Last-Minute Motions in Limine Cannot Properly be Used Instead of Properly Noticed Dispositive Motions

L.C. v. M.A.J., ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2017).  In Cho v. Trinitas Regional Medical Center, 443 N.J.  Super. 461 (App. Div. 2016), discussed here, Judge Espinosa wrote an opinion that stated emphatically that a motion in limine right before trial that seeks dismissal or summary judgment is not only unauthorized under the Court Rules but constitutes a violation of due process.  Today, Judge Fisher issued a concise (eight pages total, including the caption, and with only two lines on the eighth page) opinion in a domestic violence case that reiterated the idea that motions in limine that are in fact concealed dispositive motions on the shortest of notice are improper.

“The judge’s mistaken willingness to consider defendant’s last-minute dispositive motion deprived this alleged domestic violence victim of meaningful reflection and an opportunity to file responding papers.  This rapid disposition deprived plaintiff of due process and compels reversal.  If defendant possessed legitimate grounds for seeking dismissal – an assertion we do not address – he should have been relegated to moving for an involuntary dismissal at the close of plaintiff’s case or at the close of all the evidence.”

Judge Fisher was not impressed by defendant’s argument that the motion in limine was in fact a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 4:6-2(e).  The motion was not so denominated, and it was both made and decided on the ground that “plaintiff’s factual allegations failed to provide an adequate framework for a final restraining order.”  But Judge Fisher observed that such motions do not allow the movant to argue the ability of the opponent to “prove the allegation contained in the complaint,” and regardless of its labeling, the motion was treated as one seeking summary judgment.  The trial judge then made the situation worse by failing to give plaintiff, the opponent of the motion, all reasonable inferences, as Judge Fisher went on to note.

Parties who wish to seek summary judgment, in whole or in part, need to follow the Court Rules and provide the required notice and opportunity for opposing briefing.  Motions in limine do not serve that office and cannot be used as a substitute.

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