On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.
Michels, King and Dreier. The Opinion of the Court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiffs Crispin Rodriguez and Sonia Rodriguez appeal from summary judgments of the Law Division entered in favor of defendants New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (Authority) and Pinkerton's, Inc. (Pinkerton's) that, based upon the immunity provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, dismissed their complaint for personal injuries and property damages. N.J.S.A. 59:1-1, et seq.
The facts are relatively simple and essentially undisputed. On the evening of April 30, 1979 Crispin Rodriguez (Rodriguez) was a patron at the Meadowlands Race Track which is owned and operated by the Authority. He won the "Trifecta", the tenth and last race of the evening, and collected in excess of $4,000 in cash. He left the racetrack and while proceeding to his automobile, which was parked in one of the Authority's parking areas, was assaulted by three men who fractured his jaw and robbed him of his winnings. Rodriguez instituted this action against the Authority and Pinkerton's, which provided contract security service to the Meadowlands Complex, to recover damages for the personal injuries and the loss of the winnings sustained as a result of the assault and robbery. His wife sued per quod. Rodriguez contended that the assault and robbery were "allowed and caused to occur as a result of inadequate and ineffective security." Specifically, he charged the Authority and Pinkerton's with failing to (1) provide proper security and lighting, (2) warn of known dangers and (3) take reasonable precautions to assure that no harm would come to those lawfully on the premises. After the issue was joined and discovery completed, defendants moved for summary judgment. Judge Cassidy in the Law Division held that N.J.S.A. 59:5-4 of the Tort Claims
Act granted absolute immunity to defendants for the injuries and damages sustained by plaintiffs. Summary judgments were therefore entered in favor of defendants and this appeal followed.
Tort claims against public entities, such as the Sports Authority, are governed by the provisions of the Tort Claims Act. The Tort Claims Act re-establishes an all-inclusive immunity from tort liability for public entities absent specific provisions therein imposing liability upon them. Coppola v. State, 177 N.J. Super. 37, 39 (App.Div.1981), certif. den. 87 N.J. 398 (1981); 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 Tort Claims 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 this 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 Tort Claims Act is immunity from liability for injuries and damages resulting from the ...