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Reis v. Delaware River Port Authority

February 19, 2008

LINDA REIS, GENERAL ADMINISTRATRIX AND ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF CHRISTINE EBERLE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DELAWARE RIVER PORT AUTHORITY AND CHIEF ROBERT E. ALLENBACH, COUNTY OF CAMDEN, CAMDEN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, CAMDEN COUNTY FIRE AND AMBULANCE COMMUNICATIONS CENTER, DEFENDANTS, AND CITY OF CAMDEN AND MARIE CUPPARO, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
CITY OF CAMDEN AND CHIEF ROBERT E. ALLENBACH, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RYSHAONE H. THOMAS AND MARCUS TOLIVER, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-4988-03.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued January 9, 2008

Before Judges Axelrad, Sapp-Peterson and Messano.

These consolidated appeals arise from the tragic abduction and murder of Christine Eberle (Eberle) on November 12, 2001, in Camden. Her mother, adminstratrix ad prosequendum Linda Reis (plaintiff), appeals from the motion judge's order of October 6, 2006, that granted defendants City of Camden (Camden) and its civilian police 9-1-1 dispatcher, Marie Cupparo, summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's complaint.*fn1 We have considered the arguments raised on appeal in light of the motion record and applicable legal standards. We reverse.

I.

The facts gleaned from the motion record when viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff reveal that on the night in question, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Eberle was returning home from her place of employment in Philadelphia. She took the "HiSpeedline" transit train, owned and operated by the Delaware River Port Authority through its Port Authority Transit Corporation, to the Ferry Avenue Station in Camden. As she exited the train and proceeded to her car in the parking lot of the station, she was abducted by two men later identified as Marcus Toliver and Rayshone Thomas.

Michael Marato, another commuter present in the parking lot some thirty to forty yards away, heard Eberle's screams. He saw a man run between Eberle's vehicle and another car, grab her, push her into a "four-door Escort type [] vehicle," and speed off. Marato observed the vehicle drive over the sidewalk and curb and out of the parking lot onto a side street. Marato suspected something was amiss, so he drove his car after the vehicle and called 9-1-1 from his cell phone.

Cupparo answered the call. Marato described the abduction, gave a description of the assailant's vehicle, relayed the general direction of travel, and continued to follow the other car until he lost sight of it. Marato returned to the station parking lot and awaited the police, but they never came.

Cupparo inadvertently failed to enter the call into the 9-1-1 dispatch system. She attributed this failure to having lost the piece of scratch paper she used to copy down the information. As a result, no police units were ever dispatched to the call.

Toliver and Thomas drove Eberle to a field and viciously beat her for some time. Toliver claimed that during the course of the assault, he acted as a look-out to make sure no police or other individuals were nearby. Eberle was ultimately killed with a machete.

Plaintiff introduced expert evidence that there were Camden police units on duty that could have responded to the 9-1-1 dispatch had it been made. Depositions of various law enforcement personnel indicated that in all likelihood other law enforcement agencies from surrounding towns would have also responded to the call, some with lights and sirens activated, and that there were a number of police vehicles in the vicinity of both the scene of the abduction and Eberle's murder.

Cupparo's supervisor, Sgt. Scott Leusner, testified in depositions that Marato's 9-1-1 call was "Level One" and required immediate dispatch of police units for a response. In an internal affairs investigation that followed, Cupparo was found to have violated departmental policy and procedure without explanation, and she was disciplined for negligent conduct. Camden's police chief, Robert E. Allenbach, testified in depositions that Marato's call was of the highest priority and necessitated the dispatch of "at least one car." Allenbach also indicated that a police unit should also have been dispatched to take a statement from Marato.

Plaintiff's expert James A. Williams furnished a report in which he opined that Cupparo's actions were negligent, that Camden had not properly trained its personnel, and that an appropriate dispatch would have led to a police response that would have likely prevented Eberle's murder. Plaintiff also introduced a 1996 report from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office that was severely critical of the performance of and lack of training in the Camden Police Department. This report was followed by another report in 1998 that noted a failure to implement recommendations from the 1996 report, and shortcomings in the police department's handling of 9-1-1 calls. In her testimony, Cupparo claimed that she had no formal training between 1982 and 2001, that ...


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