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Vanchieri v. New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority

Decided: September 30, 1986.

JEAN VANCHIERI AND MICHAEL VANCHIERI, HER HUSBAND, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
NEW JERSEY SPORTS AND EXPOSITION AUTHORITY, JOHN DOE AND JANE DOE, FICTITIOUS NAMES, DEFENDANTS, AND WACKENHUT COMPANY, A CORPORATION OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 201 N.J. Super. 34.

For reversal and remandment -- Justices Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Clifford, J.

Clifford

The New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to :12-3, provides public entities (N.J.S.A. 59:2-1 to -10) and public employees (N.J.S.A. 59:3-1 to -14) with broad immunity from suit in tort. In this case we must decide whether that immunity extends to an independent contractor, and, if it does, under what circumstances.

Plaintiffs sued to recover on account of personal injuries sustained by plaintiff Jean Vanchieri at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants, New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority (NJSEA), the public operator of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, and Wackenhut Company, an independent contractor engaged by NJSEA to provide security services. The Appellate Division affirmed, 201 N.J. Super. 34 (1985). We granted certification, 102 N.J. 329 (1985), limited to the issue of Wackenhut Company's right to summary judgment. We now reverse the judgment below as to that defendant.

I

Plaintiffs, Jean and Michael Vanchieri, accompanied by their friends Shirley and Robert Sassi, attended a pre-season football

game at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex on September 4, 1982. The two couples waited in their seats for approximately fifteen minutes after the game, then started to leave the stadium. While crossing a hallway or turning to cross a hallway, Jean Vanchieri was knocked down by one of three young men who were roughhousing in or near the exit area. Ms. Vanchieri received emergency treatment at the Stadium and thereafter at two hospitals. Her injury, a subcapital displaced fracture of the left hip, eventually required insertion of a prosthetic replacement.

Plaintiffs brought suit against NJSEA, Wackenhut Company, and various fictional defendants. As to Wackenhut, plaintiffs' complaint charged defendant with "the responsibility for maintaining security at Giant Stadium and providing uniformed guards on the premises to accomplish security and control of those on the premises," and alleged that "as a result of Wackenhut's negligence in failing to provide proper security and/or supervision," plaintiff Jean Vanchieri was injured. Although Wackenhut's answer did not plead immunity under the Tort Claims Act, Wackenhut followed NJSEA in moving for summary judgment, contending that it was "entitled to the same immunity [as that] afforded to the Authority." For its part the Authority claimed immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:2-7 (public entity not liable for failure to provide supervision of public recreational facilities, but this immunity does not exonerate public entity from liability for failure to protect against "dangerous condition") and under N.J.S.A. 59:5-4 from liability "for failure to provide police protection service or, if police protection service is provided, for failure to provide sufficient police protection service."

The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants, relying principally on Rodriguez v. New Jersey Sports and Exposition Auth., 193 N.J. Super. 39 (App.Div.1983), certif. den., 96 N.J. 291 (1984). In that case, Crispin Rodriguez was injured in the parking lot outside the Meadowlands Race Track. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's dismissal

of Rodriguez's complaint against NJSEA and Pinkerton's Inc., an independent contractor that provided security services. 193 N.J. Super. at 47. The trial court in this case found no basis for distinguishing Rodriguez, and therefore granted defendants' motions. The Appellate Division held that "Wackenhut, as a private security agency under contract with the Authority, is within the immunity provisions of the ...


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