On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County.
Before Judges Brody, Long and Levy.
The opinion of the court was delivered by BRODY, P.J.A.D.
Plaintiff brought this action under the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff's alleged injuries did not meet the verbal threshold to qualify for pain and suffering damages. N.J.S.A. 59:9-2d. We affirm on the ground that in opposing the motion plaintiff failed to submit objective proof that she sustained the injuries she claimed and failed to submit adequate medical proof that the claimed injuries were caused by defendants and are permanent.
The claim arises out of an incident that occurred at the Albert C. Wagner Correctional Facility. Immediately after plaintiff had visited one of the inmates there, State corrections officers discovered that the inmate possessed cash in violation of the institution's regulations. When plaintiff next arrived for a visit on June 24, 1989, a female corrections officer subjected her to an intrusive strip-search. The officer found neither cash nor other contraband. Plaintiff contends that the search was degrading and humiliating, and caused her to suffer permanent psychological and physical injuries.
Plaintiff described her injuries as follows in a certification filed in opposition to defendants' motion:
I am extremely upset, tense and anxious since the incident occurred. My emotional trauma has manifested itself physically. I have screaming bouts where I scream uncontrollably. I suffer from insomnia, nightmares, flashbacks, violent outbursts of anger, difficulty eating. I also suffer from nervous tremors, diarrhea, chronic stomach pains, severe hair loss, hives, severe dry mouth and gastrointestinal problems. These symptoms have persisted for almost four years and my psychiatrist has told me it is permanent.
She also submitted copies of two reports of her psychiatrist, Dr. Ira Fox. He examined her three times. The first examination was three months after the search. His written report to plaintiff's attorney of that examination, dated shortly before suit was filed, contained little more than a recitation of plaintiff's complaints to him. The only reference to his own observations of plaintiff was:
Mental status examination at the time of initial evaluation found Minnie Randall to be a well developed, well nourished black female. She was obviously depressed in both mood and affect. . . . She was oriented to time, place and person. Gross memory was intact.
His diagnosis was, "Acute post-traumatic stress disorder directly related to and caused by the incident to her person on 24 June 1989." The doctor reported that plaintiff returned to his office one more time, about three weeks later. He does not state what treatment, if any, he administered or prescribed.
The doctor's second report referred to an examination he conducted three and a half years after he had last seen plaintiff, and after defendants had moved for summary judgment. In it he again reports plaintiff's complaints to him and concludes that they are permanent:
Without restating what has already been said, Minnie Randall continues to suffer from a Post-traumatic stress disorder.
She continues to have flashbacks, thought intrusions, sleep disturbance, mood changes and avoidance of the noxious stimulous [sic] which caused her post-traumatic stress disorder.
I have known her for many years. This incident has had an indelible and permanent effect on her. She continues to feel violated and "She shouldn't of looked in my private parts." With these frequent flashbacks and thought intrusions which occur many times per week, she has accompanied physical symptoms. These include diarrhea and severe dry mouth. These ...