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Rumbauskas v. Cantor

Decided: November 30, 1994.

JOHN RUMBAUSKAS, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
EDWARD A. CANTOR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'hern, J. Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Pollock, Garibaldi, and Stein join in this opinion. Justice Handler did not participate.

O'hern

The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'HERN, J.

In an earlier time, the great Judge Wilfred Jayne might have written of this case: "In several of its aspects this cause is an unfashionable one to be introduced to a court * * * for determination." Tami v. Pikowitz, 138 N.J. Eq. 410, 410, 48 A.2d 221 (Ch. 1946). An innocuous rivalry between two suitors of a woman is ordinarily not the business of the law. In this case, however, what began as mere harassment of a rival suitor escalated into stalkings and threats to kill. Fortunately, the processes of criminal law intervened to save plaintiff from physical violence.

I

This civil action seeks monetary damages for invasion of privacy. The legal issue presented by this appeal is whether the tort of intrusion on seclusion is an "injury to the person" barred by the two-year limitation period set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2 or is an "injury to the rights of another" barred by the six-year limitation period set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. Because this case arises on defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint, we must accept as true plaintiff's version of the events.

Several years prior to defendant's alleged conduct, plaintiff, John Rumbauskas, had become friendly with a fellow worker to whom we shall refer as "Sally Jamieson." A romantic relationship developed between them. In November 1982, Jamieson went to work for businesses owned and managed by defendant, Edward A. Cantor. Cantor made romantic overtures toward her. These advances were particularly intense throughout 1984. Cantor showered Jamieson with lavish gifts in his effort to convince her to engage in an intimate relationship with him. He pressured Jamieson to wed him and was intensely jealous of Rumbauskas' relationship with her. Rumbauskas knew that, yet he remained romantically involved with Jamieson during that time.

Cantor's unsuccessful attempts to establish a sexual relationship with Jamieson led to physical threats and harassment directed at both Jamieson and Rumbauskas. In December 1984, Cantor

showed a $50,000 roll of money to Jamieson and told her that if she ever saw Rumbauskas again, he would use the $50,000 to hire someone to kill both her and Rumbauskas. Additionally, Cantor later staged a meeting, in Jamieson's presence, with an asserted accomplice and intimated to Jamieson that he had hired the accomplice to kill Rumbauskas. Further, agents of Cantor stalked Jamieson's premises. Cantor later told Jamieson that Rumbauskas was lucky he had not been at her home on that occasion because his agents had been waiting for him.

Even after Jamieson quit working for Cantor's organization in January 1985, Cantor continued to harass her. He told Jamieson that he would make sure she was never employed again. He posted encoded signs on his property deriding Rumbauskas and escalated his threats against Rumbauskas, again suggesting to Jamieson that Rumbauskas might be killed.

Between 1986 and 1988, anonymous telephone threats were made to Rumbauskas directing him to stay away from Jamieson. He was told that if he did not follow that directive, his legs would be broken and his relatives would have a funeral to attend. Cantor also enlisted John Riggi, a reputed member of organized crime, to "persuade" Rumbauskas to stop seeing Jamieson and have her return certain jewelry and gifts she had received from Cantor.

During that time, Rumbauskas noticed automobiles continually parked across the street from his home, the same vehicles that had followed him. In fact, in 1987, an unidentified vehicle forced Rumbauskas off the road.

The New Jersey State Police intervened, pursuant to a separate criminal investigation of Cantor, and confirmed that Rumbauskas was indeed under surveillance. Moreover, he was the intended victim of a "contract murder" financed by Cantor. Once Cantor was arrested, the telephone threats and other intimidation tactics ceased.

Plaintiff's complaint alleged that the foregoing outrageous conduct constituted "an unreasonable intrusion into [plaintiff's] right to live free of [defendant's] interference, threats, surveillance, extortion or duress, and constituted an invasion of [plaintiff's] right to privacy." Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages. He later limited his compensatory damage claim to economic loss and did not seek damages for physical or emotional injuries. (Plaintiff also asserted a cause of action against Cantor for his involvement in "racketeering activity" in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:41-1(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C:41-1(d), but those issues are not before us.) The trial court dismissed the complaint for invasion of privacy. It reasoned that such an action, specifically an intrusion on seclusion, is an action for personal injury because mental distress constitutes part of the measure of damages for such a tort. Therefore, the trial court concluded that this case involved an action for "an injury to the person" governed by the two-year limitation period set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2.

On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the trial court had confused the nature of the injury with the nature of the resultant damages and therefore had overlooked the distinction between "an injury to the person," as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, and "tortious injury to the rights of another," as set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. Plaintiff alleged that he had taken circuitous routes to and from work to avoid harassing surveillance. Thus, plaintiff claimed that he had incurred additional expenses for fuel and had subjected his car to wear and tear. Plaintiff also alleged that he had purchased a baseball bat for protection and had missed several days of work due to threats and intimidation. Further, plaintiff alleged that his livelihood had been jeopardized ...


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