On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6497-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Grall.
Plaintiff Margaret Bracy appeals from a final order granting summary judgment in favor of defendants Public Service Enterprise Group, Public Service Electric & Gas (PSE&G), and Michael Gaffney. Plaintiff initiated this action on her own behalf and as administrator of the estate of Robert James Bracy, III, her husband.
Robert was employed by PSE&G at the time of his death. Defendant Gaffney was also employed by PSE&G. Plaintiff alleged that her husband took his own life as a consequence of defendants' improper interrogation of him in connection with an investigation of allegations concerning his misconduct on the job. She sought damages on the ground that defendants intentionally caused Robert emotional distress and wrongfully caused his death. On appeal plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on these claims. She does not contest a grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on her claim that they negligently caused her emotional distress.
The allegations of misconduct PSE&G investigated were brought to defendants' attention by a representative of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) and involved a claim a PSE&G employee had accepted cash for repairing damage to a gas line caused by a construction contractor. Because defendants' records did not disclose a break in the line or a completed repair at the address BPU provided, defendants questioned the property owner, who gave them Bracy's name.
On further review of their records, defendants learned that there had been a request for service at the address. The record showed that the request was recorded as "closed at the customer's request" by Bracy and another employee.
Defendants also reviewed the records for the cell phone that PSE&G provided to Bracy. Those records reflected a call to the property owner and his contractor during the relevant time period and more than two hundred calls to the same contractor over a nineteen-month period.
In accordance with the PSE&G policy and practice, Gaffney, on behalf of PSE&G, conducted a fact-finding hearing that lasted three days and involved both Bracy and his co-worker. Gaffney had conducted similar hearings in the past. Bracy was permitted to have union representation at the hearing. During the hearing Bracy did not request medical assistance or, in Gaffney's opinion, behave differently than other employees involved in similar proceedings. At one point Bracy said, "I'm a company man. [PSE&G] has been my life. You are trying to destroy me."
Following the hearing on August 9, 2001, Bracy was suspended without pay pending further investigation. On August 10, 2001, Bracy was struck by a truck after a fall from a bridge. Although plaintiff acknowledged that she did not foresee her husband's untimely death, in retrospect she recognized that he was not himself.
Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal:
I. PLAINTIFF HAS ESTABLISHED A PRIMA FACIE CASE OF INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS WHICH PRECLUDES SUMMARY JUDGMENT.
II. PLAINTIFF HAS ESTABLISHED THAT THE DEFENDANTS ARE LIABLE FOR THE WRONGFUL DEATH OF ROBERT J. BRACY, III ...