Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
by
M&K Construction (M&K) appealed a workers’ compensation court’s order (the Order) making it reimburse plaintiff Vincent Hager for the ongoing costs of the medical marijuana he was prescribed after sustaining a work-related injury while employed by M&K. Specifically, M&K contends that New Jersey’s Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act was preempted as applied to the Order by the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Compliance with the Order, M&K claims, would subject it to potential federal criminal liability for aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy. M&K also claimed medical marijuana was not reimbursable as reasonable or necessary treatment under the New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA). Finally, M&K argued that it fit within an exception to the Compassionate Use Act and was therefore not required to reimburse Hager for his marijuana costs. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined: (1) M&K did not fit within the Compassionate Use Act’s limited reimbursement exception; (2) Hager presented sufficient credible evidence to the compensation court to establish that the prescribed medical marijuana represents, as to him, reasonable and necessary treatment under the WCA; and (3) the Court interpretsed Congress’ appropriations actions of recent years as suspending application of the CSA to conduct that complied with the Compassionate Use Act. As applied to the Order, the Court thus found the Act was not preempted and that M&K did not face a credible threat of federal criminal aiding-and-abetting or conspiracy liability. M&K was ordered to reimburse costs for, and reasonably related to, Hager’s prescribed medical marijuana. View "Hager v. M&K Construction" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action on behalf of themselves and “[a]ll consumers to whom [d]efendants, after November 17, 2013, provided an electronically printed receipt” listing the expiration date of the consumer’s credit or debit card in violation of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA). Plaintiffs’ only alleged injury was exposure to an increased risk of identity theft and credit/debit card fraud. The complaint alleged that “there are, at a minimum, thousands (i.e., two thousand or more) of members that comprise the Class.” The trial court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint based on its determination that plaintiffs could not satisfy Rule 4:32-1’s numerosity, predominance, or superiority requirements for class certification. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal as it pertained to the class action claims. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding plaintiffs sufficiently pled the class certification requirements to survive a motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court remanded the matter for class action discovery to be conducted pursuant to Rule 4:32-2(a), so that the trial court could determine whether to certify the class. View "Baskin v. P.C. Richard Son, LLC" on Justia Law

by
In September 2016, defendant Trend Motors, Ltd. (Trend), provided defendant Mary Aquilar with a loaner vehicle for her personal use while her vehicle was being serviced. Aquilar’s negligent operation of the loaner vehicle caused it to strike plaintiff Tyrone Huggins’s car. Huggins sustained serious injuries as a result. GEICO insured Aquilar through an automobile policy. Trend held a garage policy with Federal Insurance Company (Federal) that insured Trend’s vehicles for up to $1,000,000 in liability coverage. The definition of an “insured” in the Federal policy purported to extend liability coverage to Trend’s customers using Trend’s vehicles only if the customer lacked the minimum insurance required by law. Huggins filed a complaint seeking compensation for the injuries and loss of income he suffered as a result of the accident. Federal disclaimed liability, arguing that Aquilar did not fit the policy’s definition of an insured because she held $15,000 in bodily injury coverage through GEICO. The trial court held that the Federal policy’s definition of an insured constituted an illegal escape clause and held Federal to the full policy limit of $1,000,000 in liability coverage. The Appellate Division declined to review the trial court’s ruling. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the trial court’s ruling that the provision in the garage policy at issue constituted an illegal escape clause which could not be used to evade the minimum liability requirements for dealership vehicles set by the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). The Court ordered the reformation of Federal’s policy to the $100,000/$250,000 dealer-licensure minimum liability coverage required by N.J.A.C. 13:21-15.2(l). View "Huggins v. Aquilar" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Jed Goldfarb claimed defendant David Solimine reneged on a promise of employment after Goldfarb quit his job to accept the promised position managing the sizeable investment portfolio of defendant’s family. The key issue in this appeal involved whether plaintiff could bring a promissory estoppel claim because he relied on defendant’s promise in quitting his prior employment even though, under New Jersey’s Uniform Securities Law of 1997 (Securities Law or the Act), he could not bring a suit on the employment agreement itself. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the Securities Law did not bar plaintiff’s promissory estoppel claim for reliance damages. The Court affirmed the liability judgment on that claim and the remanded for a new damages trial in which plaintiff would have the opportunity to prove reliance damages. The Court found he was not entitled to benefit-of-the-bargain damages. To the extent that the Appellate Division relied on an alternative basis for its liability holding -- that a later-adopted federal law “family office” exception had been incorporated into the Securities Law -- the Court rejected that reasoning and voided that portion of the appellate court’s analysis. View "Goldfarb v. Solimine" on Justia Law

by
Under New Jersey’s Worker’s Compensation Act, an employee injured during a social or recreational activity generally cannot receive compensation for those injuries unless a two-part exception is met. Here, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether the injuries sustained by claimant Kim Goulding at an event hosted by her employer were compensable. The workers’ compensation court dismissed Goulding’s claim, determining that "Family Fun Day" was a social or recreational event and that the two-part test of N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was not satisfied. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the injury Goulding sustained while volunteering at her employer-sponsored event was compensable because, as to Goulding, the event was not a social or recreational activity. Even if N.J.S.A. 34:15-7 was applicable here, Goulding would still have satisfied the two-part exception set forth in that statute. Her role at the event, which was planned to be held annually, was the same as her role as an employee, and but for her employment at Friendship House, Goulding would not have been asked to volunteer and would not have been injured. Thus, Goulding’s injury was “a regular incident of employment.” Furthermore, the Court found Friendship House received a benefit from Family Fun Day “beyond improvement in employee health and morale.” The event was not a closed event for the Friendship House team. Rather, it was an outreach event to celebrate and benefit Friendship House’s clients, creating goodwill in the community. View "Goulding v. NJ Friendship House, Inc." on Justia Law

by
At issue in this appeal was whether the arbitration provision in the retainer agreement plaintiff Brian Delaney signed when he engaged the representation of Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. was enforceable in light of the fiduciary responsibility that lawyers owe their clients and the professional obligations imposed on attorneys by the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs). In 2015, Delaney, a sophisticated businessman, retained Sills to represent him in a lawsuit. He met with a Sills attorney who presented him with a four-page retainer agreement. It was understood that Trent Dickey was slated to be the attorney primarily responsible for representing Delaney reviewed and signed the retainer agreement in the presence of the Sills attorney without asking any questions. After the representation was terminated, a fee dispute arose and, in August 2016, Sills invoked the JAMS arbitration provision in the retainer agreement. While the arbitration was ongoing, Delaney filed a legal malpractice action against Dickey and the Sills firm. The complaint alleged that Dickey and Sills negligently represented him. The complaint also alleged that the mandatory arbitration provision in the retainer agreement violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and wrongly deprived him of his constitutional right to have a jury decide his legal malpractice action. The trial court held that the retainer agreement’s arbitration provision was valid and enforceable. Additionally, the court determined that Delaney waived his right to trial by jury by agreeing to the unambiguously stated arbitration provision. The Appellate Division disagreed, stressing that Sills should have provided the thirty-three pages of JAMS arbitration rules incorporated into the agreement, that Sills did not explain the costs associated with arbitration, and that the retainer included a fee-shifting provision not permissible under New Jersey law. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that, for an arbitration provision in a retainer agreement to be enforceable, an attorney must generally explain to a client the benefits and disadvantages of arbitrating a prospective dispute between the attorney and client. "Delaney must be allowed to proceed with his malpractice action in the Law Division. We affirm and modify the judgment of the Appellate Division and remand to the Law Division" for further proceedings. View "Delaney v. Dickey" on Justia Law

by
This appeal involved an insurance coverage dispute arising out of water damage caused by Superstorm Sandy to properties owned by plaintiff New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit). At the time Sandy struck in October 2012, NJ Transit carried a $400 million multi-layered property insurance policy program through eleven insurers. When NJ Transit sought coverage for the water damage to its properties brought about by the storm, certain of its insurers invoked the $100 million flood sublimit in NJ Transit’s policies and declined to provide coverage up to the policy limit. NJ Transit filed an action seeking a declaratory judgment against those insurers. The trial court found that the $100 million flood sublimit did not apply to NJ Transit’s claims; it also found that the insurers had not submitted sufficient evidence to support their claims for reformation of the policies. The court accordingly entered summary judgment in favor of NJ Transit and denied the insurers’ motions for summary judgment. The Appellate Division affirmed. Finding no reversible error in the Appellate Division's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Jersey Transit Corporation v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd's of London" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Elmer Branch brought a putative class action against his employer, defendant Cream-O-Land Dairy, on behalf of himself and similarly situated truck drivers employed by defendant, for payment of overtime wages pursuant to the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL). The WHL created an exemption from an overtime compensation requirement for employees of a “trucking industry employer.” In response to plaintiff’s argument that defendant failed to pay truck drivers as mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(b)(1), defendant argued that it was exempt from that provision as a trucking industry employer under N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f). Defendant also asserted that it was entitled to invoke the absolute defense set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2 because it had relied in good faith on three matters in which the Department had investigated its operations and concluded that it was a “trucking industry employer.” The trial court viewed those decisions to satisfy N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2’s standard for the good-faith defense and granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that none of the determinations on which defendant relied met the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Appellate Division also rejected defendant’s invocation of a 2006 Opinion Letter by the Director of the Division that for certain employees of trucking industry employers, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4 “establishes their overtime rate at 1 1/2 times the minimum wage” because defendant did not represent that it had relied on that letter when it determined its overtime compensation. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that none of the decisions identified by defendant satisfied the requirements of the good-faith defense under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.2. The Court acknowledged, however, the dilemma faced by an employer such as defendant, which repeatedly prevailed in overtime disputes before subordinate Department employees but was unable to seek a ruling from the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (Commissioner) because each of those disputes was resolved without further review. This matter was remanded to the trial court for consideration of defendant’s argument that it was a trucking-industry employer within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a4(f), and for determination of whether defendant complied with the applicable WHL overtime standards in compensating its employees. View "Branch v. Cream-O-Land Dairy" on Justia Law

by
Pfizer’s Human Resources Department sent an e-mail to Pfizer employees at their corporate e-mail addresses announcing Pfizer’s five-page Mutual Arbitration and Class Waiver Agreement (Agreement) and included a link to that document. The e-mail also included a included a link to a document that listed “Frequently Asked Questions,” including “Do I have to agree to this?” to which the response indicated, “The Arbitration Agreement is a condition of continued employment with the Company. If you begin or continue working for the Company sixty (60) days after receipt of this Agreement, it will be a contractual agreement that binds both you and the Company.” The “FAQs” document also encouraged any employee who had “legal questions” about the Agreement “to speak to [his or her] own attorney.” Pfize terminated Amy Skuse's employment in August 2017, and Skuse filed a complaint alleging that Pfizer and the individual defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination by terminating her employment because of her religious objection to being vaccinated for yellow fever. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Skuse opposed the motion, contending that she was not bound by Pfizer’s Agreement, arguing that she was asked only to acknowledge the Agreement, not to assent to it, and that she never agreed to arbitrate her claims. The trial court dismissed Skuse’s complaint and directed her to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. The Appellate Division reversed, identifying three aspects of Pfizer’s communications to Skuse as grounds for its decision: Pfizer’s use of e-mails to disseminate the Agreement to employees already inundated with e-mails; its use of a “training module” or a training “activity” to explain the Agreement; and its instruction that Skuse click her computer screen to “acknowledge” her obligation to assent to the Agreement in the event that she remained employed for sixty days, not to “agree” to the Agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the Agreement was valid and binding, and held the trial court was correct in enforcing it. View "Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Ridgefield Park Board of Education (Board) and the Ridgefield Park Education Association (Association) negotiated a collective negotiations agreement (CNA) covering 2011-2014 that went into effect three days after the New Jersey Legislature enacted Chapter 78. The 2011-2014 CNA expired before the employees achieved full implementation of the premium share set forth in N.J.S.A. 52:14-17.28c (Tier 4). After the 2011-2014 CNA expired, the Board and the Association negotiated a CNA covering 2014-2018, which, like its predecessor, stated that employees would contribute 1.5% of their salary towards health insurance or the minimum set forth by statute, regulation, or code. During the 2014-2015 school year, the employees contributed to the cost of their health care at the full premium share required by Tier 4. The Board and the Association disputed Chapter 78’s impact on employee contributions for the CNA’s remaining three years. The Board contended that Chapter 78 preempted any negotiated term for those contributions and that the Association’s members were required to contribute to their health benefits at the Tier 4 level for the duration of the CNA. The Association contended that Chapter 78 did not preempt the 1.5% contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA. PERC held that the health insurance premium contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA was preempted by Chapter 78 and granted the Board’s request for a restraint of binding arbitration as to that issue. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that adherence to Chapter 78’s plain language would bring about an “absurd result” contravening legislative intent, and required the employees to contribute only 1.5% of their salaries for the three contested years. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the health insurance premium contribution rates paid by the Association’s members were preempted by statute and therefore non-negotiable. PERC’s construction of Chapter 78 comported with the statute’s language and the Legislature’s stated objective to achieve a long-term solution to a fiscal crisis. View "In the Matter of Ridgefield Park Board of Education" on Justia Law