On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6127-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parker and LeWinn.
Plaintiff Ronald Cartlidge appeals from the November 16, 2007 order of the Law Division granting summary judgment to defendants dismissing his complaint with prejudice. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
The pertinent factual background may be summarized as follows.*fn1 On September 22, 2004, at approximately 12:30 p.m., plaintiff was crossing Springfield Avenue in Maplewood Township, while talking on his cell phone to a friend. As he crossed the street within the designated pedestrian crosswalk, defendant Mohalee Cowherd, an employee of Verizon New Jersey, Inc. (Verizon), was sitting in the driver's seat of a Verizon van stopped at the traffic light. Cowherd "yell[ed]" to plaintiff, "Why don't you get the f- - - off the phone." Plaintiff turned and looked at Cowherd; he noticed that Cowherd was talking on a cell phone while in the driver's seat of the van. Plaintiff responded, "Why don't you get off the phone."
Still talking on his cell phone, plaintiff then entered a restaurant known as Panda Kitchen, where he intended to purchase lunch. He noticed Cowherd following him into the restaurant, and told his friend on the phone, "I think I need to go[,]" and hung up the phone.
Cowherd approached defendant from behind while he was in line waiting to place his order. Cowherd said, "[E]xcuse me, I just wanted to make sure I heard what the f- - - you just said." Plaintiff stated that he was "scared for [his] life," because Cowherd was "6'5", [a] black man, 250, it's very scary." Plaintiff repeated what he had said, to which Cowherd responded, "that's what the f- - - I thought you said."
Cowherd then assaulted plaintiff, who described the incident as follows:
I saw it in slow motion. His right hand went up. I saw the gold ring on his finger. He came down, he hit me from my ear down to my jaw. And he walloped me; pounded me. He hit me so hard that I fell right to the ground. My left shoulder hit first. He twisted my body around. Then my head hit the ground. I blacked out.
When I finally came to, I don't know how long I was out. But when I finally came to he was standing on top of me. I stood up very, very slowly after I regained my balance and he said, "What are you going to do now bitch?" I very slowly said, "Nothing." He said, "That's what I thought."
Then he walked out of the restaurant, got in his truck and drove away.
Plaintiff filed a complaint with the Maplewood Police Department. Plaintiff's mother notified Verizon about Cowherd's assault. Verizon conducted its own investigation of the incident and, in a report dated October 21, 2004, Angela H. Long, director of Verizon security concluded: "Facilities Technician Mohalee Cowherd admitted hitting Ronald Cartlidge in the face at Panda's Chinese restaurant on September 22, 2004. He told Security that he acted in self-defense, but his statements and those of witnesses failed to corroborate his claim." Verizon subsequently terminated Cowherd; that decision was upheld in arbitration.
In his Law Division complaint, plaintiff alleged that Verizon was negligent in hiring and supervising Cowherd, and that Verizon was liable on the basis of respondeat superior/vicarious liability. Cowherd failed to answer the ...