Trooper’s Suicide Not Reasonably Foreseeable By Employer

John Oliva was a trooper with the New Jersey State Police. During his field training process, Oliva complained that his “coach,” Patrick Gallagher, was teaching him to stop cars based on racial profiling. In the ensuing three years, Oliva saw and complained about what he perceived as other instances of racial profiling. Eventually, Oliva was transferred to another station in order to separate him from those he was accusing, and who he claimed were retaliating against him.
A variety of investigations ensued as a result of Oliva’s complaints. For periods of time, Oliva took stress leave. On October 1, 2002, Oliva committed suicide.

Oliva’s estate sued the State, alleging that it was civilly liable for his suicide. A federal court dismissed the estate’s claim.

The case turned upon whether or not, assuming that all of Oliva’s and his estate’s contentions were true, it was reasonably foreseeable that any retaliation by the State would have resulted in Oliva’s suicide. The Court found that this nexus was absent: “Here there is no evidence in the record that any of the defendants were aware of the risk that Oliva might take his own life. None of the information they possessed suggested Oliva was a threat to himself. A doctor reported Oliva’s symptoms as hypervigilance, deregulated sleep, fear and rage, fear of retaliation if returned to work, and severe anxiety. Nothing in this diagnosis suggested that Oliva was a threat to himself. Since nothing in the record suggests that any person within the State Police possessed information that would have suggested that Oliva was suicidal, no reasonable factfinder could conclude that the State’s actions shocked the conscience.”

Oliva v. State of New Jersey, 579 F.Supp.2d 643 (D.N.J. 2008).

This article appears in the February 2009 issue