Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
by
Plaintiff H.C. Equities, L.P. asserted contract claims against its commercial tenant, the County of Union, after the County began to withhold rent payments in response to a dispute about the condition of the leased commercial buildings. During negotiations to settle the contract matter, the County directed its co-defendant, the Union County Improvement Authority (Authority), to assess the County’s real estate needs. H.C. Equities obtained a copy of a consultant’s report prepared as part of that assessment and objected to statements in the report about the condition of the buildings that it had leased to the County. H.C. Equities filed suit against the County and the Authority, asserting conspiracy claims against both defendants and trade libel and defamation claims against the Authority. Plaintiff did not apply for permission to file a late tort claims notice until more than eight months after the expiration of the one-year period allowed under N.J.S.A. 59:8-9 for the filing of such motions. The trial court held that H.C. Equities had failed to file the notices of claim that the Tort Claims Act required and dismissed its tort claims. H.C. Equities appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the trial court. Relying on a combination of excerpts from three letters written by H.C. Equities’ counsel, the Appellate Division found that H.C. Equities substantially complied with the Act’s notice of claim provisions. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed that a finding of substantial compliance with the Tort Claims Act could be premised on comments made by plaintiff’s counsel in three different letters sent to lawyers representing the defendant public entities. The Supreme Court did not find that H.C. Equities’ letters, individually or collectively, communicated the core information that a claimant had to provide to a public entity in advance of filing a tort claim. The Appellate Division’s determination was reversed, and the matter remanded to the trial court. View "H.C. Equities, LP v. County of Union" on Justia Law

by
In 2011, the Borough of Carteret and the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, Local 67 (FMBA) executed a collectively negotiated agreement (CNA) governing the terms and conditions of employment for the Borough’s firefighters. As of 2013, the Borough employed four captains and generally staffed each shift with one captain, who was charged with managing subordinate firefighters also on duty. Under the CNA, if no captains were scheduled to work a particular shift, the senior firefighter on duty would assume the captain’s responsibilities and be compensated at the captain’s rate of pay. Almost two years after the CNA went into effect, the Borough created a new position -- fire lieutenant -- falling between captain and firefighter in the chain of command. After the creation of the lieutenant position, if no captains were scheduled for a given shift, the lieutenant on duty would assume the captain’s responsibilities. In those instances, however, the Borough paid lieutenants their regular salary, not the higher rate an acting captain would have been paid. In 2017, the FMBA filed a grievance alleging that the Borough’s failure to pay lieutenants at the rate of an acting captain when a lieutenant assumed a captain’s responsibilities violated the terms of the CNA. An arbitrator sided with the FMBA. The Chancery Division upheld the award, but the Appellate Division reversed, finding that the difference between the Civil Service Commission’s job descriptions for firefighters and fire lieutenants created uncertainty as to Section 5 of the CNA's application to lieutenants. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the arbitrator’s award was supported by a reasonably debatable interpretation of the disputed provision, and therefore, the award should have been upheld on appeal. View "Borough of Carteret v. Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, Local 67" on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether, under the facts of this case, plaintiff Leah Coleman, the victim of a violent assault by social worker Sonia Martinez’s patient, could bring a negligence claim against Martinez. Martinez’s patient, T.E., suffered two violent episodes prior to her treatment with Martinez. Coleman worked for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) and was tasked with ensuring the welfare of T.E.’s children when the children were removed from T.E.'s care after her hospitalization following her second violent incident. In a letter to Coleman dated October 1, 2014, Martinez stated that T.E. had been compliant during her sessions and with her medication and was ready and able to begin having unsupervised visits with her children with the goal of reunification. At her deposition, Martinez acknowledged the inaccuracy of representing that T.E. did not exhibit psychotic symptoms in light of what she and the group counselor had seen. During a November 7 appointment, Martinez disclosed to T.E. Coleman’s report of T.E.’s hallucinations. T.E. “became upset” and “tearful,” denied any psychotic symptoms, and reiterated her goal of regaining custody of her children. Later that day, T.E. called DCPP and spoke with Coleman. During their conversation, T.E. referenced her session with Martinez, denied that she was experiencing auditory hallucinations, and stated she did not understand why such a claim would be fabricated. Coleman advised T.E. to seek advice from an attorney as DCPP would “maintain that she [was] not capable of parenting independently due to her mental health issues.” Six days later, T.E. made an unscheduled visit to DCPP offices, where she stabbed Coleman twenty-two times in the face, chest, arms, shoulders, and back. Coleman filed a complaint against Martinez, alleging that Martinez was negligent in identifying her to T.E. as the source of information about T.E.’s hallucinations, and that T.E.’s attack was a direct and proximate result of Martinez’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Martinez, finding no legal duty owed to Coleman under the particularized foreseeability standard set forth in J.S. v. R.T.H., 155 N.J. 330 (1998). The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that Martinez had a duty to Coleman under the circumstances here. The trial court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Coleman v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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
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
In August 2017, the State filed a petition to civilly commit P.D., relying on P.D.’s conviction for an offense that qualified as a “sexually violent offense” as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26, and other offenses. The State submitted two clinical certificates from psychiatrists who opined that P.D. suffered from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that made him “likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment.” The trial court entered an order temporarily civilly committing P.D. to the Special Treatment Unit. P.D. waived his right under the SVPA to a court hearing within twenty days of the court’s temporary commitment order. P.D. thereafter filed a motion to compel discovery, which the trial court denied. The court found no support for P.D.’s contention that a person facing an SVPA commitment hearing could seek discovery under the general civil discovery rule, Rule 4:10-1, or other rules governing civil cases. The Appellate Division denied P.D.’s motion for leave to appeal the trial court’s decision. Finding no reversible error in the trial or appellate court orders, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of P.D." on Justia Law

by
To make up for the tax revenue shortfall COVID-19 created and to maintain the State’s fiscal integrity, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law a bill that authorized the State to borrow up to $9.9 billion. Under the new law, the “New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act” (Bond Act or Act), the State could issue bonds for private sale or borrow funds from the federal government. Up to $2.7 billion in borrowing could be used for the period from July 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, and up to $7.2 billion for the period from October 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Before the Bond Act was enacted, the Assembly Minority Leader asked the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) to offer an opinion on “whether or not the State may issue general obligation bonds without voter approval to meet the needs of the State arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.” OLS issued an opinion letter on May 7, 2020, answering in the affirmative: “the COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster contemplated by the [Emergency Exception], and the State therefore may issue bonds, without the usual requirement for voter approval, to meet COVID-19 related emergency needs.” The opinion letter drew a distinction between “borrowing to supplement revenue for future fiscal year budgets,” which OLS believed would violate the Constitution, and “borrowing money where the anticipated revenue certified in accordance with . . . the Constitution becomes insufficient due to an unexpected event” -- a reference to FY2020 -- which OLS found permissible. The New Jersey Republican State Committee filed a complaint contending the asserted legislation violated the Debt Limitation Clause of the State Constitution, and sought to restrain the Governor from signing or enforcing the bill. After review, the Supreme Court determined the Bond Act did not violate the Constitution, subject to limits imposed by the Court in this opinion. View "New Jersey Republican State Committee v. Murphy" 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

by
This appeal involved a challenge to the City of Newark’s authority to create by ordinance a civilian oversight board to provide a greater role for civilian participation in the review of police internal investigations and in the resolution of civilian complaints. The Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 (FOP) filed a complaint claiming that the Ordinance was unlawful. Based on the record and arguments presented on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court held the Ordinance invalid and enjoined its operation in virtually all respects. The court left intact, however, the Ordinance’s grant of authority to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to conduct general oversight functions, including aiding in the development of a disciplinary matrix for use by the police force. The Appellate Division invalidated the Ordinance’s required treatment of the CCRB’s investigatory findings, determining that the binding nature of the CCRB’s findings, absent clear error, impermissibly “makes the CCRB’s factual findings paramount to the findings of the IA department.” The New Jersey Supreme Court modified the Appellate Division's judgment, concluding: (1) state law permitted the creation by ordinance of this civilian board with its overall beneficial oversight purpose; (2) the board’s powers must comply with current legislative enactments unless the Legislature refines the law to specifically authorize certain functions that Newark intends to confer on its review board; (3) board can investigate citizen complaints alleging police misconduct, and those investigations may result in recommendations to the Public Safety Director for the pursuit of discipline against a police officer; (4) the board cannot exercise its investigatory powers when a concurrent investigation is conducted by the Newark Police Department’s Internal Affairs (IA) unit; and (5) where there is no existing IA investigation, the review board may conduct investigations in its own right. In addition, the review board could conduct its oversight function by reviewing the overall operation of the police force, including the performance of its IA function in its totality or its pattern of conduct, and provide the called-for periodic reports to the officials and entities as prescribed by municipal ordinance. View "Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark" on Justia Law