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Figured v. Paralegal Technical Services Inc.

Decided: February 23, 1989.

BARBARA FIGURED, WILLIAM FIGURED AND JASON FIGURED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
PARALEGAL TECHNICAL SERVICES, INC., RONAL F. AUSTIN AND RONALD E. FREEMAS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS



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

Pressler, Scalera and Stern. The opinion of the court was delivered by Stern, J.A.D.

Stern

[231 NJSuper Page 252] Plaintiff commenced this action against two investigators and the corporation which employed them.*fn1 The complaint alleged, among other things, that defendants' surveillance of her activities invaded her privacy and caused her severe emotional distress. Plaintiff sought damages for invasion of privacy and

both negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. A judge of the Law Division concluded that, based on the undisputed facts and all reasonable inferences derived therefrom, no cause of action had been established and granted defendants' motion for summary judgment. We now affirm the judgment of the Law Division.*fn2

I.

Plaintiff was in an automobile accident on January 23, 1983 as a result of which she claimed to have suffered physical, emotional and psychological injuries. The liability carrier for the other vehicle involved in the accident retained defendant Paralegal Technical Services, Inc. to investigate plaintiff's injury claims and Paralegal assigned the investigation to the individual defendants, their employees.

Plaintiff complains in particular about two separate incidents which occurred during defendants' surveillance. The first occurred on the morning of June 6, 1984. Plaintiff received a telephone call from a neighbor who said that she had noticed two suspicious-looking vehicles going up and down the road in front of plaintiff's home. Later, when plaintiff left her home with her mother to keep a doctor's appointment, she noticed two cars parked in a wooded area near the road and saw two men standing alongside the road, watching her as she left. As plaintiff drove to her appointment, she noticed that both cars were following her. Eventually, plaintiff pulled into the parking lot of a store about five miles from her home and noticed that the two cars had followed her into the parking lot. The driver of one car parked in the back of the store and then walked around the front of plaintiff's car, looking "straight into [her] face" while "within arms reach" of her. He "kept peering"

at plaintiff and walked very slowly, "staring" as he passed, but said nothing to her.

The second incident occurred on September 11, 1985. Plaintiff left a family birthday party in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and drove onto Route 380, when she noticed that one of the same vehicles involved in the June 6, 1984 incident was again following her. The vehicle proceeded to follow plaintiff closely for over forty miles until she pulled into a rest area. After plaintiff stopped, she noticed that the other vehicle had "pulled around" and parked facing her.

The motion judge granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the issue of negligent infliction of emotional distress because he found that there was no breach of duty, apparently on the ground that any harm to plaintiff was unforeseeable. He also granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the issue of intentional infliction of emotional distress, finding that defendants' conduct did not rise to the required level of outrageousness. Finally, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the issue of invasion of privacy, because he found that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the cause of action was not established.

II.

Our Supreme Court recently considered the proofs necessary to sustain a claim for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress in the absence of physical injury. In Buckley v. Trenton Savings Fund Society, 111 N.J. 355 (1988) the Court first considered "negligent infliction of emotional distress" and the development of case law thereunder, indicating that recovery seemed to be permitted, even in the absence of physical injury to the plaintiff, under circumstances where there was a "sufficient guarantee" of the "genuineness" of the claim and the emotional distress was sufficiently ...


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