Killer Escapee May Cost New Jersey Hospital

     (CN) – A hospital treating an inmate who faked a seizure may be liable for letting him escape and murder a New Jersey woman, a federal judge ruled.
     New Jersey had transferred David Goodell to Logan Hall, a halfway house in Newark, in February 2010 with two years still left to serve on an assault conviction.
     That August, Goodell faked a seizure and was taken to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) Hospital by an unarmed employee of Community Education Centers, the for-profit company that operates Logan Hall and other halfway houses.
     Within hours, 30-year-old Goodell escaped and met up with Viviana Tulli, a friend from Garfield, N.J., with whom he had kept in contact. Goodell strangled the 21-year-old woman to death and then drove her car head-on into a police cruiser.
     Officers apprehended Goodell in the Ridgefield High School parking lot, “disoriented and covered in blood,” according to the Cliffview Pilot . Goodell was indicted for murder and other counts in November 2011.
     Tulli’s sister and estate administrator, Estella Tulli-Makowski, filed suit in Essex County Superior Court against the halfway house and its operators; Goodell; the state, its Department of Corrections, and parole board; the university, hospital, and their security provider, the Department of Public Safety; and multiple others, including Community Education Centers’ senior vice president William Palatucci, a close adviser to Gov. Chris Christie.
     In her complaint, Tulli-Makowski claimed that the halfway house system is horribly mismanaged and has experienced an “inordinate” number of prisoner escapes.
     “I understand that David was responsible for her murder,” Tulli-Makowski told the North Jersey Record last June, “but had proper procedures been in place, he wouldn’t have escaped.”
     U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed all counts against the state defendants and the Department of Public Safety on Monday, holding that they are not “persons” under Section 1983, but upheld a claim against the hospital defendants.
     “The UMDNJ defendants simply argue that they are not persons under Section 1983 because state entities cannot be persons under Section 1983,” Martini wrote. “This argument is incorrect: state entities can be persons under Section 1983. Accordingly, the court will deny the UMDNJ defendants’ motion to dismiss.”
     Tulli-Makowski failed to show, however, that the hospital is not a public entity immune under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act.
     “While the court has not located any case addressing whether UMDNJ-University Hospital is a public entity, the court sees no reason why UMDNJ-University-a public hospital – would not be,” Martini wrote. “Accordingly, the court will dismiss the state law claims against defendants with prejudice.”
     The hospital defendants may renew their challenge to personhood status under Section 1983 after sufficient discovery has taken place, the ruling states.
     In a June 2011 audit report, New Jersey Comptroller Matthew Boxer said lax oversight allows frequent escapes and overbilling to occur throughout the state’s $65 million network of privatized halfway houses. Logan Hall is part of the Education & Health Centers of America system, which Blue Jersey says adds unnecessary costs and reduces transparency.

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