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McGarry v. Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church

February 11, 1998

JOHN C. MCGARRY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



Argued January 22, 1998 Before Judges Shebell, D'Annunzio and Coburn. On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, P.j.a.d.

[9]    Plaintiff, John C. McGarry, appeals from the December 20, 1996 order granting summary judgment to defendant, Saint Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church (St. Anthony's). We affirm.

On March 30, 1995, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Law Division against Saint Anthony's alleging breach of employment contract, wrongful discharge, defamation and interference with a prospective economic advantage. Thereafter, counts two and three, which alleged emotional and/or physical injury and defamation, were voluntarily dismissed by plaintiff. Plaintiff's claims for wrongful discharge and breach of contract contained in count one, and tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage found in count four remained.

Defendant moved for summary judgment. On December 20, 1996, an order was executed dismissing with prejudice plaintiff's remaining claims.

The facts are as follows. On September 27, 1994, plaintiff entered into a one-year employment contract with Saint Anthony's and began serving as its Music Minister/Director of Music in October 1993. St. Anthony's Pastor, Father Robert Lynam, who was authorized to hire and fire employees, signed the contract. The contract contained the following provision for termination:

The parties involved shall give notice of termination of employment at least thirty days in advance of the termination. The termination time must be completed by the employee or if the employer does not wish the termination to be completed the employer shall fulfill all contractual financial agreements.

This litigation arose out of the fact that plaintiff had been receiving shipments of illegal anabolic steroids at St. Anthony's. He was arrested on February 1, 1995 in the parking lot of St. Anthony's for possession of anabolic steroids in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1). He admitted he was expecting the package and that he knew it contained anabolic steroids. He accompanied the officers into St. Anthony's to retrieve the package. The package was found to contain 290 tablets of methandrostenolone, 240 tablets of oxandrolone, and 9 vials of deca durabolin. Plaintiff stated he had been taking steroids to assist him with bodybuilding even though he knew they were illegal. He admitted he had the steroids delivered to him at St. Anthony's on three prior occasions and that he injected himself with the deca durabolin approximately once a week.

On February 2, 1995, Father Lynam received word of a newspaper article which reported plaintiff's arrest at St. Anthony's for receiving anabolic steroids. That same day, plaintiff met with Father Lynam and, according to the Pastor, agreed to resign and turn in his keys. The following morning, plaintiff called Father Lynam's secretary to arrange removal of his belongings. He arrived at approximately 10 a.m. with a van and two friends, who helped clean out his office.

On February 4, 1995, the pastor sent a letter to plaintiff purporting to memorialize the agreement. The letter states:

Because of this unfortunate incident I believed it absolutely necessary that you and I meet as soon as possible to discuss a resolution to this matter vis-a-vis your continued employment by St. Anthony's Church in the position of Music Director. As you recall, during that meeting I solicited your thoughts on how we might resolve the matter. However, you told me that you were unable to offer any resolution. Because I had all day to reflect on the matter, and because of the gravity of the situation caused by you never informing me of the arrest on Church property, as well as your use of the Church's address to receive these illegal substances, I had arrived at what I considered to be the best solution possible for all involved.

As I told you during that meeting, I think it is essential, and so I strongly urge you, to seek professional counseling to address your current problems. I also believed that because of the serious nature of the matter, as described above, that it would be best for you to resign immediately from your position here at St. Anthony's. At the conclusion of our meeting you indicated acceptance of my proposal and you kindly returned to me your Church keys that evening.

[Emphasis added.]

On February 5, 1995, Father Lynam found that a microphone was missing and faxed a note to plaintiff asking him to look for it. On February 7, 1995, plaintiff wrote back that he intended to continue his duties at the church unless he was fired. He also wrote that if he was not fired, he would show up for choir rehearsal the next day. Father Lynam immediately replied by fax that it was clear that plaintiff had resigned on February 2, 1995 by virtue of his returning his keys and equipment and not appearing for mass after his resignation.

Plaintiff responded by fax that he did not resign and intended to continue unless fired. Father Lynam then sent the following fax: "Let me make it perfectly clear that you are not to come on Church property, and you are not to cause any disruption with choir or Masses." Plaintiff faxed back a message questioning whether he had been fired.

On or prior to February 6, 1995, plaintiff applied to another parish for similar employment, but was rejected when inquiry was made to Father Lynam regarding plaintiff's employment at St. Anthony's and Father Lynam informed the prospective employer of the incident which had occurred. After he was indicted on two counts of ...


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