As 2018 Winds Down, the Supreme Court Adds Six More Cases

The Supreme Court announced that it has granted certification in six more cases as 2018 is coming to a close.  As is often the case, the new appeals represent a smorgasbord of subject matters, including shareholder rights, pensions, CEPA, criminal law, and a marital/estates matter.

In Supreme Court docket number order, the first case is Chiofalo v. State.  The question presented there, as phrased by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office, is “n this action alleging a violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8 (CEPA), was plaintiff required, as part of his prima facie case, to identify a specific law, regulation, or other authority that he reasonably believed had been violated?”  After the State’s motion for summary judgment was denied, plaintiff won a jury verdict in the Law Division.  But a three-judge Appellate Division panel, in an unpublished opinion, vacated that judgment, reversed the denial of summary judgment, and remanded for the entry of an order dismissing the case.

Woytas v. Greenwood Tree Experts, Inc. presents this question: “Did the decedent, by committing suicide, breach the marital settlement agreement that required him to maintain life insurance?”  The Appellate Division, in an unpublished three-judge opinion that noted that this issue was “of  first impression in New Jersey,” affirmed a ruling by the Chancery Division that had answered that question in the affirmative and entered summary judgment for the decedent’s ex-wife and her children, and against the decedent’s estate.

The pension case is S.L.W. v. New Jersey Div. of Pensions & Benefits.  The question presented in that appeal is “Did the Division of Pensions and Benefits err in interpreting N.J.A.C. 17:4-3.7 to require that this child claimant establish financial dependence on her retired parent by providing his income tax returns?”  While disagreeing with the “initial basis for denying S.L.W.’s claim,” a three-judge Appellate Division panel affirmed the ruling that S.L.W. had “failed to support her claim for dependency.”

State v. Williams is the first of two criminal appeals that the Court agreed to review.  It presents this question: “In this matter where the victim was killed after meeting defendant to buy oxycodone pills, was defendant entitled to introduce evidence of the victim’s prior drug purchases?”  The Law Division had excluded the evidence, but a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division reversed that decision in an unpublished opinion.

The other criminal matter is State v. Covil, where the question presented is “Among other issues, do the Court’s holdings in State v. Simms, 224 N.J. 393 (2016) and State v. Cain, 224 N.J. 410 (2016), concerning the permissible scope of expert testimony in drug cases, apply retroactively to cases in the pipeline; and may the State, in an ongoing criminal matter, use a defendant’s answer from a civil forfeiture matter when the defendant was not warned that the answer might be used in the criminal prosecution?”  An unpublished opinion of a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division held for defendant on some issues and for the State on others, but the result was a reversal of defendant’s conviction and a remand for a new trial.

Finally, Feuer v. Merck & Co., Inc. is the shareholder rights case.  The Court will confront this question:  “Was plaintiff, a shareholder, entitled to inspect certain corporate documents, pursuant to statute, N.J.S.A. 14A:5-28(4) (books and records; right of inspection), or the common law?”  The Chancery Division ruled that plaintiff was not so entitled, and the Appellate Division affirmed that ruling in a three-judge opinion published at 455 N.J. Super. 69 (App. Div. 2018).  Now the Supreme Court will have its turn.