Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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In September 2013, defendant Deje Coviello was found unconscious in the driver’s seat of a parked car with the engine running and with several open containers of alcoholic beverages on the passenger seat. She was arrested and pled guilty to disorderly conduct and driving while intoxicated (DWI). On the disorderly conduct count, a Criminal Part judge sentenced defendant to one year of probation, a suspended eight-day jail term, and a monetary penalty. For the DWI conviction, her second, defendant she was sentenced to a two-year period of driver’s license forfeiture and, among other things, a two-year period of breath alcohol IID installation to commence after completion of the license forfeiture. Defendant never installed an IID. Defendant maintained she did not do so because she could not afford to buy or lease a car and had no access to drive another person’s vehicle. Defendant sought credit on her sentence: she fulfilled her entire sentence except for the IID requirement. The Criminal Part judge denied her motion, finding that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear defendant’s application for relief from the IID requirement and that the MVC was the appropriate forum in which to seek that sentencing relief. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that defendant’s requested modification of the IID requirement was not “a sentencing issue,” but rather an “administrative” matter for the MVC. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed: the sentencing court, and not the MVC, had the appropriate jurisdiction over defendant’s motion for sentencing credit concerning the IID requirement. View "New Jersey v. Coviello" on Justia Law

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Petitioner F.E.D., seventy-three years old, was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and would not be eligible for parole until 2040. In February 2021, the Managing Physician of the New Jersey Department of Corrections submitted to the Commissioner of Corrections a Request for Compassionate Release on behalf of F.E.D. Based on the diagnoses provided by the attesting physicians, the Managing Physician found that F.E.D. “meets the medical conditions established” by N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1), the Commissioner issued a Certificate of Eligibility for Compassionate Release. A trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion. With regard to whether F.E.D. suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(1), the trial court relied on the list of “activities of daily living” enumerated in the administration of New Jersey’s Medicaid program, which the court identified to be bathing, dressing, toileting, locomotion, transfers, eating and bed mobility. Applying that standard to the medical diagnoses presented in F.E.D.’s petition for compassionate release, the trial court observed that the attesting physicians had found a diminished ability in instrumental activities of daily living but not an inability to perform activities of basic daily living. The court accordingly found that F.E.D. had not presented clear and convincing evidence that he suffered from a “permanent physical incapacity” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(d)(1). The Appellate Division found that the Certificate of Eligibility for compassionate release that the Department issued to F.E.D. was invalid based on its view that the Compassionate Release Statute applied only to inmates whose medical conditions rendered them unable to perform any of the activities of basic daily living, and to be inapplicable to any inmate who could conduct one or more of those activities. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the Compassionate Release Statute did not require that an inmate prove that he is unable to perform any activity of basic daily living in order to establish a “permanent physical incapacity” under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(l). Rather, the statute required clear and convincing evidence that the inmate’s condition rendered him permanently unable to perform two or more activities of basic daily living, necessitating twenty-four-hour care. Assessing F.E.D.’s proofs in accordance with the statutory standard, the Supreme Court found he did not present clear and convincing evidence that his medical condition gave rise to a permanent physical incapacity under N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.51e(f)(1). View "New Jersey v. F.E.D." on Justia Law

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East Bay Drywall, LLC was a drywall installation business that hired on a per-job basis. Once a builder accepts East Bay’s bid for a particular project, East Bay contacts workers -- whom it alleged to be subcontractors -- to see who is available. Workers are free to accept or decline East Bay’s offer of employment, and some workers have left mid-installation if they found a better job. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether those workers were properly classified as employees or independent contractors under the Unemployment Compensation Law, which set forth a test -- commonly referred to as the “ABC test” -- to determine whether an individual serves as an employee. On June 30, 2013, East Bay, a business registered as an employer up to that point, ceased reporting wages to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Consequently, an auditor for the Department conducted a status audit that reviewed the workers East Bay hired between 2013 and 2016 to determine whether they were independent contractors, as defined by the ABC test. The auditor ultimately found that approximately half of the alleged subcontractors working for East Bay between 2013 and 2016 -- four individuals and twelve business entities -- should have been classified as employees. The Department informed East Bay that it owed $42,120.79 in unpaid unemployment and temporary disability contributions. The Supreme Court was satisfied that all sixteen workers in question were properly classified as employees, but it remanded the case back to the Department for calculation of the appropriate back-owed contributions. View "East Bay Drywall, LLC v. Department of Labor and Workforce Development " on Justia Law

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In November 2017, Michele Yamakaitis, the nominee of the Democratic Party, was re-elected to a three-year term as the councilmember representing the 8th Ward to the City of Linden Municipal Council (City Council). One year later, Yamakaitis was elected council president, and she resigned as councilmember to assume her new role. On the day of her resignation, the Linden city clerk forwarded a letter to Nicholas Scutari, Chairman of the Linden Democratic Committee, alerting him to the process for filling the 8th Ward vacancy. Chairman Scutari advised the city clerk that the Democratic Committee had met and selected three candidates, including Paul Coates, Jr., to fill the vacant seat. The City Council rejected all three candidates submitted by the Linden Democratic Committee and adopted a Resolution to leave the 8th Ward seat vacant until the next general election, a position the mayor supported. The Democratic Committee voted and swore in Coates to serve as the councilmember representing the 8th Ward, citing N.J.S.A. 40A:16-11 as the authority for that action. The City Council then exercised “[its] right under [N.J.S.A. 40A:16-5(b)] to maintain a vacancy in the 8th Ward,” and declined to recognize Coates as councilmember. In February 2019, Coates and the Democratic Committee filed suit alleging that defendants -- the City and City Council -- had violated the Municipal Vacancy Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:16-1 to -23, by refusing to seat Coates as councilmember. The Chancery Court agreed and voided the Resolution to keep the seat vacant and directed that Coates be seated as the 8th Ward councilmember. Defendants appealed, challenging the court’s findings under both the Vacancy Law, and Coates and the Democratic Committee cross-appealed to uphold the Chancery Court's decision. The Appellate Division reversed the Chancery Division’s orders, determining that the City Council had the authority under N.J.S.A. 40A:16-5 to decline to fill the vacancy. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that in amending in 1990 Sections 11 and 13 of the Municipal Vacancy Law, the Legislature removed the governing body’s discretion to keep vacant a seat previously occupied by a nominee of a political party. "Section 11 mandates that the governing body choose one of the municipal committee’s three nominees." View "Linden Democratic Committee v. City of Linden " on Justia Law

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Defendants Township of Sparta, Paul Austin, and Sparta Department of Public Works (collectively, defendants) challenged a denial of workers’ compensation benefits to plaintiff Diane Lapsley under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Lapsley was employed by the Township as a librarian for the Sparta Public Library. On February 3, 2014, Lapsley’s husband arrived at the library to drive Lapsley home. As they walked from the library to the car through the parking lot, they were suddenly struck by a snowplow owned by the Township and operated by Paul Austin, a Township employee. As a result, Lapsley suffered injuries to her leg requiring multiple surgeries and leaving her permanently disfigured. Lapsley filed a complaint against defendants in court, and later, a claim for workers’ compensation benefits against the Township in the Law Division of Workers’ Compensation. The Division found that Lapsley’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment and were therefore compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Lapsley appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, finding Lapsley’s injuries were not compensable under the Act. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded Lapsley’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment because the parking lot where she was injured was owned and maintained by the Township, adjacent to her place of work, and used by Township employees to park. Lapsley was therefore entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. View "Lapsley v. Township of Sparta" on Justia Law

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The Bergen County Improvement Authority (BCIA) issued a request for qualification (RFQ) for a redeveloper to act as general contractor in the rehabilitation of the Bergen County Courthouse. Nine companies, including plaintiff Dobco, Inc., submitted proposals in response to the RFQ. The BCIA notified four firms that they were selected to proceed, and it notified Dobco and the other firms not selected for the short list. Dobco and plaintiff Hossam Ibrahim, the vice president and a shareholder of Dobco, and a resident and taxpayer of Bergen County, immediately filed separate, but essentially identical, complaints alleging that defendants’ actions violated the Local Public Contracts Law (LPCL) and were arbitrary and capricious. The trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ complaints with prejudice for failure to state a claim, concluding that the project was “not subject to the LPCL because it has been designated a redevelopment project” under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL). The judge determined that plaintiffs were barred from seeking equitable relief because Dobco responded to the RFQ and Ibrahim had not challenged the procurement process or the RFQ prior to filing his complaint. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of Dobco’s complaint, finding “that Dobco is estopped from now complaining that a process in which it willingly participated violated the law.” The Appellate Division, however, reversed as to Ibrahim, determining that he could proceed with his suit as a taxpayer and remanding to the trial court to enter an order permanently restraining the BCIA from proceeding with the procurement process contemplated by the RFQ. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division substantially for the reasons expressed the appellate court's opinion. The Court required that, going forward, a plaintiff claiming taxpayer standing in an action challenging the process used to award a public contract for goods or services had to file a certification with the complaint. As to the merits of this appeal, the Court departed from the Appellate Division’s decision in only one respect: the Court did not rely on the leasing and financing arrangements contemplated by the BCIA and defendant County of Bergen. View "Dobco, Inc. v. Bergen County Improvement Authority " on Justia Law

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Eighty-five year old Sundiata Acoli had been imprisoned for forty-nine years for his role in the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper, and the wounding of another. During his time in prison, Acoli had consistently received positive institutional reports from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, completed over a hundred programs and counseling sessions, served on the Honor Unit in his institution, taught a course to younger inmates on rational thinking and emotional control, and learned employable skills. Since 1993, the New Jersey State Parole Board denied Acoli parole every time he became eligible for release. On each occasion, including in 2016 when Acoli was seventy-nine years old, the Parole Board determined that there was a substantial likelihood that Acoli would commit a crime if released. The Board, however, did not indicate what crime it feared Acoli might commit at his advanced age. In 2010, the Parole Board denied Acoli parole, despite psychological assessments that favored his release. The Appellate Division overturned the Board’s decision, finding no substantial support in the record to justify Acoli’s continued imprisonment, and ordered his release. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed on procedural grounds to allow the full Board to take firsthand witness testimony before deciding whether to grant parole to Acoli. At a hearing in 2016, the Parole Board called only one witness, Acoli, who was then suffering from cardiovascular disease and hearing loss. Acoli testified that, if released, he planned to reside with his daughter, a Wall Street risk analyst, and his grandchildren. The State’s psychological expert, despite issuing a report less favorable than the previous one, described Acoli’s risk of committing another offense as low to moderate. The Board again denied parole, stating “that concerns remain that [Acoli] would commit a crime if released on parole.” The Board imposed a fifteen-year future eligibility term. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the Parole Board did not establish “by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a substantial likelihood that [Acoli] will commit a crime” if placed on parole. "The Parole Board’s decision is entitled to deference -- but not blind deference." View "Acoli v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law

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In February 2019, an attorney made a complaint to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office on behalf of employees of the Elizabeth Police Department. The complaint alleged that Police Director James Cosgrove, the civilian head of the Department for more than two decades, used racist and sexist language to refer to employees on multiple occasions. In response, the Prosecutor’s Office conducted an internal affairs investigation. In April 2019, the Office sustained the complaints; ten days later, the Attorney General issued a public statement describing the investigation and its conclusion and calling upon Cosgrove to resign, which he did. In July 2019, plaintiff Richard Rivera filed a request for records with the Prosecutor’s Office based on New Jersey's OPRA and the common law. As relevant here, plaintiff asked for “all internal affairs reports regarding” Cosgrove. The Prosecutor’s Office denied the request on the ground that it was “exempt from disclosure under OPRA” and not subject to disclosure under the common law. The trial court concluded the internal affairs report should have been made available under OPRA. The Appellate Division reversed, finding that the requested materials were not exempt as “personnel records” under OPRA, but that they could not be disclosed under OPRA on other grounds. Further, the Appellate Division rejected plaintiff’s common law claim, determining that defendant’s interest in preventing disclosure outweighed plaintiff’s right to the documents. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the internal affairs report should have been disclosed, as the Attorney General conceded, but after the trial court reviewed it and redacts parts that raise legitimate confidentiality concerns. View "Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor's Office" on Justia Law

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In October 2017, an incarcerated woman filed a lawsuit against Cumberland County and several corrections officers, including Tyrone Ellis, alleging she had been forced to engage in non-consensual sex acts on a regular basis. Plaintiff Libertarians for Transparent Government (Libertarians) obtained minutes of the public meeting of the Board of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System at which the Board considered Ellis’s application for special retirement. According to the minutes, the County originally sought to terminate Ellis, who had been charged with a disciplinary infraction. When he submitted his resignation, the County warned that it intended to continue to prosecute the disciplinary matter. Ellis, in turn, “agreed to cooperate” with the County’s investigation of four other officers suspected of similar misconduct. “As a result of his cooperation, Cumberland County agreed to dismiss the disciplinary charges and permit Mr. Ellis to retire in good standing” with a reduced pension. Libertarians sent the County an OPRA request seeking, as relevant here, the settlement agreement and Ellis’s “'name, title, position, salary, length of service, date of separation and the reason therefor’ in accordance with N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10.” The County declined to produce the settlement agreement, claiming it was a personnel record exempt from disclosure. In response to the request for information, the County stated in part that “Officer Ellis was charged with a disciplinary infraction and was terminated.” Libertarians filed a complaint in Superior Court, and the trial court ordered the County to provide a redacted version of the settlement agreement. The County appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s judgment. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly ordered disclosure of a redacted settlement agreement, and the Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s order. View "Libertarians for Transparent Government v. Cumberland County" on Justia Law

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This matter involved a legal challenge to the congressional redistricting map selected by the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission (Commission). On December 22, 2021, a majority of the Commission’s members that included the Chair, voted in favor of the map the Democratic delegation presented. Plaintiffs, the Republican delegation to the Commission, filed an amended complaint on January 5, 2022 to challenge that map. Plaintiffs filed their complaint directly with the New Jersey Supreme Court, pursuant to Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. The Supreme Court observed it had no role in the outcome of the redistricting process unless the map is "unlawful." The Supreme Court found none of plaintiffs' arguments asserted the plan was unlawful or the result of "invidious discrimination." Because plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to support a claim upon which relief can be granted, defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice was granted. View "In the Matter of Establishment of Congressional Districts by the New Jersey Redistricting Commission" on Justia Law