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Kollock-Mann v. Morante

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 27, 2018

JERNEE KOLLOCK-MANN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBIN MORANTE, et al., Defendants.

          MATTHEW BENJAMIN WEISBERG DAVID ANDREW BERLIN WEISBERG LAW, Attorneys for Plaintiff Jernee Kollock-Mann.

          ROBERT J. MCGUIRE STATE OF NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL DIVISION OF LAW, Attorney for Defendants Robin Morante, Kevin Kellejan, and Tom DiNunzio.

          FILED UNDER SEAL

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This case concerns claims against three investigators at the Camden County Prosecutor's Office (“CCPO”) involved in an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers at Triton Regional High School (“Triton”). Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff's opposition, Plaintiff's Motion to Seal, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Sur-Reply, and Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Seal. For the reasons expressed below, this Court will grant Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, deny Plaintiff's Motion to Seal, deny Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File a Sur-Reply, and grant the Amended Motion to Seal.

         BACKGROUND

         This Court bases its recitation of facts on the Defendants' and Plaintiff's statements of material facts not in dispute. This Court will note any relevant, disputed fact when applicable.

         In April 2012, Plaintiff Jernee Kollock-Mann was a Vice Principal at Triton. During that time, a Triton student, R.P., learned that two of her classmates were meeting with certain Triton teachers off school grounds and were exchanging sexually explicit text messages. R.P. believed one classmate was “hooking up” (here, meaning kissing) with a Triton teacher and the other classmate was engaging in sexual intercourse with another Triton teacher.

         A substitute teacher, Dina Galdo (who now goes by her married name, Dina Tomczak), [1] met with Principal Catherine DePaul in the parking lot of the Deptford Mall to relay information about these potentially inappropriate relationships. As a result of this revelation, a meeting was held in Principal DePaul's office between R.P., Principal DePaul, and Plaintiff. This meeting and the actions taken in response to the information revealed in the meeting are central to this case.

         During the meeting, Principal DePaul and Plaintiff questioned R.P. about her knowledge of the possibly inappropriate interactions between certain Triton teachers and students. R.P. was asked to prepare a written statement. R.P. did as she was asked and prepared a handwritten statement. Plaintiff has admitted she changed at least one sentence in the statement to better reflect what she thought R.P. intended to convey.[2]

         After the meeting with R.P., Plaintiff believed “there was definitely credible evidence of potential conduct that would constitute child abuse that DYFS [the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, which is now known as the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency] should be aware of” and that DYFS should have been notified. (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 15 (additions in original).) She also believed at the time that the local school board's policy would have required her to immediately report to DYFS if she had “reasonable cause to believe a pupil has been subjected to child abuse.” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 16.) On this point both sides agree: Plaintiff did not actually make a report, even though she believed one was appropriate given the circumstances.

         Plaintiff suggests she did not make the report because she asked Principal DePaul whether she would like her to report it, and Principal DePaul instructed her to refrain. In her deposition for this case, DePaul denied she gave this instruction to Plaintiff. (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 19.) Additionally, Plaintiff suggests she need not have reported the information she received because Galdo-Tomczak, not her, was the first person to receive the information and thus was obliged to report it. In any event, Plaintiff admits that she never disclosed to Defendants in her sole interview with them that others knew about the alleged sexual abuse before her and had failed to report it.

         Several months later, in August 2012, Principal DePaul informed others in the school district about the discovery of a large number of sexually explicit and inappropriate text messages between students and teachers at Triton. On August 3, 2012, the Chief of Detectives of the CCPO assigned Defendant Robert Morante, an investigator with the CCPO, to investigate the allegations. Defendants Kevin Kellejan and Thomas DiNunzio, also members of the CCPO, assisted in the investigation.

         As part of their investigation, Defendants interviewed both R.P. and Plaintiff, among others. Defendant Morante interviewed R.P. who made several statements concerning Plaintiff. First, R.P. Stated:

[L]ike every time I said something [DePaul and Plaintiff] made it feel like they were just helping me how to write it but really they were like changing up my statement. . . . And I just kept saying like I said like I knew stuff was going on . . . [but] they would try to make it sound like okay, well, you didn't see it let's just write that.

(Defs.' SOMF ¶ 11.) Second, R.P. stated: “And [Plaintiff] even said to me back like I kind of knew this was going on before but then in the statement she was kind of making it seem like nothing was going on.” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 12.)[3]

         After completing their investigation, Defendants provided the information they discovered to the prosecutor. Plaintiff admits “the Prosecutor elected to file three criminal charges against [her].” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 29; Pl.'s SOMF ¶ 29.) Those three charges were: (1) a failure to make a statutorily-required report regarding suspected child abuse under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 9:6-8.14, (2) official misconduct under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:30-2, and (3) hindering apprehension or prosecution under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:29-3. Along with Plaintiff, Principal DePaul and the teachers allegedly engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct were also charged with various crimes. (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 36.) Defendants allege they did not make the charging decision.

         Specifically, Defendant Morante stated “I don't make charging decisions. The prosecutor does.” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 31.) Defendant Kellejan stated he served as a factfinder, and all the information he finds “is forwarded to an assistant prosecutor or prosecutors. They would then discern whether or not somebody had committed a crime and go forward or not go forward with charges.” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 33.) Defendant DiNunzio stated he did not have input into whether someone should be charged, saying “We can't say ‘This one should be charged.'” (Defs.' SOMF ¶ 34.) Although Plaintiff admitted in her deposition that she has no information indicating Defendants were involved in the charging decision, she denies these statements, pointing out that Defendant Morante signed the summons-complaint filed in her criminal case.

         Eventually, Plaintiff reached an agreement with the CCPO. She voluntarily resigned from her then-current position at Black Horse Pike Regional School District and the CCPO dismissed all charges against her. Plaintiff denies Defendants' characterization of this agreement as a plea deal.

         Plaintiff brought this case, along with her husband Daryl Mann, on June 29, 2015. Plaintiff brought three claims, one for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, one for malicious prosecution under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (“NJCRA” or “N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2”), and one for loss of consortium. The loss of consortium claim was dismissed via this Court's February 28, 2017 Order. Discovery ensued. Defendants filed the ...


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