On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-2288-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 8, 2009
Before Judges Grall, Messano and LeWinn.
Plaintiff appeals from the dismissal of her complaint against the Pleasantville Board of Education (Board) and others, which sought damages for alleged violations of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8. We affirm.
Plaintiff was hired by the Board in 1977 as an English teacher and Reading Specialist. In 2000 she was promoted to the position of Supervisor of Language Arts Literacy at the Pleasantville Middle School. Beginning in or about July 2007, plaintiff engaged in a series of disputes with the Superintendent, Dr. Clarence Alston, Assistant Superintendent, Gregory Allen, and the Interim Human Resources Director, Joan Robinson, concerning two personnel decisions.
Specifically, plaintiff criticized the Board's decision to change the title of a particular teacher, Monica Foti, to "Language Arts Literacy Facilitator[,]" a position plaintiff claimed Foti was not qualified to hold, adding that the Board's decision was "a clear example of an unfair and discriminatory hiring practice . . . ." Plaintiff also complained that the manner in which the Board appointed Robinson as Interim Human Resources Director violated established policy and procedures. In the course of these disputes, plaintiff sent copies of her allegations and criticisms to John Deserable, the state-appointed fiscal monitor for the Pleasantville School District.
In August 2007, plaintiff received a letter from Alston, with copies to Allen, Robinson and Deserable, entitled "Dysfunctional Behavior," referencing her communications with Deserable. Plaintiff met with Alston, Allen and Robinson on August 22, 2007, at which time she was questioned about her motives for communicating her complaints to Deserable.
Following that meeting, the Board voted to change plaintiff's assignment from Supervisor of Language Arts Literacy to Supervisor of Social Studies, a decision which plaintiff claimed harmed her by "removing [her] from frequent, if any, contacts with State officials [because] Social Studies, unlike Language Arts Literacy, is not a [s]tate tested content area."
The Board also voted to suspend plaintiff without pay; during that period of suspension, plaintiff's office was moved to another location which, she claimed, caused her "much humiliation . . . ." Her pay was docked three times. The Board also gave her a negative mid-year evaluation and implemented a Staff Assistance Plan, which she claimed was in retaliation for her complaints. The Board also posted its decision to withhold plaintiff's incremental salary increase on its public agenda and on its website, an action which plaintiff considered "public humiliation."
On July 9, 2008, plaintiff filed her CEPA complaint against the Board, all individual Board members, Alston, Allen and Robinson; she also named Deserable, Lucille E. Davy, Commissioner of the Department of Education (DOE), and the State of New Jersey as defendants. Plaintiff attempted to serve her original complaint upon Davy on July 23, 2008, at the Office of the Atlantic County Superintendent of Schools in Mays Landing.
Plaintiff's only allegation against Deserable was that "throughout the 2007-2008 school year, Mr. Allen, Dr. Alston, Joan Robinson, and on one occasion, Mr. Deserable, cluttered the plaintiff's personnel file with a proliferation of negative memos and other information that have effectively damaged the plaintiff's excellent academic record . . . ." Her complaint did not state any cause of action against Davy.
On September 15, 2008, having received no responsive pleadings from Deserable or Davy, plaintiff sought entry of default against them. On September 17, 2008, plaintiff filed a request for entry of judgment of default against Deserable and Davy seeking damages of $5,805,098.
On that same date, Davy and the State of New Jersey filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e). On or about September 24, 2008, Davy filed a ...