Plaintiffs Valerie Benning and I'Asia Moreland were a same-sex couple who lived together with Moreland's two biological children, a boy who was nearly five years old and his two-year-old sister. On January 30, 2009, Benning was standing on the sidewalk holding the hand of the two-year-old girl, when a fire truck collided with a pickup truck, causing the pickup truck to strike and kill the child. Plaintiffs filed a civil action against the tortfeasors that included a claim by Benning for negligent infliction of emotional distress under Portee v. Jaffee, 84 N.J. 88 (1980).
The Law Division granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed Benning's Portee claim, finding she did not present sufficient evidence that she had an "intimate, familial relationship" with the two-year-old. This court denied Benning's motion for leave to appeal. The Supreme Court granted Benning's motion for leave to appeal and summarily remanded this matter for this court to decide this issue.
As ordered by the Supreme Court, this court's analysis is exclusively focused on the second element of the four elements of proof required to bring a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim, as clarified and expanded in Dunphy v. Gregor, 136 N.J. 99 (1994). Viewing the evidence under the standard codified in Rule 4:46-2(c), this court holds that Benning presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that she and the two-year-old decedent had an intimate familial relationship at the time of the child's tragic death. This court reverses the Law Division's order dismissing Benning's claim as a matter of law and remands the matter for trial by jury.