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Sunday, August 27, 2023


 In this legal-malpractice case, the corporate plaintiff and its president appeal from an order granting defendants' summary-judgment motion.  The trial court found plaintiffs' expert had failed to analyze how defendants' alleged breaches of the standard of care would have impacted a potential jury verdict or settlement and had not opined that defendants' alleged malpractice proximately caused any damages.  The judge also dismissed the president's individual claim because the undisputed facts showed she and defendants did not have an attorney-client relationship.   

The court affirms, holding plaintiffs had not established proximate cause as a matter of law and that expert testimony was necessary in this case to prove proximate causation and damages.  With respect to the president's individual claim of legal malpractice, the court holds she failed to demonstrate the existence of an attorney-client relationship between herself and defendants. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023


 Defendant appeals from Family Part orders enforcing provisions of a marital settlement agreement (MSA).  A critical area of dispute centered on plaintiff's desire to obtain a get—a divorce recognized under Jewish religious law through a process known as a beis din proceeding.  Before a verdict was reached in the Family Part divorce trial, the parties reached an agreement on all issues, including each party's obligations with respect to participation in beis din proceedings.

The court rejects defendant's argument that the Family Part judge violated his First Amendment rights by ordering him to participate in beis din proceedings and to sign an arbitration agreement with the beis din.  The court acknowledges the fundamental principle that civil courts may not become entangled in religious proceedings.  The First Amendment's Establishment Clause bars a state from placing its support behind a religious belief, while the Free Exercise Clause bars a state from interfering with the practice of religion.  U.S. Const. amend. I.  The court concludes the Family Part judge was asked to enforce a civil contract, not a religious one.  The court holds the MSA is a legally binding contract based on ample consideration from both parties and entered into knowingly and voluntarily.  The Family Part judge therefore had the lawful authority to enforce the agreement as written.

New Jersey Supreme Court precedent permits civil courts to resolve controversies involving religious groups if resolution can be achieved by reference to neutral principles of law and does not require the interpretation of religious doctrine.  Defendant agreed in the MSA to abide by the beis din ruling, whatever that might be.  The Family Part judge did not interpret religious doctrine and scrupulously avoided entanglement with religion because the judge applied well-established principles of civil contract law, not rabbinical law.  The latter body of law remained solely within the province of the beis din and was not interpreted or applied by the Family Part judge.

The court concludes that the orders defendant challenges served the secular purpose of enforcing the parties' contractual obligations under the MSA, which in turn serves the secular purpose of encouraging divorce litigants to resolve their disputes by negotiating and entering an MSA.


          Plaintiff, who is incarcerated at a federal prison located in New Jersey, wants to marry someone who is incarcerated at a federal prison located in a different state.  He sued the New Hanover Township Municipal Clerk and Registrar, claiming she had violated his civil rights contrary to the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2, by applying the requirement in N.J.S.A. 37:1-7 and -8 that couples appear in person to obtain a marriage license.  He appeals an order denying his motion for a preliminary injunction and granting defendant's cross-motion to dismiss the complaint.  He argues the enforcement of the in-person requirement was unconstitutional and contends the motion judge should have used his equitable powers to enjoin enforcement of the requirement. 

         The court rejects both arguments.  The court holds the statutes at issue do not create an unconstitutional bar of a prisoner's right to marry but instead apply to individuals who want to marry and are reasonably related to the legitimate goal of ensuring the validity of marriages.  The court also holds the motion judge could not have used his equitable powers to enjoin defendant's enforcement of the statutory in-person requirement.  Accordingly, the court affirms the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint and the denial of plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.

Sunday, August 6, 2023


    On February 23, 2017, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a flood hazard area applicability determination (FHA Determination) to Hampton Farm, LLC (Hampton Farm).  Shortly thereafter, appellant Musconetcong Watershed Association (MW Association) requested the DEP to conduct an adjudicatory hearing so it could challenge the FHA Determination.  Four years later, on April 6, 2021, the DEP denied that request.  MW Association timely appealed from the April 6, 2021 decision.  It also sought leave to appeal from the February 23, 2017 FHA Determination, contending it had become final when the DEP denied MW Association's request for a hearing.  On an interlocutory motion, a two-judge panel of the court denied leave.  The court now reconsiders, reverses that interlocutory ruling, and grants leave to appeal.

          The court holds that the DEP's FHA Determination became a final agency decision subject to appeal when the DEP denied MW Association's request for an adjudicatory hearing to challenge the FHA Determination.  At that time, all administrative remedies were exhausted.  To address the DEP's four-year time delay in deciding MW Association's request for an adjudicatory hearing, the court holds that any party, including a third-party objector, has the right to petition the DEP to rule on a pending request for an adjudicatory hearing under N.J.A.C. 1:1-4.1(a).  The DEP will then have thirty days from receipt of the petition to "inform all parties of its determination" regarding that request.  N.J.A.C. 1:1-4.1(a).

          The court also holds that MW Association did not have a right to an adjudicatory hearing because no statute conferred that right to MW Association, which is a third-party objector, and MW Association did not have a particularized property interest warranting a hearing.  Accordingly, the court affirms the April 6, 2021 final agency decision.

          Finally, because the court has reversed the ruling on the interlocutory motion, the DEP has two options concerning its FHA Determination.  It can either (1) elect to address MW Association's challenges to its February 23, 2017 FHA Determination and a new briefing schedule will be issued; or (2) request a remand so it can expand and update the factual findings supporting its FHA Determination. 


 Plaintiff, who had been terminated from his position as assistant commissioner for the Department of Health, filed a complaint against the State, alleging a claim under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8.  In his second amended complaint, plaintiff asserted a defamation claim against Governor Philip D. Murphy.  A Law Division judge granted defendants' motion to dismiss the defamation claim, concluding plaintiff had not pleaded the element of actual malice with sufficient specificity.  

     In his fourth amended complaint, plaintiff again asserted a defamation claim against Governor Murphy, referencing in particular statements made during May 29, 2020 and June 1, 2020 press briefings.  Defendants moved to dismiss the defamation claim pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e).  The judge denied the motion, concluding plaintiff had pleaded sufficient facts in the fourth amended complaint to demonstrate actual malice.  
     The court reversed, concluding the judge had misapplied the actual-malice standard.  After conducting a de novo review, the court held plaintiff's conclusory allegations did not meet the actual-malice standard and, as a result, plaintiff's defamation claim failed.  Reversing the denial of defendants' motion to dismiss, the court remanded the case with a direction that the judge enter an order dismissing the defamation claim.  


 Plaintiffs sued defendants, a law firm and three individuals associated with the firm, claiming that their rights of privacy had been violated when defendants failed to redact their personal identifiers contrary to the directive of Rule 1:38-7.  Plaintiffs also contended that defendants violated one plaintiff's right of privacy by including records of that plaintiff's arrest and criminal charges.  The court holds that Rule 1:38-7 did not create a private cause of action for a violation of the Rule.  Instead, the remedy for a violation of Rule 1:38-7 is set forth in the Rule, which states that a party or other interested individual can move, on an expedited basis, to replace documents containing unredacted personal identifiers with redacted documents.  R. 1:38-7(g).  The court also holds that plaintiffs failed to state viable causes of action for invasions of privacy or infliction of emotional distress.   Accordingly, the court affirms the dismissal of plaintiffs' complaint. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Elizabeth Hrymoc v. Ethicon, Inc

 510(k) evidence is generally inadmissible because the 510(k) clearance process solely determines substantial equivalency, and not safety and efficacy. However, in a products liability claim premised not only on principles of negligence, but particularly on the reasonableness of a manufacturer’s conduct in not performing clinical trials or studies, evidence of 510(k) clearance has significant probative value under N.J.R.E. 401 that is not substantially outweighed by the risk of prejudice and potential juror confusion under N.J.R.E. 403. Therefore, under the specific facts and circumstances of this case, the Court affirms the judgment of the Appellate Division. However, the Court parts ways with the Appellate Division’s decision as to its suggestion that the scope and admissibility of 510(k) evidence should be determined in a Rule 104 hearing. Instead, the scope and admissibility of 510(k) evidence should be resolved at the hearing on a motion in limine, which is how the issue was and, presumably, will be raised. Section 5 of the PLA does not bar plaintiffs’ recovery of punitive damages, and because evidence of 510(k) clearance should have been admitted in the first stage of trial as relevant to the reasonableness of Bard’s conduct in not performing clinical trials or studies, it would also be admissible in the second, punitive damages stage.