Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
Meyers v. State Health Benefits Commission
The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division in a case concerning the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program Act. The case was brought by James Meyers, a retired state police officer, who challenged the State Health Benefits Commission's (SHBC) decision that he was not exempt from health benefits premium-sharing obligations imposed by the Act. The Act requires public employees to contribute towards the cost of their healthcare benefits upon retirement, with an exemption for employees who had 20 or more years of creditable service in a state or locally administered retirement system as of June 28, 2011. Meyers had 17 years and 9 months of creditable service at that time. Upon his retirement in 2015, he was erroneously offered retiree health benefits at no premium cost. This mistake was discovered in 2017, and the state began deducting premium-sharing contributions from his pension payments.The Court held that Meyers was not eligible for the exemption under the Act, and correcting the erroneous exemption was proper. The court found that neither Meyers' subsequent service nor his purchase of four years of military service credit could change the fact that he did not meet the Act's requirement as of June 28, 2011. The court also agreed with the Appellate Division's determination that it was not necessary to reach the issue of equitable estoppel. The court noted that a governmental entity cannot be estopped from refusing to take an action that it was never authorized to take under the law, even if it had mistakenly agreed to that action. In this case, the SHBC was never authorized to offer Meyers free healthcare benefits, an act beyond the jurisdiction of the SHBC and therefore ultra vires in the primary sense. Thus, the doctrine of equitable estoppel did not apply. View "Meyers v. State Health Benefits Commission" on Justia Law
Conforti v. County of Ocean, et al.
In summer 2010, plaintiff Carol Conforti obtained a restraining order against her husband. On September 8, he was arrested for violating the restraining order by returning to the marital home to see his son. Conforti was taken to the OCJ, where he was evaluated by a staff member of Correctional Health Services (CHS). A CHS staff member wrote on the “Intake Receiving and Screening” form that Conforti reported: (1) drinking half a gallon of vodka each day; (2) major surgery that left him with rods and screws in his back; (3) feeling “hopeless or helpless”; and (4) the “[r]ecent significant loss” of his marriage. A physician prescribed him one extra mattress and medicine for back pain and alcohol dependence, and instructed that he not be assigned work or a top bunk. After 27 days, Conforti was released. Just over a week later, Conforti was arrested for again returning to the marital home to see his son. He arrived at OCJ on October 13, 2010. A document from Conforti’s file acknowledged his previous incarceration and history of binge drinking but stated he had “[n]o current mental health issues/concerns” and was cleared for OCJ’s general population. On October 16, he requested medical attention for back pain. On October 20, Conforti wrote a suicide note to his parents, closed the door to his cell, covered the cell door window with a sheet, and hung himself. During discover, plaintiff submitted an expert report who opined that defendants the County of Ocean and the Ocean County Jail acted negligently by failing to adequately train and supervise OCJ staff to prevent inmate suicide. The County defendants moved for summary judgment on immunity grounds under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (TCA). A jury found defendant negligent and apportioned liability 60% against the County and 40% against Correctional Health Services (CHS). Defendants moved for JNOV, reasserting their medical-facility-immunity argument. The New Jersey Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court’s refusal to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence count at the summary judgment stage, and no error in refusing to overturn the jury’s verdict after trial. View "Conforti v. County of Ocean, et al." on Justia Law
Williams v. New Jersey State Parole Board
Leander Williams pled guilty to non-violent third- and fourth-degree drug offenses. His primary parole eligibility date was approximately eight months after the New Jersey Earn Your Way Out Act (EYWO Act) became effective. During his prison sentence, Williams successfully completed multiple alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, including an 87-day Alcoholics Anonymous program and a residential program in the "Bo Robinson" for 187 days. After the Bo Robinson program and while remaining in the custody of the Department of Corrections, Williams resided at the Harbor Residential Community Release Program for 90 days for further rehabilitation. Approximately one month before his primary parole eligibility date, a panel of the Parole Board certified that Williams met the “criteria for administrative parole release” under the EYWO Act, which entitled him to automatic administrative parole release. The panel imposed 21 general parole conditions and the “special” condition that Williams participate in an RTP for a minimum term of 180 days. Williams administratively appealed to the Parole Board, arguing that N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.59 precluded the panel from requiring an RTP as a condition of his administrative parole release under the EYWO Act. The panel upheld the imposition of residential treatment but recommended that the Board reduce his mandated “term” of 180 days to 90 days. Williams appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed the Parole Board’s determination. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Parole Board could not mandate participation in an RTP for inmates administratively paroled under the EYWO Act. "Although N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.59 generally authorizes the Parole Board to impose parole conditions on adult inmates who have been administratively released under the EYWO Act, an RTP is not among the conditions that can be imposed in that setting." View "Williams v. New Jersey State Parole Board" on Justia Law
Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC v. Township of Neptune
Plaintiff Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC (Gannett) sought an award of attorneys’ fees from its common law right of access claim to Internal Affiars (IA) files pertaining to a former Neptune Township, New Jersey police officer. In 2015, the former officer, Philip Seidel, killed his former wife. After a local prosecutor’s office issued a report on the Seidel case that was based in part on Seidle’s IA files, Gannett submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request and one under the common law, seeking copies of those files. The Township denied the request. A trial court ultimately dismissed Gannett’s OPRA claim but ordered the release of the contested records, redacted in accordance with guidelines prescribed in the court’s opinion, on the sole basis of the common law right of access. The trial court granted a partial fee award. The Appellate Division affirmed in part and reversed in part: (1) it affirmed the trial court’s determination that Gannett had no claim under OPRA but was entitled to a redacted version of Seidle’s IA files pursuant to the common law; and (2) it held that the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized a right to counsel fees in common law right of access cases under certain circumstances in Mason v. City of Hoboken, 196 N.J. 51, 57 (2008). On the facts presented, however, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s partial award of counsel fees. The Supreme Court affirmed as modified, the Appellate Division’s judgment. “Imposing fee-shifting in this category of cases would venture far beyond the narrow exceptions to the American Rule that New Jersey courts have adopted to date. Accordingly, Gannett is not entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees in this appeal.” View "Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC v. Township of Neptune" on Justia Law
Parsells v. Borough of Somerville Board of Education
The Board of Education of the Borough of Somerville challenged the award of relief to former teacher Catherine Parsells in a tenure dispute. The Board employed Parsells as a full-time preschool teacher from September 2010 to June 2016. Parsells earned tenure in 2013. In May 2016, she wrote to the superintendent, expressing an interest in a temporary part-time preschool teaching position that included health benefits “for as long as [such a position] is available, or until my family decides that full-time work would be in our best interests again,” so that she could “pursu[e] [her] career goals while also being able to spend time with [her] son during his precious first few years.” Even though Parsells never formally applied for a part-time teaching job, and without addressing her assertion that she understood that her switch would be temporary, the superintendent notified Parsells that the Board approved her transfer from the full-time preschool teacher to the part-time position. Parsells began the 2016-17 school year as a part-time tenured teacher with health benefits. After requesting and receiving approval for maternity leave followed by a childcare leave of absence from February through June 2017, Parsells re-expressed interest in remaining a temporary part-time teacher for the 2017-18 school year. In an email to the school’s principal, the new superintendent noted that Parsells “was under the impression that she had the option of coming back full-time if she wanted to” and had “stated that if she had known all of this before changing to part-time, she would not have made the change.” Parsells returned to her part-time tenured teaching job in September 2018, but without health benefits. Parsells then applied for a full-time teaching position, and the Board rejected her applications, hiring non-tenured teachers from outside the district for some of those positions. Parsells filed a petition against the Board alleging it violated her tenure rights by hiring non-tenured teachers for the full-time positions to which she applied and that she had not voluntarily relinquished her tenure rights by moving temporarily to a part-time position. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined Parsells did not knowingly waive her tenured right to a full-time teaching position, and affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision upholding the Commissioner’s award of “full back pay, benefits, and emoluments, less mitigation.” View "Parsells v. Borough of Somerville Board of Education" on Justia Law
In the Matter of the Alleged Failure of Altice USA, Inc., to Comply with Certain Provisions of the New Jersey Cable Television Act and the New Jersey Administrative Code
Altice USA, Inc. (Altice) challenged N.J.A.C. 14:18-3.8, a regulation requiring cable companies to refund or not charge customers who cancel cable service before the end of a billing cycle for cable service after the date of cancellation. Altice argued that N.J.A.C. 14:18-38’s proration requirement effectively regulated its “rates for the provision of cable service” and was therefore expressly preempted by 47 U.S.C. § 543(a)(1) of the federal Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (Cable Act). Assuming it was correct, Altice contended that once its customers sign up for a monthly plan, they had to pay for a full final month of cable service even if they terminate service before the month ends. Alternatively, Altice asserted that even if the consumer protection regulation is not preempted, the BPU expressly waived compliance with that requirement. The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (the BPU) and Division of Rate Counsel disagreed, contending this consumer protection regulation was a valid exercise of the State’s police power, which they argued the Cable Act explicitly authorized. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that Section 543(a)(1) of the Cable Act did not preempt the proration requirement in N.J.A.C. 14:18-3.8. The Court found the regulation did not regulate “rates for the provision of cable service,” but rather prevents cable companies from charging for cable service that customers have cancelled. The regulation does not set the “rate” that companies can charge. It simply protects cable users from paying for service they no longer want. The Appellate Division's judgment to the contrary was reversed and the The BPU's cease-and-desist order was reinstated. The matter was remanded for the appellate court to decide Altice's remaining argument that the BPU failed to follow proper procedures in this enforcement action. View "In the Matter of the Alleged Failure of Altice USA, Inc., to Comply with Certain Provisions of the New Jersey Cable Television Act and the New Jersey Administrative Code" on Justia Law
Malanga v. West Orange Twp.
At issue in this case before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether the Township of West Orange improperly designated the site of its public library as an area in need of redevelopment under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL), N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 to -49. The local Planning Board hired a consulting firm to evaluate the Library. The firm concluded the Library met the statutory conditions. The Board, in turn, adopted that conclusion and recommended the site of the Library be designated an area in need of redevelopment. The Township Council agreed. Plaintiff Kevin Malanga, who lived in West Orange, filed a lawsuit to challenge the designation. The trial court rejected his arguments and dismissed the complaint, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court found the Township’s designation was not supported by substantial evidence in the record: the record did not establish that it suffered from obsolescence, faulty arrangement, or obsolete layout in a way that harmed the welfare of the community. The Township argued that even though the Library actively provided services to the residents of West Orange, it could have better served the public if it had more programming and computers, among other things. "That laudable concept, by itself, does not satisfy the standards in the LRHL." View "Malanga v. West Orange Twp." on Justia Law
Statewide Insurance Fund v. Star Insurance Company
This insurance coverage dispute between a public entity joint insurance fund (JIF) and Star Insurance Company (Star), a commercial general liability insurance company, turned on whether the JIF provided “insurance” to its members or, instead, the JIF members protect against liability through “self-insurance.” That distinction was pertinent here because Star’s insurance policy included a clause under which its coverage obligations began only after coverage available through “other insurance” has been exhausted; the clause, however, did not mention “self-insurance.” Star argued the JIF provided insurance and therefore Star’s coverage was excess to the JIF; the JIF disagreed, contending that because its members were instead “self-insured,” Star’s coverage was primary. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that under the plain language of N.J.S.A. 40A:10-48, a JIF “was not an insurance company or an insurer under New Jersey law, and its “authorized activities . . . do not constitute the transaction of insurance nor doing an insurance business.” By the statute’s plain terms, JIFs cannot provide insurance in exchange for premiums, as insurance companies typically do; instead, JIF members reduce insurance costs by pooling financial resources, distributing and retaining risk, and paying claims through member assessments. Therefore, JIFs protect members against liability through “self-insurance.” “Self-insurance” is not insurance. The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the JIF and denial of summary judgment to Star. View "Statewide Insurance Fund v. Star Insurance Company" on Justia Law
New Jersey v. Coviello
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
New Jersey v. F.E.D.
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