Submitted February 26, 2018
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union
County, Docket No. L-0796-15.
H. Kaplan, attorney for appellant.
and Williams LLP, attorneys for respondent TD Bank, N.A.
(Andrew I. Hamelsky and Zaara Bajwa Nazir, on the brief).
Judges Messano, O'Connor, and Vernoia.
Dwight Morris appeals from the Law Division's January 6,
2017 order granting summary judgment to defendant TD Bank,
N.A., and dismissing plaintiff's complaint asserting
claims of negligence, false imprisonment, assault and
violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A.
10:5-1 to -49.Plaintiff contends the judge erred in
deciding as a matter of law that defendant did not breach the
duty owed by a business owner to its customers to maintain
reasonably safe premises or the duty to exercise reasonable
care in the supervision of its employees. He also argues that
the judge failed to apply proper summary judgment standards
in considering his LAD claim by failing to view the motion
evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff. R.
4:46-2(c). Neither argument is persuasive. We
to plaintiff's assertion, the facts are essentially
undisputed. Plaintiff, a fifty-nine-year-old African-American
male, was wearing a striped collared shirt, black jacket, and
grey baseball cap when he entered defendant's Union
Township branch to make a withdrawal. Surveillance video
shows a second African-American man, wearing white coveralls
and a hardhat, entered the bank, stood near plaintiff, who
thought the man was also completing a withdrawal slip, and
approached the teller immediately ahead of plaintiff. This
man handed the teller a slip, at which point the teller
handed the man a stack of bills, and the man walked out of
the bank. Plaintiff advanced to the counter; however,
unbeknownst to him, the other man had handed the teller a
note saying, "[b]ig bills please this is a hold
plaintiff was standing before the teller, another bank
employee exited the break room, saw the note and discerned
that it said something "in reference to a robbery."
She walked back to her desk and called 9-1-1. Under the
misimpression that plaintiff was the robber, she told police
the robber, an African-American man, was still in the bank.
While she was on the phone with the operator, two employees
locked the bank's doors. Meanwhile, in this commotion,
plaintiff took a seat in the bank's lobby area.
to plaintiff's common law negligence claim was the
employee's admitted departure from defendant's policy
regarding procedures to be followed in the event of a
robbery. The employee handbook provided: "FOLLOWING A
ROBBERY only AFTER the Robber has left . . . Call Police to
four minutes of the 9-1-1 call, police arrived and
defendant's employees unlocked the doors. Although
plaintiff testified at deposition that police had "their
guns pointed towards" him when they were "outside,
" the video shows their guns were not drawn when they
entered the bank. Police asked defendant which way the robber
went and plaintiff responded, "[h]e went that way,
" pointing with his left arm.
Township Police Officer, Teon Freeman, testified at
deposition that he never arrested plaintiff, but interviewed
him as a witness. Plaintiff remained calm during the
interview and provided information about the suspect, leading
Freeman to believe plaintiff "knew he wasn't under
left the bank and returned home approximately ninety minutes
after the incident. He recalled during his deposition
testimony being "pretty upset about the situation"
and "kind of emotional." In February 2015, six
months after the robbery, plaintiff sought counseling from
Patricia Delgado, a social worker, because he was