A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the state Attorney General’s Office failed to sufficiently indemnify the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office over a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the estate of a woman killed by her ex-husband, a police officer.
The prosecutor’s office, county prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni and other office personnel are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by the estate of Tamara Wilson-Seidle. She was shot to death by her ex-husband, Neptune Township Police Officer Philip Seidle, with his service weapon in June 2015.
The wrongful death suit, filed in U.S. district court, claims the MCPO, Gramiccioni and the other defendants failed to properly protect Wilson-Seidle, and improperly returned Seidle’s service weapons after they were seized. A series of motions to dismiss are pending.
Seidle was sentenced to 30 years in prison in September 2016 after pleading guilty to one count of aggravated manslaughter for Wilson-Seidle’s death.
A July 2017 decision by the Attorney General’s Office agreed to indemnify claims related to “classic” law enforcement activities such as the failure to monitor evidence of stalking by Seidle, failure to prosecute Seidle, failure to file a restraining order against Seidle, and failure to adhere to the attorney general’s guidelines in the case. The decision also declined to indemnify claims relating from administrative functions, such as permitting Seidle to remain employed, allowing him to have a service weapon, and allowing him to be reinstated after a suspension.
On appeal, the MCPO and Gramiccioni argued that return of the service weapon and allowing Seidle to continue his employment were law enforcement functions. But Appellate Division Judges Marie Simonelli, Mary Gibbons Whipple and Lisa Firko said the attorney general correctly determined it was not obligated to provide indemnification for those claims under a test from Lavezzi v. State, a 2014 state Supreme Court case.
Later, after the estate of Wilson-Seidle filed an amended complaint naming assistant prosecutors Gregory Scheers, Jacquelynn Seely and Richard Incremona as defendants, the newly included defendants sought indemnification from the attorney general. That request was denied in October 2017, and the assistant prosecutor defendants appealed. The appeals court panel said the attorney general erred in denying relief because certain law enforcement claims that it agreed to cover in the first complaint were repleaded in the amended complaint.
In August 2018, the attorney general issued a blanket refusal to defend or indemnify the appellants from a second amended complaint, deeming those claims administrative in nature. The attorney general reasoned that U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp had dismissed all claims related to law enforcement and investigatory functions in the underlying civil suit, so any remaining claims in the second amended complaint necessarily related to administrative functions.
But the appeals court partially reversed that order, again finding that certain law enforcement-related claims that were previously deemed covered by the attorney general were again pleaded in the second amended complaint.
And on March 19, the attorney general issued a final agency determination denying the appellants’ request for indemnification for the third amended complaint. In that complaint, the estate identifies each appellant and states that “at all relevant times [appellants] were acting in an administrative capacity as opposed to a law enforcement or investigatory function.” The attorney general, taking note of this language, issued a blanket denial of defense and indemnification for all claims in the third amended complaint. However, the attorney general overlooked portions of the third amended complaint that contained allegations it originally agreed to provide defense and indemnification for.
The attorney general properly applied the law with its determinations on indemnification related to the original complaint, but failed to apply the same scrutiny to the subsequent amended complaints to the extent that certain allegations that were first deemed subject to state indemnification were repleaded.
The appeals court directed the appellants to make an application in the Law Division for reimbursement of items previously deemed covered by the attorney general but for which defense and indemnification were later disclaimed.
Deputy Attorney General Daniel Vannella represented the Attorney General’s Office. A spokesman for the office did not respond to a request for comment.
Robyn Gigl of Gluck Walrath in Trenton represented the appellants. She did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office also did not respond to a request for comment.