The Supreme Court’s Busy August

In the last ten days, the Supreme Court, nearing the end of its term, has issued a number of opinions.  It has been hard to keep up with them all.  To catch up, here are brief summaries of the Court’s recent rulings:

Meehan v. Antonellis, 226 N.J. 216 (2016).  In an opinion by Judge Cuff, a unanimous Court reversed the dismissal of a complaint in a dental malpractice case.  That dismissal was based on a ruling that plaintiff was required to submit an affidavit of merit from a practitioner with like credentials to that of defendant, as called for by the Patients First Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-41, which plaintiff had not done.  The Court ruled that the Patients First Act requirements apply only to medical malpractice cases.  In other cases, section 27 of the Affidavit of Merit statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-27, governs, and that provision does not require like credentials.  Plaintiff satisfied that standard, and the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Northwest Bergen Cty. Utilities Auth. v. Donovan, 226 N.J. 432 (2016).  This case concerned the power of the defendant county executive to take various actions related to the commissioners of plaintiff utilities authority.  The actions in question were (1) removal of certain commissioners, (2) vetoing a $5,000 stipend that the authority sought to provide to commissioners, and (3) vetoing health benefits for the commissioners.  Writing for the majority, Justice LaVecchia ruled that the executive had exceeded her powers in taking the first two actions, but not the third.

Justices Patterson and Solomon each concurred in part and dissented in part.  They both agreed that the county executive had the power to veto health benefits.  Justice Patterson also agreed that the executive lacked power to remove commissioners, but would have ruled that the executive had the authority to veto the health benefits.   Justice Solomon would have ruled that the executive had the power to take all three of the actions in question.

Puglia v. Elk Pipeline, Inc., 226 N.J. 258 (2016).  In this case, Justice LaVecchia wrote for a unanimous Court.  The issue was whether plaintiff’s whistleblower claims under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -14, were preempted by either of two federal statutes, section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §185(a), or the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§157, 158.  Preemption was argued because the whistleblower claims arose out of plaintiffs’ complaints about wage and hour requirements.  The trial court granted summary judgment against plaintiff, agreeing that there was preemption.  The Appellate Division affirmed.  The Supreme Court reversed and rejected preemption.

Parsons v. Mullica Tp. Bd. of Educ., 226 N.J. 297 (2016).  The issue in this case was whether a specific immunity under the Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:6-4, which protects public entities and employees against liability for failing to conduct an adequate physical or mental examination to determine whether the person being examined has a disease or condition that would pose a hazard to himself or herself or others, applies to a failure to timely communicate the results of such an examination.  The Law Division denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, which was based on the immunity provision of N.J.S.A. 59:6-4.  The Appellate Division reversed, and a unanimous Supreme Court affirmed that the immunity covered the case.  Justice Fernandez-Vina wrote the Court’s opinion.

State in the Interest of N.H., 226 N.J. 242 (2016).  Chief Justice Rabner wrote a unanimous opinion for the Court in this case.  The issue was whether a juvenile whose criminal case is transferred to adult court is entitled to full discovery.  The Court ruled that full discovery is required.  The brevity of this summary should not lead anyone to underestimate the importance of the Court’s ruling in this case.

The Court will continue its spate of important opinions on Monday, when it is scheduled to issue its ruling in In re Reglan Litigation.  The question presented there, as phrased by the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office, is “Are claims failure-to-warn claims against manufacturers of a generic prescription drug preempted by federal law?”  Federal preemption of state court claims relating to pharmaceuticals comes up often, including here.  This opinion has been eagerly awaited.

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