Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen
HECTOR & RUTH RODRIGUEZ GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR THEIR DAUGHTER, MADELINE RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiffs,
EDGEWATER BOARD OF EDUCATION, EDGEWATER SCHOOL DISTRICT, DR. LORRAINE CELLA, ED.D., PAT DESANTO, LSW, PATRICIA CIVITELLO, JENNIFER BARRY, EDGEWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT, STEVEN TIBUS, JOHN DOES 1-10, JANE DOES 1-10, Defendants.
Argued: August 31, 2017
Nirenberg, Esq. from law offices of Nirenberg & Varano,
LLP on behalf of the Defendants Edgewater Board of Education,
Edgewater School District, Dr. Loraine Cella, ED.D., Pat
DeSanto, LSW, Patricia Civitello, and Jennifer Barry.
Richard S. Mazawey, Esq. from the law offices of Richard S.
Mazawey on behalf of the Plaintiffs Mr. Hector and Mrs. Ruth
Rodriguez Guardian Ad Litem For Their Daughter, Madeline
Honorable Robert C. Wilson, J.S.C.
MATTER comes before the Court on a motion for
summary judgment filed by Howard Nirenberg, Esq. from law
offices of Nirenberg & Varano, LLP on behalf of the
Defendants Edgewater Board of Education, Edgewater School
District, Dr. Loraine Cella, ED.D., Pat DeSanto, LSW,
Patricia Civitello, and Jennifer Barry (hereinafter
"Defendants" or "School Defendants").
Opposition was filed by Richard S. Mazawey, Esq. from the law
offices of Richard S. Mazawey on behalf of the Plaintiffs,
Mr. Hector and Mrs. Ruth Rodriguez Guardian Ad Litem For
Their Daughter, Madeline Rodriguez (hereinafter
"Plaintiffs"). Oral argument was heard on August
December 9, 2013, at around 9:00 a.m., Madeline Rodriguez was
called to the principal's office and was told that she
needed to be out of class until she spoke with Mr. Hector and
Mrs. Ruth Rodriguez. A member of the principal's office
at the Edgewater School District called Mrs. Rodriguez and
advised her to come down to the school for an alleged
incident regarding her daughter. The school officials advised
that they intended to hold a meeting with Mrs. Rodriguez,
Madeline, and the Edgewater Police Department. Madeline
Rodriguez was ten years old at the time. Ms. DeSanto, Ms.
Civitello, and Detective Sergeant Tibus did not question
Madeline until Mrs. Rodriguez arrived at the school to
participate in the proceedings.
Mrs. Rodriguez arrived, Madeline was allegedly kept standing
in the hallway outside of the principal's office for a
long time within sight of the other students. Once Mrs.
Rodriguez arrived, Ms. DeSanto, Patricia Civitello, and
Detective Sergeant Steven Tibus began the interview of
Madeline, questioning her about an e-mail that she allegedly
sent to another student using her "Roblox" account.
The e-mail was threatening in nature; it was a form of cyber
bullying threatening the life of another student. Madeline
denied that she sent the e-mail, referring to the use of poor
grammar and spelling mistakes to prove that she could not be
the author of said e-mail. In spite of Madeline's
assertions, Detective Sergeant Tibus and Ms. DeSanto insisted
that they knew that she sent the e-mail and that she should
confess to sending it.
to Mrs. Rodriguez, Detective Sergeant Tibus and Ms. DeSanto
became "more and more aggressive with Madeline and
treated Madeline like an adult criminal suspect being accused
of a serious crime." Furthermore, Mrs. Rodriguez alleged
that Detective Sergeant Tibus, as well as school officials,
pressured Madeline to confess by stating that if she admitted
fault, "everything was going to be over, " and that
if she refused to confess, then further investigation and the
imposition of consequences for lying would ensue. Madeline
only confessed to writing the message after continued
questioning by Ms. DeSanto and Detective Sergeant Tibus first
had ended and she was alone with her mother, Mrs. Rodriguez.
first asserts that the defendants used "threats,
intimidation and coercion" to violate Madeline's
substantive due process or equal protection rights,
privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution or laws
of the United States, or those same rights as secured by the
laws or Constitution of New Jersey. Plaintiff points toward
the allegedly custodial nature of the interview between
Madeline, Detective Sergeant Tibus, Ms. DeSanto, and Ms.
Civitello as the basis for this claim. Plaintiff argues that
the meeting, held "under the auspices of Defendants
Tibus, DeSanto, and Civitello" was an improper inquest
which resulted in a false confession. Plaintiffs assert that
subsequent text messages from the recipient of the Roblox
e-mail demonstrate that the victim "screwed up and she
was sorry" further showing that Madeline did not send
the Roblox message.
on March 23, 2014 the Plaintiffs traveled as a family to the
Roblox corporate headquarters in California in order to
investigate the origin of the message. According to Hector
Rodriguez, it was determined during this trip that Roblox
could not locate the message on its internal servers or link
the message to Madeline's account. Plaintiffs argue that
this is further indication that the email was not sent by
Plaintiff contends that defendants failed to appropriately
enforce its own Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying
Policy. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that defendants
improperly failed to consider Madeline's age and
disciplinary history when responding to the apparent threat
of the email; that the defendants failed to consider the
availability of counseling and other intervention methods
during the initial meeting and interview; and that the
defendants failed to perform necessary due diligence by not
first conducting an investigation of the grammar and style of
the email before questioning Madeline.