On March 16, 2009, the Appellate Division decided Siaw v. Valenzuala. In the case, Defendant Diomedes Valenzuala, a police officer, appealed from the judgment of the trial court denying his claims against his former employer, the Township of Irvington, for indemnification pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-155 in connection with his defense of a lawsuit against him arising out of his exercise of police powers in arresting Plaintiff.
TheCourt indicated that the central question in the case was whether, at the time Valenzuala lawfully arrested Plaintiff, Valenzuala was acting “in the furtherance of his official duties.” If he stopped to investigate a suspicious incident on his way to the police station in response to a call for him to report there on police business, as Valenzuala maintained, then Valenzuala would be entitled to reimbursement under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-155. If he was engaged in a side-business of “keeping the peace” for a towing company, as the trial judge found, then he was not acting “in the furtherance of his official duties” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 40A:14-155, even if he acted lawfully in arresting Plaintiff.
The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the trial court appropriately determined that Valenzuala was engaged in a side-business of “keeping the peace” for a towing company at the time of the arrest and not “acting in the furtherance of his official duties.” As a result, the Court dismissed Valenzuala’s action seeking reimbursement for costs associated with his defense of a civil action filed by Plaintiff.
This case illustrates the principle that officers who work a side-job may not be reimbursed for defending a legal proceeding brought against them for actions which arose out of their performance of the side-job. Many public safety employees, especially during these economic times, work side-jobs in order to obtain additional compensation. All of these officers, however, should be aware of this case. In the event a lawsuit is brought against you, on account of your exercise of police powers while engaged in the side-job, the potential is great that you will not be reimbursed for defending such a lawsuit.