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Brady v. Township of Mantua

January 30, 2008


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Gloucester County, Docket No. L-1121-03.

Per curiam.


Argued November 28, 2007

Before Judges Cuff, Lisa and Lihotz.

Plaintiff Robert Brady appeals from two summary judgment orders dismissing his causes of action against defendants. Brady, a member of Teamsters Local 676, is employed by defendant Township of Mantua (Township) in the Department of Public Works.

Brady was identified as the individual who tampered with and broke the employee's break room heater. As a result, Brady was charged with criminal mischief and suspended for thirty days following the Township Committee's determination that he destroyed Township property.

Brady's complaint against the Township and defendant Robert Dilks, Brady's supervisor, alleged malicious prosecution, employment discrimination, and civil rights violations. Brady argues the motion judge erred in granting summary judgment because Brady presented evidence raising sufficient factual disputes to be resolved at trial. We disagree and affirm.

Dilks contacted the Township police after vandalism incidents caused damage to the public works building break room heater. After it was repaired and working properly, police detectives installed a hidden camera to monitor the heater. Thereafter, when the police examined the heater, they noticed it was damaged. The police reviewed the surveillance tape and noticed an individual who "approached the heater by the front and reached up and actually used his hands and pushed the flap in, which appeared on the videotape that it was pushed in by this individual." The officers identified Brady as the individual on the tape who caused the damage to the heater flap.

After being advised of his Miranda*fn1 rights, Brady was questioned by police. He denied involvement in damaging the heater, and then was informed of the existence of the surveillance tape. Brady requested to view the tape and allegedly stated, "that's me, is that me?" On February 16, 2001, Brady was arrested and charged with criminal mischief, N.J.S.A. 2C:17-3a(1), for purposely damaging tangible property belonging to the Township, causing pecuniary loss in the amount of $107.25.

Brady professes his innocence and asserts that the charges were contrived by Dilks, in retaliation for various grievances filed by him under the terms of the union's collective bargaining agreement. The record contains a copy of one grievance, dated January 2, 2001, stating that Dilks failed to call Brady into work during a snowstorm. This, as well as two other grievances, were resolved in Brady's favor.

After trial in Mantua Township Municipal Court, Brady was adjudicated not guilty on the criminal mischief charges. The municipal court judge concluded that, although the heater was damaged and Brady was the person identified on the tape, the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Brady purposely damaged the heater. Also, the Township Committee reviewed the matter in a disciplinary hearing. The Committee determined Brady had violated Section 33-15D of the Township Code by damaging Township property and suspended Brady for thirty days without pay.

At the conclusion of discovery in this action, defendants filed their first motion for summary judgment. Judge Michael Brooke Fisher granted partial summary judgment and dismissed the complaint's counts alleging employment discrimination and malicious prosecution based on the civil proceeding. Defendants' second motion for summary judgment also was granted, dismissing the remaining counts alleging malicious prosecution, based on the criminal proceeding and civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.

In reviewing summary judgment orders, we apply the same standards that govern the trial courts. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the matter must be viewed in the factual light most favorable to the non-moving party. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Our inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 536.

Brady asserts the motion judge failed to consider his allegations that Dilks and the Township initiated the criminal and disciplinary proceedings because Brady filed work grievances. We can find nothing in the record to support Brady's contention that he suffered employment discrimination for engaging in protected union activities. Brady's grievances were personal in nature and were unrelated to his union position. The three objections Brady submitted regarding overtime or work conditions were resolved substantially in his favor and were not followed by negative repercussions. We find no connection between the filed grievances and ...

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