Providence Pediatric Med. Daycare, Inc. v. Alaigh, Civil No. 10-2799 (NLH/KMW)

Decision Date09 March 2016
Docket NumberCivil No. 10-2799 (NLH/KMW)
PartiesPROVIDENCE PEDIATRIC MEDICAL DAYCARE, INC., et al., Plaintiffs, v. POONAM ALAIGH, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
OPINION

APPEARANCES:

Thomas Kane

Anthony Argiropoulos

Robert M. Travisano

Epstein Becker & Green, P.C.

One Gateway Center, 13th Floor

Newark, New Jersey 07102

Counsel for Plaintiff Providence Pediatric Medical

Daycare, Inc.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General of New Jersey

by Michael James Kennedy, Deputy Attorney General

R.J. Hughes Justice Complex

P.O. Box 112

Trenton, New Jersey 08625

Counsel for Defendants

HILLMAN, District Judge

:

Presently before the Court is the second motion [Doc. No. 171] for summary judgment filed by Defendants Poonam Alaigh, Jennifer Velez, and John Guhl (collectively, "Defendants"). The motion is opposed by Plaintiff Providence Pediatric Medical Daycare, Inc. (hereafter, "Providence"). Providence also filed a cross-motion for additional discovery pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(d) [Doc. No. 180].

It its June 30, 2015 Opinion and Order, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on all claims except to the extent Providence sought prospective injunctive and declaratory relief against Alaigh, Velez and Guhl in their official capacities. Defendants now argue this remaining claim is moot, and for the following reasons, the Court agrees.

I. BACKGROUND

The background of this case was set forth at length in the Court's June 30, 2015 Opinion, Providence Pediatric Med. DayCare, Inc. v. Alaigh, 112 F. Supp. 3d 234 (D.N.J. 2015). In brief, Providence is a pediatric medical day care ("PMDC") facility overseen by the New Jersey Department of Health that provides medically necessary services to "technology-dependent children" or children with complex medical needs in an ambulatory care setting.

PMDC facilities must meet licensing standards established by the Department of Health at N.J.A.C. 8:43J-1.1, et seq. To obtain a new license, PMDCs must complete an application process. On November 16, 2009, the Department of Health adopted the current regulations governing PMDC providers in New Jersey. One of the regulations prohibited facilities from enrolling more than twenty-seven children.

On November 6, 2003, all licensed PMDCs were notified that the Department of Health had recently become aware that some facilities exceeded the twenty-seven child limit. In addition, on November 3, 2003, a moratorium was imposed on the acceptance of applications for licenses for new PMDC facilities and the expansion of existing PMDC facilities.

On September 23, 2003, prior to the moratorium, Providence submitted an application to the Department of Health to expand its Camden facility from thirty slots to 114 slots. The application was rejected apparently because the proposed facility exceeded the twenty-seven student cap. Providence then resubmitted the application to expand its Camden facility, as well as an application for licensure of a new facility in Berlin, New Jersey, in November 2003. Although the applications were submitted under cover letter dated November 2, 2003, they were sent via overnight mail in an envelope dated November 13, 2003.

Providence's applications were returned because they were submitted after the moratorium on applications was published. Providence alleges that other facilities were granted licenses during the moratorium and accordingly, Providence alleges it faced disparate treatment. In its prior Opinion, the Court found that Providence had raised a question of fact as towhether other PMDCs which ultimately received licenses during the moratorium were treated differently.

The moratorium, entered in 2003, did not expire until November 1, 2012. During the moratorium, the Department of Health allowed Providence to transfer the license for an existing facility in Lawnside to Camden, giving it two facilities in Camden. Since the moratorium was lifted, Providence opened a new facility in Berlin, New Jersey, which was licensed on December 5, 2014. Consequently, both facilities Providence sought to license during the moratorium have since been approved.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' . . . demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is"material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S. Ct. 2505).

Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548 ("[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."); see also Singletary v. Pa. Dept. of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 192 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001) ("Although the initial burden is on the summary judgment movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, 'the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing' -- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case'when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof.")(citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S. Ct. 2548).

Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S. Ct. 2548. A "party opposing summary judgment 'may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the . . . pleading[s.]'" Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). For "the non-moving party[ ] to prevail, [that party] must 'make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of [every] element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'" Cooper v. Sniezek, 418 F. App'x 56, 58 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257.

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's only remaining claim is an equal protection claim against Defendants in their official capacities. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no State shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1.To prevail on an equal protection claim, a plaintiff must allege that he or she "has been treated differently from persons who are similarly situated." Renchenski v. Williams, 622 F.3d 315, 337 (3d Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 563 U.S. 956, 131 S. Ct. 2100, 179 L. Ed. 2d 926 (2011) (citation omitted). Ultimately, "[i]f state action does not burden a fundamental Constitutional right or target a suspect class, the challenged classification must be upheld if there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification." Id. (quoting Doe v. Pa. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 513 F.3d 95, 107 (3d Cir. 2008)).

The basis of Providence's equal protection claim is that Defendants: (1) selectively enforced the twenty-seven student limit as to Providence but allowed other facilities to exceed the cap; (2) approved other facilities' applications to open PMDC facilities after the moratorium was entered while denying Providence's applications; and (3) applied the twenty-seven student limit to PMDC facilities that accept Medicaid children, but not to PMDC facilities that do not accept Medicaid children.

The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on two of Providence's equal protection theories, but found there was an issue of fact as to whether Defendants approved some facilities during the moratorium while rejecting Providence's applications.

Defendants now argue that Plaintiff's only remaining claim for prospective injunctive and declaratory relief is moot. Defendants argue that Providence's claim concerns past conduct and there is no alleged ongoing harm. Further, Defendants point out that Providence has received the licenses it claimed it was denied. Providence argues that its claim is not moot because: (1) the cessation of illegal conduct does not moot a claim for injunctive relief; (2) Defendants' disparate treatment is ongoing; and (3) Providence is the prevailing party and entitled to attorneys' fees.1

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution limits the "judicial power" of the United States to the resolution of certain "cases" and "controversies." Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464, 471, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). "The requirements of Art. III are not satisfied merely because a party requ...

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