On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-9062-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Koblitz and Haas.
Plaintiff Antonio Jenkins appeals from a January 21, 2011 order denying him a new trial after a jury verdict of "no cause" on his complaint alleging defamation against defendant Daryle Young, the former principal of a New York City school where Jenkins once taught. Jenkins appeals the unanimous jury verdict, alleging that he did not receive a fair trial for evidentiary and other procedural reasons. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we affirm.
This case arises from a classroom incident in a New York City public school and the consequent administrative proceedings. On February 6, 2007, Jenkins, then a teacher at Public School 194, allegedly refused to allow five second-grade students to use the restroom, resulting in all five students wetting themselves. Jenkins contended that he did not prevent the students from using the restroom, but, in any event, Young had implemented a rule prohibiting teachers from permitting students to use the restroom during seventh period.
The following day, Young called a meeting with Jenkins, his union representative, and the assistant principal. Young asserted that Jenkins refused to accept responsibility for his actions and was confrontational, disrespectful and defensive.
Young brought disciplinary charges against Jenkins in New York alleging conduct unbecoming a teacher, insubordination and neglect of duty. On December 29, 2008, the hearing officer, in an "Arbitrator's Opinion," determined that Jenkins' conduct rendered him "culpable" and imposed a $5000 fine. Jenkins' was not terminated from his position as a teacher in the New York City public school system, though he was removed from his position at the school where the incident occurred.
Jenkins maintains that Young brought those disciplinary charges against him in retaliation for pending grievances he filed in 2004 and 2006 with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board.
While the disciplinary charges were pending, Jenkins commenced an action in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on June 3, 2008, naming Young as the sole defendant and alleging libel, slander, fraud, constructive fraud, negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He sought more than $10 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. He subsequently filed a second suit in state court, which was consolidated with the first. The New York court dismissed the consolidated action in July 2010.*fn1 The New York State Appellate Division reversed and converted the plenary action to an arbitration proceeding.
In July 2008, while the disciplinary proceedings against Jenkins and his New York state court action against Young were both pending, Young received two packages at her home in Englewood, New Jersey. The first package contained legal documents pertaining to the action commenced in New York, but Young asserted she did not recognize the name or return address on the outside. The second package had a different, unknown return address and bore handwriting she recognized as that of Jenkins. Young did not sign for this second package. Her New York counsel advised her to file a criminal complaint against Jenkins alleging harassment. N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4a.
The September 2, 2008 Englewood Police report attached to Young's complaint stated the following information. Young had recently retired as a school principal and was engaged in an ongoing dispute with Jenkins, "who was terminated as a teacher at the same school in the state of New York where the two were employed." She "has been harassed in New York and now here[.]" She received mail from Jenkins which had a "bogus return address" on the envelope. The contents of the envelope appeared to be "unofficial documents that resemble legal documents that a defendant would receive when a defendant is charged civilly." Young had, up to that time, received no notice from the New York court.
On that same day, Young supplemented the police report with a handwritten statement. She stated that Jenkins was "removed from the school" as a result of his conduct both in the classroom and during the subsequent meeting. She also alleged that on two occasions, Jenkins had "people stop [her] in the school parking lot to issue what appeared to be legal documents." She further expressed her fear that Jenkins might appear at her home.
On October 1, 2008, Jenkins filed a counter-complaint accusing Young of filing a false police report.*fn2 N.J.S.A. 2C:28-4b(1).
While the criminal complaints were pending in Englewood Municipal Court, Jenkins filed a complaint against Young in the Superior Court of New Jersey in December 2008 alleging defamation and the negligent filing of a false police report. He alleged the police report was false in that Young stated that he was "terminated" and that "he harassed her in New York and now in her place of residence." Neither of these statements is found in Young's handwritten statement. In January 2009, Jenkins amended his complaint, although the amended complaint does not appear to have been filed with the court. The trial addressed only the defamation claim alleged in Jenkins' original complaint.*fn3 Jenkins testified and presented no other witnesses.
The jury determined that Jenkins failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the statements given by Young to the Englewood Police Department constituted defamation.
Jenkins raises the following issues on appeal:*fn4
POINT I: THE TRIAL COURT ERRORED BY ALLOWING A NEW YORK STATE ARBITRATOR'S OPINION TO BE USED AS EVIDENCE IN A NEW JERSEY TRIAL BECAUSE THE NEW YORK STATE ARBITRATOR'S OPINION IS NOT WITHIN PERSONAL AND OR SUBJECT OR TERRITORIAL JURISDICTION OF THE NEW JERSEY STATE AND IS THEREFORE AN IRREGULAR INFLUENCE ON A JURY.
A. THE TRIAL COURT ERRORED BY ALLOWING A NEW JERSEY JURY TO WEIGHT ISSUES OUT OF THEIR JURISDICTION.
B. THE TRIAL JUDGES REASONING FOR ALLOWING THE NY ARBITRATOR IS IN ERROR BECAUSE IT IS BASED ON THE ...