Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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The New Jersey State Health Benefits Commission (SHBC) and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Commission (SEHBC) (collectively, the Commissions) administered the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program (SHBP) and the School Employees’ Health Benefits Program (SEHBP), respectively. At issue was the method used by the Commissions to correct erroneously tiered reimbursement rates previously applied to members’ out-of-pocket expenses for out-of-network behavioral health services. In a separate matter involving a single plan member, the tiered reimbursement schedule was determined to have violated N.J.S.A. 52:14-17.46.7, which addressed the calculation of reimbursement rates for out-of-network health benefit services. Following that decision, the Commissions permitted members who paid for out-of-pocket behavioral health services and did not receive a proper reimbursement to obtain retroactive reimbursement for charges incurred between May 2009 and March 2014. The challenge before the New Jersey Supreme Court centered on the reasonableness of the Commissions’ notice to members who may have been affected by the application of the erroneous reimbursement rates. The Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s holding and remanded the matter to the Commissions for further proceedings. “Significant questions exist concerning the extent of the notice actually provided, either by the Commissions or through their agents to active employees, former employees, and retirees, a hearing is necessary.” View "In the Matter of State and School Employees' Health Benefits Commissions' Implementation of I/M/O Philip Yucht" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified two questions of New Jersey law to the New Jersey Supreme Court arising from two putative class actions brought under the New Jersey Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA). Plaintiffs David and Katina Spade claimed that on or about April 25, 2013, they purchased furniture from a retail store owned and operated by defendant Select Comfort Corporation. They alleged that Select Comfort’s sales contract included the language prohibited by N.J.A.C. 13:45A-5.3(c). The Spades also alleged the sales contract that Select Comfort provided to them did not include language mandated by N.J.A.C. 13:45A-5.2(a) and N.J.A.C. 13:45A-5.3(a). The Third Circuit asked: (1) whether a violation of the Furniture Delivery Regulations alone constituted a violation of a clearly established right or responsibility of the seller under the TCCWNA and thus provided a basis for relief under the TCCWNA; and (2) whether a consumer who receives a contract that does not comply with the Furniture Delivery Regulations, but has not suffered any adverse consequences from the noncompliance, an “aggrieved consumer” under the TCCWNA? The New Jersey Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and the second certified question in the negative. View "Spade v. Select Comfort Corp." on Justia Law

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This case arose from a car accident in Florence Township, New Jersey. The car driven by plaintiff Mark Krzykalski was in the left lane traveling north, and the car driven by defendant David Tindall was directly behind plaintiff’s car. As the left-lane traffic proceeded through an intersection, a vehicle in the right lane driven by John Doe unexpectedly made a left turn, cutting off the cars in the left lane. Plaintiff was able to stop his car without striking the vehicle in front of him. Defendant, however, was unable to stop in time and rear-ended plaintiff’s vehicle. This case was brought under the Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1 to -5.8 (CNA), and the question presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether a jury should be asked to apportion fault between the named party defendant and a known but unidentified defendant (John Doe). The Court concluded the jury properly apportioned fault between the named party defendant Tindall and the John Doe defendant because plaintiff and defendant acknowledged the role of John Doe in the accident, plaintiff’s Uninsured Motorist (UM) carrier was aware of the litigation, and plaintiff had “fair and timely” notice that defendant would assert that John Doe was the cause of the accident. View "Krzykalski v. Tindall" on Justia Law

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The case stemmed from a 2010 fire in the City of Paterson (City) that consumed a multi-unit home owned by Florence Brown, taking the lives of four residents and injuring several others as they made their escape. During the lengthy proceedings below, a question arose of whether the City and its electrical inspector, Robert Bierals—alleged by the plaintiffs to be at least partially at fault for the fire, were entitled to qualified or absolute immunity under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA). During discovery, Bierals and the City moved for summary judgment on immunity grounds. The trial court ruled that Bierals and the City were entitled only to qualified immunity and denied their motions. After the close of discovery, Bierals and the City again moved for summary judgment. A different judge granted the motion, ruling that they were entitled to absolute immunity. Because the critical causative conduct in this case was a failure to enforce the law, the New Jersey Supreme Court concluded Bierals was entitled to absolute immunity. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division and entered judgment in favor of Bierals and the City. View "Lee v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In 2001, plaintiff Doreen Hayes was diagnosed with a syrinx in her thoracic spine. Plaintiff’s last MRI, prior to the accident at issue in this case, was taken in May 2007. In 2008, plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle operated by her mother, defendant Barbara Delamotte. After the 2008 accident, plaintiff underwent spinal fusion surgery on plaintiff’s C6-7 and C7-T1 vertebrae. Plaintiff thereafter filed a complaint claiming that her mother and the unidentified vehicle caused the 2008 accident. Before trial, the defense retained Dr. Arthur Vasen, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine plaintiff and review her medical records, including cervical MRIs taken before and after the 2008 accident. The defense took Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition for use at trial rather than call him to give in-court testimony. At trial, plaintiff moved to have portions of Dr. Vasen’s deposition referring to reports of non-testifying doctors stricken from the video. The trial court denied the motion. At trial, defendants presented Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition. The trial court gave the jury a limiting instruction regarding the use of non-testifying experts’ opinions. Dr. Vasen testified that there were no differences between the MRIs taken before the accident in 2007 and after the accident in 2008. However, the films that Dr. Vasen showed in the tape were both labeled 2008. At the conclusion of the parties’ evidence, plaintiff’s counsel requested the opportunity to replay Dr. Vasen’s testimony during summation, and comment on the testimony, to demonstrate to the jury that the doctor compared MRI films marked with the same date. The trial court upheld defendant’s objection, and provided an additional limiting instruction as to the reports of non-testifying experts. Ultimately, the jury determined that plaintiff’s mother was solely responsible for the 2008 accident but found that plaintiff did not sustain a permanent injury proximately caused by that accident. Plaintiff was granted a new trial. At the second trial, the only issue presented was whether plaintiff sustained a permanent injury as a result of the 2008 accident. Dr. Vasen’s videotaped deposition was retaken for use at the second trial; plaintiff once again moved in limine to bar Dr. Vasen’s testimony about the findings of non-testifying doctors. This time, the court granted plaintiff’s motion. After the second trial, the jury found that plaintiff sustained a permanent injury proximately caused by the 2008 accident and awarded her $250,000 in damages. The Appellate Division found that the trial court improperly granted a new trial and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of defendant from the first trial. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division and reinstated the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following the second trial. Because the trial court’s error in preventing plaintiff from replaying a portion of the deposition during summation at the first trial resulted in a miscarriage of justice, the trial court properly granted plaintiff’s motion for a new trial. View "Hayes v. Delamotte" on Justia Law

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Sixteen-year-old A.F. and her infant son lived with her biological mother, A.B., in an apartment owned by A.B.’s sister, J.F. In 2012, the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (the Division) received a referral that A.F. had run away with her infant son in September 2012. The Division dispatched a caseworker to interview A.B. at her apartment. A.B. disclosed that A.F. had run away several days earlier when A.B. took away A.F.’s laptop and cellphone as punishment for being suspended from school. The caseworker went to the high school and met with A.F. During this meeting, A.F. related that she had been staying with various friends since leaving home. A.F. indicated that she had previously returned home to reconcile with A.B. and that they had gone together to the school to have A.F. reinstated. Near the end of the conference, A.F. expressed that she had “no intention of returning to her mom’s home,” and in fact did not. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether defendant A.B. abused or neglected A.F.; that A.B. willfully abandoned A.F.; and that remarks attributed to A.B.’s sister, J.F., were subject to suppression as embedded hearsay. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division majority’s judgment that the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency met its burden of proof concerning A.B.’s abuse or neglect of A.F. The Court found insufficient proof of willful abandonment and therefore reversed on that issue. The Court also found the hearsay evidence was properly suppressed. View "New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. A.B." on Justia Law

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T.T., individually and on behalf of her three-year-old daughter, A.T., filed this medical malpractice action seeking damages from a hospital and several medical professionals for injuries caused during the child’s birth.1 The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants and dismissed the action with prejudice because plaintiff failed to serve a timely affidavit of merit. The Appellate Division affirmed, rejecting plaintiff’s argument that the circumstances should have supported entry of a dismissal without prejudice under Rule 4:37-1(b). After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment to defendants and remanded for further proceedings. The Court determined that a combination of circumstances (not the least of which was the failure to schedule a pretrial conference to address the affidavit of merit requirement as New Jersey case law directed), warranted allowing the untimely affidavit to be filed. "The equities militate in favor of permitting a facially meritorious action to proceed here, particularly because any prejudice to defendants may be addressed through costs imposed by the trial court. We decline to approve recourse to a voluntary dismissal without prejudice under Rule 4:37-1(b) as an appropriate avenue for addressing failures to comply with the affidavit of merit requirement, including when a minor is involved. Rather, we will require modification of the Judiciary’s electronic filing and notification case management system to ensure that, going forward, necessary and expected conferences are scheduled to enhance parties’ compliance with requirements under the Affidavit of Merit Statute (AMS or the statute), N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-26 to -29, in furtherance of the statutory policy goals." View "A.T. v. Cohen" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether the 2000 and 2001 financial agreements between plaintiffs EQR-Lincoln Urban Renewal Jersey City, LLC (EQR-Lincoln), and EQR-LPC Urban Renewal North Pier, LLC (EQR-North Pier), and defendant, the City of Jersey City (City), incorporated 2003 amendments to the Long Term Tax Exemption (LTTE) Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:20-1 to -22. Plaintiffs were limited liability companies that qualified as urban renewal entities under the LTTE Law. Each plaintiff entered into a separate financial agreement with the City to obtain a property tax exemption relating to an urban renewal project involving construction of an apartment building. Among other things, the financial agreements required plaintiffs to pay the City an “annual service charge” in lieu of property taxes. Plaintiffs filed a two-count complaint seeking a declaratory judgment against the City seeking: (1) a judgment declaring that the applicable law and financial agreements permitted plaintiffs to pay “excess rent” to affiliated entities under certain ground leases, with the effect of eliminating the “excess net profit” that plaintiffs might otherwise owe to the City; and (2) a judgment declaring that the parties’ financial agreements incorporated future changes to applicable law, such that plaintiffs could calculate their “allowable profit rate” in accordance with the 2003 amendments to the LTTE Law. The trial judge granted partial summary judgment on Count II, reasoning that the express language of the contract, “as amended and supplemented,” demonstrated that the parties agreed to incorporate future amendments to the LTTE Law in their financial agreements. The trial judge further concluded that the 2003 amendments to the LTTE Law applied to the financial agreements, and that legislative history supported his conclusions. The trial judge denied the City’s motion for reconsideration. The Appellate Division reversed, finding LTTE Law did not sanction plaintiffs’ unilateral changes to their financial agreements. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division. View "EQR-LPC Urban Renewal North Pier, LLC v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a judgment requiring the release, pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), of the constitution and bylaws of a volunteer fire company that was a member of a fire district established pursuant to N.J.S.A.40A:14-70. The New Jersey Supreme Court held the fire district, to which the OPRA request was made, was obliged to release such documents in its possession or to obtain them from a member volunteer fire company under its supervision and release them. "OPRA demands such transparency and accountability of public agencies, and the fire district is undoubtedly a public agency subject to OPRA." However, to the extent the holding under review also concluded that the member volunteer fire company was a public agency subject directly and independently to OPRA requirements, the Supreme Court disagreed and modified the judgment below accordingly. View "Verry v. Franklin Fire District No. 1" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the tragic death of eleven-year-old Abiah Jones after she fell from a ride in an amusement park. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration was: (1) the circumstances under which a defendant is barred from asserting contribution and common-law indemnification claims against a public entity for purposes of the Tort Claims Act; (2) whether the jury should be permitted to allocate a percentage of fault to a public entity pursuant to the Comparative Negligence Act and the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law; and (3) the effect of any such allocation of fault on plaintiffs recovery of damages if the jury returns a verdict in their favor. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s determination. The plain language of N.J.S.A.59:8-8 required parties seeking to assert a claim against a public entity to serve a notice of claim within ninety days of the date on which the cause of action accrues. Because the Morey defendants did not serve a timely notice of claim on the Association, their third-party contribution and common-law indemnification claims against the Association are barred. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the trial court should have afforded defendants an opportunity to present evidence of negligence, that negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death. If defendants present prima facie evidence, the trial court should instruct the jury to determine whether any fault should be allocated in accordance with N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2. Should the jury find negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death, the trial court should mold any judgment entered in plaintiffs’ favor pursuant to N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2(d) to reduce the damages awarded to plaintiffs by the percentage of fault that the jury allocates. View "Jones v. Morey Pier, Inc." on Justia Law