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Coppola v. State

Decided: January 12, 1981.

JOSEPHINE COPPOLA AND OTTAVIO COPPOLA, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, STATE PAROLE BOARD OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY AND DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Michels, Ard and Furman.

Per Curiam

Plaintiffs Josephine Coppola and Ottavio Coppola appeal from a summary judgment of the Law Division in favor of defendants State of New Jersey, State Parole Board of the State of New Jersey and Department of Corrections of the State of New Jersey dismissing their complaint for personal injuries because of the immunity provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. (L. 1972, c. 45, ยง 59:1-1).

On December 21, 1977, plaintiff Josephine Coppola and her two year old son were abducted from the parking lot of the Freehold Mall in Freehold, New Jersey by Lawrence O. Adair. Plaintiff was taken by Adair to Howell Township where he sexually assaulted her. The assault occurred one day after Adair was released on parole from State Prison.

Plaintiff instituted this action against defendants seeking to recover damages for the personal injuries she sustained as a result of the assault. Her husband sued per quod. They contended that defendants were negligent and abused their discretion in releasing Adair on parole from State Prison after he had served only one year and ten months of a ten year State Prison sentence. The sentence had been imposed upon Adair after he pleaded guilty to armed robbery, rape and sodomy. The thrust of plaintiffs' argument is that defendants did not follow the statutory requirement when they paroled Adair, and that Adair's parole did not comply with the provisions of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.12(a)(3), which mandates that a second offender not be eligible for parole until he completes one half of his maximum sentence less computation time for good behavior and diligent

performance of work assignments. On defendants' motion for summary judgment, Judge Selikoff in the Law Division held that N.J.S.A. 59:5-2(a) of the Tort Claims Act granted absolute immunity to defendants from liability for the injuries sustained plaintiffs and granted their motion. This appeal followed.

Tort claims against public entities, such as the State and its Parole Board and Department of Corrections, are governed by the provisions of the Tort Claims Act. The Act re-establishes an all-inclusive immunity from tort liability for such public entities absent specific provisions therein imposing liability upon them. Burg v. State , 147 N.J. Super. 316, 320 (App.Div.1977), certif. den. 75 N.J. 11 (1977); English v. Newark Housing Authority , 138 N.J. Super. 425, 428-429 (App.Div.1976); Keller v. County of Somerset , 137 N.J. Super. 1, 6 (App.Div.1975). The legislative policy underlying the Act is set forth in N.J.S.A. 59:1-2, which states:

The Legislature recognizes the inherently unfair and inequitable results which occur in the strict application of the traditional doctrine of sovereign immunity. On the other hand the Legislature recognizes that while a private entrepreneur may readily be held liable for negligence within the chosen ambit of his activity, the area within which government has the power to act for the public good is almost without limit and therefore government should not have the duty to do everything that might be done. Consequently, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of this State that public entities shall only be liable for their negligence within the limitations of this act and in accordance with the fair and uniform principles established herein. All of the provisions of this act should be construed with a view to carry out the above legislative declaration. [Emphasis supplied].

In furtherance of the stated policy, N.J.S.A. 59:2-1 provides, in pertinent part, that:

a. Except as otherwise provided by this act, a public entity is not liable for an injury, whether such injury arises out of an act or omission of the public entity or a public employee or any other person.

Among the specific immunities granted public entities by the Act is immunity from liability for injuries resulting from the parole or release of a prisoner. N.J.S.A. 59:5-2 ...


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