Articles Posted in New Jersey Supreme Court

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In this case, a city clerk in a Faulkner Act municipality refused to accept for filing a petition for referendum on the ground that the petition did not have a sufficient number of qualifying signatures. Members of a Committee of Petitioners brought an action in lieu of prerogative writ to have the challenged ordinance put on the ballot. They also brought suit under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-2(c). Ultimately, the trial court granted the Committee members the relief they sought, placing the ordinance before the voters and awarding them, as the prevailing party, attorney’s fees for the deprivation of a substantive right protected by the Civil Rights Act. The Appellate Division affirmed all but the trial court’s finding of a civil rights violation. The Appellate Division determined that the Committee members did not suffer a deprivation of a right because the court provided the ultimate remedy - the referendum. Accordingly, the award of attorney’s fees was vacated. Upon review, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed that the city clerk violated the right of referendum guaranteed by the Faulkner Act. Furthermore, the Court held that the violation of that right deprived the Committee members a substantive right protected by the Civil Rights Act. The vindication of that right under the Civil Rights Act entitled the Committee members to an award of attorney’s fees. The Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Tumpson v. Farina" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the State filed a petition for the involuntary civil commitment of D.Y., who was convicted of several state and federal charges arising from sexual assaults on minors. At his initial commitment hearing, D.Y. stated that he did not want to be represented by the attorney who had been appointed for him. D.Y. did not attend his final hearing, in which his counsel moved on his behalf for an order permitting D.Y. to represent himself. The judge conducting the hearing denied the motion, stating that individuals subject to Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA) commitment must be represented by counsel pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.29(c). D.Y. appealed, asserting a right to self-representation under the Sixth Amendment and the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. An Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s denial of D.Y.’s application, concluding that neither federal constitutional principle invoked by D.Y. afforded a right to self-representation in an SVPA civil commitment proceeding. The Supreme Court reversed: "We recognize that competent litigants in New Jersey have long been permitted to represent themselves in civil proceedings, with specific exceptions identified in statutes, court rules, and case law. Accordingly, we consider the Legislature’s intent when it enacted N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.29(c), and N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.31(a). [. . .] We find no evidence that the Legislature, when it enacted those provisions, intended to preclude an individual facing SVPA commitment from speaking on his or her own behalf, as long as standby counsel is present and available to assist throughout the hearing if needed." View "In the Matter of Civil Commitment of D.Y." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-petitioner Matthew Barrick challenged the award of a contract for the lease of office to the lowest bidder by the New Jersey Division of Property Management and Construction. Barrick argued that the winning bidder's (RMD) proposal failed to satisfy the distance-to-public-transportation requirement because its property was located .58 miles from the nearest bus stop. The Division determined that none of the bid properties, including Barrick’s, were located within one-quarter mile of public transit. After consultation with the DOL, the Division decided that the proposals would not be deemed non-conforming based on the distance requirement since it was not imposed by statute or regulation and each property was close enough to public transportation to meet the DOL's needs. Barrick sought reconsideration and to supplement the record. The Division upheld the award to RMD, explaining that, although Barrick's property satisfied the distance requirement, it had determined prior to awarding the lease that the requirement was not outcome-determinative. Barrick appealed without seeking a stay of the agency's decision. The Appellate Division panel reversed the award and remanded the matter to the Division either to award the lease to Barrick or rebid the project. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the Director's determination that the distance requirement was not material to the RFP was unassailably reasonable and the decision awarding the lease contract to RMB was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. View "Barrick v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Martin O’Boyle was a resident of the Borough of Longport who previously filed several complaints against the Borough and its officials regarding Borough governance. In 2008 and 2009, O’Boyle filed separate lawsuits against a former planning and zoning board member, Peter Isen, and two Longport residents. David Sufrin, the private attorney representing Isen and the Longport residents, suggested to Longport’s municipal attorney that they cooperate in the defense of current and anticipated litigation filed by O’Boyle. Sufrin prepared a joint strategy memorandum and a compendium of documents contained on CDs and sent them to the municipal attorney. In time, the municipal attorney returned the assembled documents to Sufrin. O’Boyle submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and common law right of access request to the Borough Clerk that would have included the materials exchanged between Sufrin and the municipal attorney. Longport withheld those materials from its production, asserting that they were privileged. O’Boyle filed a verified complaint seeking access to the withheld documents pursuant to OPRA and the common law right of access. The trial court dismissed the case with prejudice, determining that the withheld documents were not public records subject to production under either law. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court concluded that the Appellate Division properly determined that the parties to the pending and anticipated O’Boyle litigation shared a common purpose and that O’Boyle failed to demonstrate a particularized need to access the shared work product. Therefore, neither OPRA nor the common law permitted access to the shared work product, and the Court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "O'Boyle v. Borough of Longport" on Justia Law

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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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Zagami, LLC owned the Landmark Americana Tap and Grill in the Borough of Glassboro. In 2006, Zagami applied to the Borough for a renewal of its liquor license. Luis Perez, a citizen residing in Glassboro, opposed the renewal. In a letter to the Glassboro Borough Council, Perez complained of several serious infractions allegedly committed by Zagami, including serving alcohol to minors and bribing public officials with free meals and drinks. As a result of those allegations, the Council scheduled a liquor license renewal hearing and invited Perez and Zagami to participate. At the hearing, Perez testified that, among other things, Landmark flouted fire-safety regulations, served alcohol to visibly intoxicated patrons, and encouraged bouncers to physically harm rowdy customers. Zagami disputed the allegations, calling them unsubstantiated. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Council voted to renew Zagami’s liquor license. A year later, Zagami filed a defamation complaint against Perez for statements that he made during the liquor license renewal hearing. Perez filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that his remarks were made in the course of a quasi-judicial proceeding and thus were entitled to absolute immunity. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss and the Appellate Division denied leave to appeal. The Supreme Court granted Perez’s motion for leave to appeal to this Court and summarily remanded the matter to the Appellate Division for consideration on the merits. On remand, the Appellate Division found that Perez’s statements during the liquor license proceeding were entitled to absolute immunity and dismissed the defamation complaint with prejudice. Perez filed a complaint against Zagami in 2010 for malicious use of process., alleging Zagami had instituted its defamation complaint as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) designed to punish Perez for speaking out against Zagami at the liquor license renewal hearing and to discourage his participation in future public proceedings. Zagami filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and Perez filed a cross-motion to amend his complaint to include as defendant the law firm retained by Zagami during the defamation suit. Finding that Zagami’s defamation suit was supported by probable cause, the trial court granted Zagami’s motion to dismiss the malicious use of process claim and denied Perez’s cross-motion to amend the complaint. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed both determinations of the trial court. The panel determined that Zagami’s defamation suit was not supported by probable cause and that Zagami should have been aware that Perez’s statements were privileged at the time it filed suit. Accordingly, the panel reversed the trial court’s grant of Zagami’s motion to dismiss the malicious use of process claim. The Supreme Court granted certification to review only whether the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (CRA) permitted a private right of action against an individual who was not acting under color of law. The Court concluded that a private CRA cause of action only may be pursued against persons acting under “color of law”; the Attorney General, however, is authorized to file CRA actions against persons whether or not they acted under "color of law." View "Perez v. Zagami, LLC" on Justia Law

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R.F., when he was seventeen years old, engaged in sexual conduct with two children, ages twelve and thirteen. He pled guilty in adult court to endangering the welfare of both children and was sentenced to a five-year term at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center at Avenel. Before R.F. completed his sentence, the State petitioned to have R.F. civilly committed under the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA). Although the trial court found that R.F. committed predicate sexual offenses and suffered from a personality disorder, but concluded that the State had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that R.F. was highly likely to engage in sexually violent behavior if not civilly committed. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that the opinions of the State’s experts were “well-supported by the record and amply substantiate the State’s petition for R.F.’s commitment under the SVPA.” Selecting the facts it deemed more credible, accepting the opinions it viewed more persuasive, and drawing its own inferences from the record, the panel came to a different conclusion than the trial court. The issue before the Supreme Court was not whether members of the panel would have decided the case differently had they heard the case. Nor was the issue whether evidence in the record supports the opinions of the State’s experts. Rather, the Supreme Court determined the central issue of this case was whether sufficient credible evidence in the record supported the trial court's findings. "Those findings are entitled to deference, for Judge Perretti was not only intimately familiar with the case file but also had the unique opportunity to hear the witnesses, to judge their credibility, and to weigh their testimony - things that cannot be gleaned from the cold record." As such, the Supreme Court concluded that he trial court’s findings in a civil commitment hearing under the Sexually Violent Predator Act, were entitled to deference, and a reviewing court could not overturn the commitment court’s ruling based upon its determination that it would have come to a different conclusion had it sat as the trier of fact. View "In the matter of the Civil Commitment of R.F." on Justia Law

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In this matter, petitioner is one of the founders of the proposed Quest Academy Charter School of Montclair (Quest Academy), which sought licensure pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:36A-4 to operate as a charter school for high school students. The Commissioner of Education denied the application. The Commissioner granted petitioner the opportunity to revise the application, as well as an opportunity to participate in a training program for preparing an application for the upcoming application deadline. Following petitioner’s filing of a notice of appeal to the Appellate Division, the Commissioner issued a written amplification of reasons for denial of the application. The Appellate Division upheld the Commissioner’s action on the grounds that the decision was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. The Supreme Court, after review, concluded that the Commissioner's decision to deny Quest Academy’s charter school application was amply supported by the record and was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable. View "IMO Proposed Quest Academy Charter School of Montclair Founders Group" on Justia Law

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East Allendale, LLC owned a 2.13 acre parcel of land in the Borough of Saddle River. Part of the property was located in the office zone, which restricted improved lot coverage to 30 percent of the lot's total area. In 2004, East Allendale submitted an application to the Borough's Zoning Board of Adjustment (Board) for a permit to build a 10,000 square foot bank building and parking lot on the property. The site plan required approval of a bulk variance to allow 42 percent improved lot coverage. The Board initially denied the permit and East Allendale subsequently withdrew its application in the face of critical questioning prior to the Board's final action. The Borough later filed a complaint exercising its power of eminent domain in order to acquire the subject property for use as a public park. After the parties agreed that the Borough duly exercised its power of eminent domain, the court appointed three commissioners to determine the just compensation owed to East Allendale. The commissioners completed their appraisals and the court entered an order determining the just compensation for the taking to be $1,593,625. The parties appealed the amount and demanded a jury trial. Just compensation was the sole trial issue. The issue on appeal before the Supreme Court in this matter was whether it was proper to allow the jury to hear evidence on the likelihood of a zoning change without the trial court first determining outside of the jury's presence that there was a reasonable probability of a zoning change. The Court concluded the jury heard evidence about the probability of a zoning change that should have been ruled on by the judge in advance and outside of the jury's presence. A new trial on just compensation was thus required because the jury heard speculative evidence that undermined the soundness of its property valuation determination. View "Borough of Saddle River v. 66 East Allendale, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the validity of the most recent iteration of regulations applicable to the third round of municipal affordable housing obligations (Third Round Rules) adopted pursuant to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). The Council on Affordable Housing proposed a "growth share" methodology for assessing prospective need in allocating a municipality’s fair share of the region’s need for affordable housing. The Supreme Court held that the Third Round Rules were at odds with the FHA, which incorporated the "Mount Laurel II" remedy. Although that thirty-year-old remedy imposed should not be viewed as a "constitutional straightjacket" to legislative innovation of a new remedy, the FHA remains the current framework controlling COAH's actions. With respect to the current version of the FHA, the Third Round Rules were deemed ultra vires. View "In re Adoption of N.J.A.C. 5:96, 5:97 by N.J. Council on Affordable Housing" on Justia Law