Articles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court

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Plaintiff Lorraine Gormley was an attorney employed by the Department of the Public Advocate, Division of Mental Health Advocacy, providing legal representation to clients involuntarily committed in state psychiatric facilities, including Ancora Psychiatric Hospital. Each ward at Ancora contained a day room in which up to forty patients could congregate. Visiting attorneys and psychiatrists also were required to use the day rooms for professional interviews. Although frequent violence occurred in the day rooms, no security guards or cameras were posted there. While at Ancora, Gormley met for the first time with her client B.R., a 21-year-old woman committed sixteen days earlier for a “psychotic disorder” that induced hallucinations. At the start of the interview in the hospital’s crowded and chaotic day room, B.R. violently attacked Gormley in the presence of hospital staff. Gormley filed a civil action against Ancora’s CEO, LaTanya Wood-El, and other government officials, in their individual capacities, under both the Federal Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, alleging that her constitutional right to be free from state-created danger was violated. On defendants’ motions for summary judgment, the trial court concluded that Gormley had presented sufficient evidence to proceed on the civil-rights claims under the state-created-danger doctrine. The court deferred deciding whether she was entitled to injunctive relief. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether injuries Gomley suffered resulted from a state-created danger that violated her substantive-due-process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and whether defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Under the facts of this case, the Supreme Court concluded that the lawyer had a substantive-due-process right to be free from state-created dangers. Because that right was clearly established at the time the lawyer was attacked, the state official defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. View "Gormley v. Wood-El" on Justia Law

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A family-care physician prescribed a powerful medication to treat a patient who suffered from chronic back pain. The patient was known to abuse alcohol and drugs. The complaint alleged that the physician breached the governing duty of care by failing to protect the patient from self-injury. The issue this appeal presented to the Supreme Court centered on the jury’s no-cause verdict and various portions of the trial court's charge on causation. The trial court charged the jury on "preexisting disease or condition" (a "Scafidi" charge). The trial court, however, never identified in its jury charge the preexisting condition or related the facts to the law as required by the Model Jury Charge. Furthermore, this case did not involve the ineluctable progression of a disease on its own. "The ultimate harm caused to the patient was from her own conduct - whether volitional or not - after the physician prescribed the [patch]." For that reason, the court also charged the jury on superseding/intervening causation and avoidable consequences. In a split decision, the Appellate Division overturned the verdict and remanded for a new trial, finding that the trial court erred in giving the Scafidi charge and failed to articulate for the jury the nature of the preexisting condition or explain the proofs and parties' arguments in relation to the law. The panel majority also determined that the court should not have given a superseding/intervening cause charge because the general charge on foreseeability was sufficient. Additionally, it pointed out that the court had mistakenly included the concept of "but for" causation in a case involving concurrent causes. The Supreme Court agreed with the panel majority that the trial court misapplied the Scafidi charge and that the trial court failed to explain the complex concepts of causation in relation to the proofs and legal theories advanced by the parties. The Court disagreed with the panel majority that the charge on superseding/intervening causation was unnecessary in light of the general charge on foreseeability, and concluded the "but for" causation reference apparently was mistake to which no objection was made by either party. The Court therefore affirmed and modified the Appellate Division's and remanded the case for a new trial. View "Komlodi v. Picciano" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cheryl Hersh worked for defendant County of Morris. The County rented approximately sixty-five parking spaces for its employees in the Cattano Garage, a private parking garage containing several hundred parking spaces located approximately two blocks from Hersh’s office. Although she did not have sufficient seniority to park in a county-owned lot located adjacent to her building, the County granted Hersh permission to park in one of the rented spots, gave her a scan card so she could enter the garage, and instructed her to park on the third level. Shortly after Hersh parked her car and exited the structure, she was struck by a motor vehicle while crossing a public street between the garage and her office. Hersh suffered significant injuries. Hersh filed for workers' compensation benefits. The judge concluded Hersh's injuries were compensable, finding that under New Jersey case law, parking lots provided or designated for employee use are part of the employer's premises for purposes of workers' compensation. The Appellate Division affirmed. The County appealed. The Supreme Court reversed: because the County did not control the garage where Hersh parked, the route of ingress and egress from the parking garage to her office, or the public street where she was injured, and did not expose her to any special or additional hazards, Hersh's injury occurred outside of the employer's premises and therefore was not compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act. View "Hersh v. County of Morris" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court centered on whether a change in the federal estate tax law after an alleged wrongful death could give rise to a viable claim under the Wrongful Death Act. The Appellate Division concluded that the estate tax losses alleged by plaintiffs would not compel the factfinder to engage in speculation. It held that by the time the trial court ruled on the motion for reconsideration, the estate tax laws for 2011 and 2012 had been established, and a jury guided by expert testimony would have been in a position to calculate damages. The panel accordingly reinstated plaintiffs’ claims for estate tax losses as the measure of damages asserted as an element of their wrongful death claim. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the Wrongful Death Act did not authorize claims for damages based on estate taxes paid by a decedent’s estate because such claims do not fit within the statutory cause of action defined by N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1 and the alleged damages do not constitute "pecuniary" losses as required by N.J.S.A. 2A:31-5. View "Beim v. Hulfish" on Justia Law

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In two consolidated cases involving remediation of contaminated properties, the New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association (Guaranty Association) took over the administration of the claims of an insolvent insurance carrier on the risk pursuant to the New Jersey Property-Liability Insurance Guaranty Association Act. The solvent insurance company paid the property-damage claims in each of the two cases and then sought reimbursement from the Guaranty Association under the Owens-Illinois methodology. The Guaranty Association claims that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:30A-5 and -12b, it was not responsible for making any contribution until the policies of the solvent carrier were fully exhausted. The solvent carrier contended on appeal that the Guaranty Association must pay the share of the insolvent carrier in accordance with the Owens-Illinois allocation scheme, and that its position is consistent with the PLIGA Act. The trial court agreed that the Guaranty Association is subject to the Owens-Illinois allocation methodology. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that N.J.S.A. 17:30A-5 expressly carves out an exception to Owens-Illinois and requires exhaustion of the solvent carrier's policies before the Guaranty Association's reimbursement commitments are triggered. Finding no error with the appellate court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Farmers Mut. Fire Ins. Co. of Salem v. N.J. Property-Liability Ins. Guar. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Michael Battaglia worked for defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. (UPS) since 1985. He alleged he received a demotion in retaliation for making certain workplace complaints and comments. In suing UPS, he alleged that his demotion violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) and the Law Against Discrimination (LAD). Plaintiff also alleged breach of contract, relying on employee manuals stating that employees would not be disciplined for complaints. The trial court dismissed the contract claim for lack of evidence. Following numerous arguments over jury instructions, the court directed the jury that it could consider evidence involving credit cards, meal practices “and other things” on the CEPA claim. The jury found UPS liable on the CEPA and LAD claims, and awarded plaintiff $500,000 in economic damages and $500,000 in emotional distress damages. UPS made numerous post-trial motions, and the court granted its request for remittitur of the emotional distress award, reducing it to $205,000. The parties cross-appealed. The appellate panel affirmed the CEPA claim and dismissal of plaintiff's contract claim, but reversed the LAD verdict for lack of evidence. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's decision to the extent that it dismissed the LAD claim and affirmed the CEPA verdict. Under the LAD, an employee who voices complaints and allegedly suffers a retaliatory employment action need only demonstrate a good-faith belief that the complained-of conduct violates the LAD. An identifiable victim of actual discrimination is not required. An LAD plaintiff may only recover an award for future emotional distress if evidence of permanency is offered in the form of an expert opinion. In order to succeed on a fraud-based CEPA claim, a plaintiff must reasonably believe that the complained-of activity was occurring and was fraudulent. View "Battaglia v. United Parcel Service, Inc." on Justia Law

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Celotex Corporation manufactured and distributed products that contained asbestos. Thousands of asbestos-related claims were filed across the country against Celotex for bodily injury and property damage. In 1990, Celotex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy; the Celotex Asbestos Settlement Trust was formed thereafter to process the asbestos claims. As part of the bankruptcy case, Celotex sought a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to insurance coverage for all of the asbestos claims. The bankruptcy court determined that because some of Celotex's bodily injury and property damage excess insurers received inadequate notice of the claims, it barred Celotex from obtaining coverage. The Trust appealed, but the appellate court held that Celotex's duty to give notice to its insurers arose well before the company actually provided notice of the claims. The Trust filed proofs of claim with the Integrity Liquidator seeking coverage for future claims. The Liquidator denied the claims; a special master upheld the denial. The Appellate Division reversed, finding the trial court did not address future claims coverage. The appellate court found that the occurrences of asbestos injuries on which future claims were based were not known at the time of the bankruptcy, therefore, Celotex had no duty to provide reasonable notice. The Liquidator appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded that under collateral estoppel, the orders entered in the prior federal court proceedings finding one occurrence from which all pending a future claims derived (and that Celotex failed to notify its insurers) barred the proofs of claim filed by the Trust. View "IMO The Liquidation of Integrity Ins. Co. v. Celotex Asbestos Trust" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this appeal was whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to prove the statutory standard of care under the New Jersey Ski Act. Skier Robert Angland died from injuries sustained following a collision with a snowboarder. Angland's estate sued Mountain Creek Resort and the snowboarder, arguing they failed to comply with the statutory duty of care. The snowboarder moved for summary judgment, arguing that the common law recklessness standard applied to him and not the Ski Act's standard of care; he therefore was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because there was no evidence he acted recklessly. The trial court concluded the Ski Act did indeed apply to the snowboarder, and that the trial court record had sufficient evidence to allow a jury to decide whether his actions fell below the statutory standard of care. Both the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the trial court. View "Angland v. Mountain Creek Resort, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the shooting death of an individual by a criminal fleeing from a business gives rise to a cause of action sounding in tort on behalf of the decedent's estate against the owner of the business premises. The Supreme Court held that based on the facts in this case, the Appellate Division erred in imposing a duty of care on a person who left his premises and requested that a neighbor use a telephone to call the premises, who told the neighbor what he had observed before he left the premises, but who then failed to prevent the neighbor from going to the scene where he encountered a fleeing robber who shot him. View "Estate of Naitil Desir v. Vertus" on Justia Law

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During a meeting with staff members of defendants Rutgers University and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), plaintiff D.D. disclosed private health information that she requested be kept confidential. D.D. later discovered press releases issued by defendants that disclosed her private health information. Plaintiff immediately sent a letter directing defendants to cease and desist from communicating her personal information. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff, accompanied by counsel, met with representatives of defendants, accompanied by counsel. According to plaintiff, based on apologies and assurances made during the meeting, she believed that the matter could be handled privately. Plaintiff’s attorney subsequently asked plaintiff for additional information, which she promptly provided. Although her attorney assured her that he would "take care of everything," he was thereafter unresponsive to her efforts to contact him, which included at least ten telephone calls. Because she was unable to reach him, plaintiff retained new counsel in April 2010. The issue before the Supreme Court in this matter was: (1) whether the inattention of plaintiff’s counsel or her medical conditions constituted the "extraordinary circumstances" needed to excuse an untimely notice of tort claim under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA); and (2) whether a timely oral notice of tort claim could be permitted under the doctrine of substantial compliance. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that neither attorney inattention nor incompetence constituted an extraordinary circumstance sufficient to excuse failure to comply with the ninety-day filing deadline under the TCA; plaintiff's medical proofs were insufficient to meet the extraordinary circumstances standard; and the doctrine of substantial compliance could not serve to relieve a claimant of the TCA's written-notice requirement. View "D.D. v. Univer. of Med. & Dentistry of New Jersey" on Justia Law