eligibility for compassionate release that the Department issued to F.E.D. was invalid based on its view that the Compassionate Release Statute applied only to inmates whose medical conditions rendered them unable to perform any of the activities of basic daily living, and to be inapplicable to any inmate who could conduct one or more of those activities. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Compassionate Release Statute did not require that an inmate prove that he is unable to perform any activity of basic daily living in order to establish a “permanent physical incapacity” under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(l). Rather, the statute required clear and convincing evidence that the inmate’s condition rendered him permanently unable to perform two or more activities of basic daily living, necessitating twenty-four-hour care. Assessing F.E.D.’s proofs in accordance with the statutory standard, the Supreme Court found he did not present clear and convincing evidence that his medical condition gave rise to a permanent physical incapacity under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(f)(1). View "New Jersey v. F.E.D." on Justia Law
Haviland v. Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc.
In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court in this case was whether a plaintiff had to submit an affidavit of merit (AOM) in support of a vicarious liability claim against a licensed health care facility based on the alleged negligent conduct of an employee who was not a “licensed person” under the AOM statute. Plaintiff Troy Haviland brought a claim against defendant Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc., alleging, as relevant here, that an unnamed radiology technician employed by defendant negligently performed his radiological imaging examination, causing serious injuries. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to serve an AOM, which was granted. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that an AOM was not required when a plaintiff’s claim against a licensed person was limited solely to vicarious liability, based upon the alleged negligence of an employee who was not a licensed person under the AOM statute. To this the Supreme Court concurred: the AOM statute did not require submission of an AOM to support a vicarious liability claim against a licensed health care facility based only on the conduct of its non-licensed employee. View "Haviland v. Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc." on Justia Law
Coleman v. Martinez
The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether, under the facts of this case, plaintiff Leah Coleman, the victim of a violent assault by social worker Sonia Martinez’s patient, could bring a negligence claim against Martinez. Martinez’s patient, T.E., suffered two violent episodes prior to her treatment with Martinez. Coleman worked for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and was tasked with ensuring the welfare of T.E.’s children when the children were removed from T.E.'s care after her hospitalization following her second violent incident. In a letter to Coleman dated October 1, 2014, Martinez stated that T.E. had been compliant during her sessions and with her medication and was ready and able to begin having unsupervised visits with her children with the goal of reunification. At her deposition, Martinez acknowledged the inaccuracy of representing that T.E. did not exhibit psychotic symptoms in light of what she and the group counselor had seen. During a November 7 appointment, Martinez disclosed to T.E. Coleman’s report of T.E.’s hallucinations. T.E. “became upset” and “tearful,” denied any psychotic symptoms, and reiterated her goal of regaining custody of her children. Later that day, T.E. called DCPP and spoke with Coleman. During their conversation, T.E. referenced her session with Martinez, denied that she was experiencing auditory hallucinations, and stated she did not understand why such a claim would be fabricated. Coleman advised T.E. to seek advice from an attorney as DCPP would “maintain that she [was] not capable of parenting independently due to her mental health issues.” Six days later, T.E. made an unscheduled visit to DCPP offices, where she stabbed Coleman twenty-two times in the face, chest, arms, shoulders, and back. Coleman filed a complaint against Martinez, alleging that Martinez was negligent in identifying her to T.E. as the source of information about T.E.’s hallucinations, and that T.E.’s attack was a direct and proximate result of Martinez’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Martinez, finding no legal duty owed to Coleman under the particularized foreseeability standard set forth in J.S. v. R.T.H., 155 N.J. 330 (1998). The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Martinez had a duty to Coleman under the circumstances here. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Coleman v. Martinez" on Justia Law
Hager v. M&K Construction
M&K Construction (M&K) appealed a workers’ compensation court’s order (the Order) making it reimburse plaintiff Vincent Hager for the ongoing costs of the medical marijuana he was prescribed after sustaining a work-related injury while employed by M&K. Specifically, M&K contends that New Jersey’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act was preempted as applied to the Order by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Compliance with the Order, M&K claims, would subject it to potential federal criminal liability for aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy. M&K also claimed medical marijuana was not reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). Finally, M&K argued that it fit within an exception to the Compassionate Use Act and was therefore not required to reimburse Hager for his marijuana costs. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined: (1) M&K did not fit within the Compassionate Use Act’s limited reimbursement exception; (2) Hager presented sufficient credible evidence to the compensation court to establish that the prescribed medical marijuana represents, as to him, reasonable and necessary treatment under the WCA; and (3) the Court interpretsed Congress’ appropriations actions of recent years as suspending application of the CSA to conduct that complied with the Compassionate Use Act. As applied to the Order, the Court thus found the Act was not preempted and that M&K did not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability. M&K was ordered to reimburse costs for, and reasonably related to, Hager’s prescribed medical marijuana. View "Hager v. M&K Construction" on Justia Law
T.L. v. Goldberg
T.L. consulted Dr. Jack Goldberg for a blood condition. In October 2010, Dr. Goldberg told T.L. about a new medication, Pegasys. After taking Pegasys, T.L. experienced a number of symptoms, but Dr. Goldberg advised that T.L. should continue taking Pegasys. T.L. began experiencing severe pain in her neck and both arms, requiring hospitalization and rehabilitation. T.L. was diagnosed with inflammation of the spinal cord and experienced partial paralysis on her right side. T.L. brought suit against Dr. Goldberg and his employer, Penn Medicine Cherry Hill. T.L. claimed that Dr. Goldberg deviated from accepted standards of care by prescribing Pegasys to her because she was diagnosed with, and took medication for, chronic depression. During Dr. Goldberg’s deposition, when asked whether he was aware of any studies in the Journal of Clinical Oncology pertaining to the use of Pegasys to treat patients with T.L.’s condition, Dr. Goldberg answered “no.” On T.L.’s motion, the court barred Dr. Goldberg from using any medical literature at trial that was not produced during the course of discovery. At trial, Dr. Goldberg testified that he prescribed Pegasys to T.L. because he relied upon a clinical trial, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2009, that included patients with a history of depression. T.L.’s counsel did not object. The jury found that Dr. Goldberg did not deviate from the applicable standard of care. T.L. was granted a new trial on grounds that Dr. Goldberg’s discussion of the 2009 publication constituted reversible error. Dr. Goldberg appealed as of right based on a dissenting justice in the Appellate Division's reversal of the trial court. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding there was no demonstration that the changed testimony caused prejudice to T.L., and the plain error standard did not compel reversal, "especially because counsel’s failure to object was likely strategic." Under the circumstances, T.L. was not entitled to a new trial. View "T.L. v. Goldberg" on Justia Law
This appeal arose from 532 product-liability claims filed against Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and Roche Laboratories Inc. (collectively Roche), corporations with their principal places of business in New Jersey. Roche developed, manufactured, marketed, and labeled Accutane, a prescription medication for the treatment of severe and persistent cases of acne. Plaintiffs alleged Accutane caused them to contract inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and that Roche failed to give adequate label warnings to advise them of the known risks of the medication. At issue for the New Jersey Supreme Court was : (1) what law governed whether Roche’s label warnings were adequate (the law of each of the 45 jurisdictions in which plaintiffs were prescribed and took Accutane or the law of New Jersey where the 532 cases are consolidated); and (2) the adequacy of the label warnings for the period after April 2002. The Court found that because Roche’s warnings received the approval of the FDA, they enjoyed a “rebuttable presumption” of adequacy under New Jersey’s Products Liability Act (PLA). The Court reversed all cases in which the Appellate Division reinstated plaintiffs’ actions against Roche. "New Jersey has the most significant interests, given the consolidation of the 532 cases for MCL purposes. New Jersey’s interest in consistent, fair, and reliable outcomes cannot be achieved by applying a diverse quilt of laws to so many cases that share common issues of fact. Plaintiffs have not overcome the PLA’s presumption of adequacy for medication warnings approved by the FDA. As a matter of law, the warnings provided physicians with adequate information to warn their patients of the risks of IBD." As a result, the 532 failure-to-warn cases brought by plaintiffs against Roche were dismissed. View "Accutane Litigation" on Justia Law