A Superior Court judge has tossed out a suit by former Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor, who claimed he was shortchanged on retirement benefits in retaliation for expressing views that irked county elected officials.
Taylor’s suit failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted, Superior Court Judge J. Christopher Gibson of Cape May County said in the Feb. 28 ruling. That was after Taylor said in the suit that he was denied lifetime medical insurance in retirement because he had sided with a union leader in a labor dispute with the county. Taylor also claimed he was shortchanged on retirement benefits in retaliation for his statements to the media about opioid abuse in Cape May County.
Taylor, who retired as prosecutor in September after 13 years, claims the freeholders—the county’s elected legislators—denied his request for lifelong medical insurance, a benefit granted to other long-serving county employees at retirement.
Gibson rejected Taylor’s claim under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act that his retirement package was cut in retaliation for his unwillingness to disparage the head of the assistant prosecutor’s union. The judge noted a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, Yurick v. State, which found no cause of action under CEPA for underfunding a county prosecutor’s office. Gibson also said that Taylor cannot now claim retaliatory action under CEPA because he did not exercise his option to object to the county assignment judge about the amount of funding the county provides for his budget.
In addition, while Taylor claimed the county impugned the reputation of the union leader by launching an internal affairs investigation, the plaintiff failed to indicate that county officials impugned his reputation, Gibson said.
Court documents in the case refer to an assistant county prosecutor and union leader in Cape May who recently became a Superior Court judge. That person is not identified by name, but the documents apparently refer to Christine Smith, who was confirmed to a Superior Court judgeship earlier this year and is sitting in the Civil Part in Cape May County after spending a decade as an assistant Cape May County prosecutor. Smith is the only recently confirmed Cape May judge who was a longtime assistant prosecutor in the county.
Gibson also said Taylor failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted when he claimed that members of the county freeholder board told him they would retaliate if he provided the news media with current data about opioid abuse in the county. Taylor asserted that retaliation could include reduced retirement benefits to him and less money to the prosecutor’s office.
But Gibson said again Taylor’s claim that his freedom of speech was impaired for fear of retaliatory budget cuts is “wholly without merit under Yurick.”
Gibson also said Taylor failed to make a showing of deliberate indifference required to support a civil rights claim under state law against the county. A plaintiff can prove deliberate indifference by demonstrating an ongoing or recurring issue for which training is warranted, but to make such a showing through a single incident of a violation of civil rights, a plaintiff must show that the risk of injury is a highly predictable consequence of the failure to provide training.
Taylor has failed to show that the county was deliberately indifferent to his constitutional rights, Gibson said. Taylor’s claim is based on a single occurrence, but he does not suggest that the purposed violation of his civil rights is a highly predictable consequence of the county failing to train its employees, the judge said.
Gibson gave Taylor 30 days to amend his complaint with more specific facts.
Taylor said he would file an amended complaint. “ The judge indicated there was more specific facts needed. That’s what we’re going to give him,” he said.
Taylor’s lawyer, Arthur Murray of Alterman Associates in Marlton, did not return calls about the case. The lawyer for the county, Russell Lichtenstein of Cooper Levenson in Atlantic City, declined to comment on the ruling.
Taylor has launched a private practice in Stone Harbor. First Assistant Prosecutor Robert Johnson was appointed acting prosecutor for Cape May County by Gov. Chris Christie on Oct. 29.