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Bradford v. Gleason

August 13, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-3884-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted March 17, 2009

Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.

Plaintiff Drew Bradford filed a complaint against defendants Diane Seville Gleason and Renee Baran Hedges in November 2006, raising claims of malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional deprivation of prospective economic benefit, and libel. The trial judge granted summary judgment to both defendants and dismissed the complaint. Thereafter, plaintiff moved for reconsideration, which the judge denied.

Plaintiff appeals from the May 23, 2008 order denying his motion for reconsideration; however, plaintiff addresses only the merits of the trial judge's granting of summary judgment in his brief, and fails to address the issue of reconsideration. Despite this inconsistency, we will address both orders. Moreover we note that plaintiff appeals only with respect to Gleason.

For the reasons that follow, we reverse and remand for further proceedings with respect to plaintiff's claim of malicious prosecution; in all other respects, we affirm.

The pertinent factual background, which we derive from the certifications and exhibits submitted to the trial court on the motion, may be summarized as follows. In the summer of 2005, plaintiff began to organize a fortieth high school reunion for the Summit High School Class of 1965 of which he is a member. Defendant asked classmates Gleason and Hedges to join him in the planning process, as they had experience in organizing previous class reunions. Plaintiff undertook the task of locating a venue and began to arrange a menu, while Gleason and Hedges began contacting former classmates about the upcoming reunion.

Plaintiff maintained that he was "the organizer and in charge of the event," notwithstanding the participation of Gleason and Hedges; plaintiff further asserted that he was "responsible for decisions and ownership of th[e] event."

On June 15, 2005, Gleason reserved space at the Inn at Somerset Hills under the group name "Summit High School Reunion," signed the contract in his name and personally made a $500 cash deposit for which he was subsequently reimbursed. At the end of June, Gleason opened joint account with plaintiff at a Bank of America in Summit, entitled "SHS Reunion Account," which was established to receive ticket sales deposits and to pay bills. Plaintiff and Gleason both had signing privileges on the account.

Sometime prior to August 2005, an initial invitation/informational flyer was mailed to the members of the reunion class indicating that the reunion would be held on October 15, 2005, and that tickets were $100 per person. Registrants were instructed to send their checks payable to "SHS Reunion" directly to Gleason, and that any questions should be directed to plaintiff, Gleason or Hedges.

As the planning continued, plaintiff made it clear that he intended to serve as master of ceremonies for the event; in September 2005, however, Hedges mailed out a flyer to classmates listing Peter Dieman as master of ceremonies. The flyer also described the "40th Year Class Reunion Committee," as being composed of plaintiff as "Facility and Food Coordinator, Co-Treasurer," Gleason as "Invitations, Co-Treasurer," and Hedges as "Communications, Mailing[.]"

Plaintiff's relationship with Gleason and Hedges began to sour at this point. Plaintiff informed Hedges that she had "harmed" him greatly and had "no right to replace" him as master of ceremonies, and that his "blood pressure [was] suffering un[d]er this vicious attack by [her] . . . ."

Another issue arose regarding the disposition of any profits realized after all reunion expenses had been paid. In discovery, Gleason stated that plaintiff had made several suggestions including buying lottery tickets; helping a classmate who had been diagnosed with cancer; renting a hotel room at the Inn at Somerset Hills where tired classmates could rest; and paying the profits to plaintiff as he was entitled to the "gain" for taking the "risk" in paying the deposit on the hotel. Gleason took the position that any excess money should be returned to the classmates, and told plaintiff that "the excess money was not his money, nor [hers] nor [Hedges'] money, and that [they] had to give the classmates the choice of what they wanted to do with their money."

Plaintiff asserted that he had made it known "from the very beginning, that if there [wa]s a profit, . . . it w[ould] go to help out needy classmates . . . ." Gleason protested, stating that the excess money was not plaintiff's property and that "[t]his [wa]s a class reunion, not a charity." Plaintiff never reached a final agreement with Gleason or Hedges as to the disposition of any profits from the reunion.

The relationship between plaintiff and Gleason continued to disintegrate over the issue of the excess funds; in a September 25, 2005 letter, Gleason asked plaintiff to stop calling her and to communicate only in writing as his phone calls had become "stressful." Tensions continued to mount and on October 9, 2005, plaintiff called Gleason and threatened to file an emergent motion against her, as she had left him "no choice" but to litigate the matter of the "overage."

On October 11, 2005, plaintiff withdrew $995.60 from the joint checking account dedicated to the reunion. Plaintiff asserted that he was allowed to remove the money because "he was in charge of the [reunion] and wanted to give $600 to a needy . . . cancer victim, while . . . Gleason wanted the money distributed for free alcoholic drinks." Plaintiff claimed he withdrew this amount only after receiving assurance from the bank manager that sufficient funds remained in the account to pay future bills.

Gleason went to the bank later on October 11, 2005, to "verify the [account] balance," and discovered plaintiff's withdrawal. Gleason then went to the Summit Police Department and filed an incident report with Officer Mathew Buntin, wherein she stated that plaintiff had withdrawn "the remaining balance of the account," and presented a receipt that showed the account balance to be zero as of 1:04 p.m. that day. Gleason also sent an overnight letter to plaintiff requesting a "full accounting" of the funds he had withdrawn that day and further demanding that the money be returned. The next day, Gleason met with Detective Andrew ...

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