Back in Action!

Due to travel over most of the past two weeks (and getting “back in the game” once having returned), there have been no posts here.  But the courts have been active during that time.  Here, in brief, are some of the key published decisions of the Supreme Court, the Appellate Division, and the Third Circuit:

Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, 235 N.J. 1 (2018).  This was a 4-3 decision that reversed a ruling of the Appellate Division, reported at 446 N.J. Super. 163 (App. Div. 2016).  That court, by a 2-1 vote, had held that recordings made by mobile video recorders (“MVRs”) must be produced to requestors under the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 et seq. (“OPRA”).  Judge Gilson dissented from that ruling, arguing that MVRs are not “required by law” for purposes of OPRA, and that as criminal investigatory records they are not covered by OPRA.  The Supreme  Court agreed with his view.  Justice Patterson wrote the majority opinion, in which Chief Justice Rabner and Justices Fernandez-Vina and Solomon joined.  Justice Albin wrote the dissent, in which Justices LaVecchia and Timpone joined.

State of New Jersey v. Quaker Valley Farms, LLC, 235 N.J. 37 (2018).  This case arose under the Agriculture Retention and Development Act, N.J.S.A. 4:1C-11 to -48 (“ARDA”).  The question was whether defendant’s action in excavating and leveling 20 acres of its deed-restricted farmland in order to construct a type of greenhouses violated the ARDA and an easement in favor of the State that prohibited activity on the property that was detrimental to soil conservation.  On summary judgment, the Law Division found defendant in violation.  The Appellate Division reversed, but the Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Albin, reversed and reinstated the summary judgment in favor of the State.

Willner v. Vertical Realty, Inc., 235 N.J. 65 (2018).  This case resulted in a unanimous opinion by Justice Fernandez-Vina.  The case involved a jury instruction regarding evidence of a defendant manufacturer’s conduct and a sanctions award of fee-shifting made under Rule 4:58, the offer of judgment rule.  The Court found harmless error regarding the jury instruction and reversed the sanctions award based on considerations applicable to the multi-defendant context of this matter.

MEPT Journal Square Urban Renewal, LLC v. City of Jersey City, 455 N.J. Super. 608 (App. Div. 2018).  Judge Fuentes wrote this opinion for the Appellate Division.  The issue was whether the defendant City could condition tax abatements being granted under the Long Term Tax Exemption Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:20-1 to -22 (“LTTEL”) on (1) prepayment of certain monies characterized as a portion of an annual charge that the developer entities would have to pay in lieu of property taxes after the project was completed, and/or (2) a contribution to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  The panel ruled that the prepayment requirement was ultra vires the LTTEL, but that the Affordable Housing Trust Fund payment was not.

Broach-Butts v. Therapeutic Alternatives, Inc., 456 N.J. Super. 25 (App. Div. 2018).  The issue in this case was whether the defendant private social service agency owed a duty to the plaintiff operators of a therapeutic foster home to advise them of the history of dangerous behavior of a child that the agency placed in the foster home.  Fifteen months after the child left the foster home, he returned and killed one of the home’s operators.  In an opinion by Judge Ostrer, the Appellate Division ruled that the agency owed a duty to plaintiffs.

Moreland v. Parks, 456 N.J. Super. 71 (App. Div. 2018).  Plaintiffs in this case were a same-sex couple.  One of them had biological children.  One of those children, a two-year old, was struck by a pickup truck and hurled 65 feet in the air to her death.  Both plaintiffs witnessed that occurrence.  Plaintiffs sued on multiple grounds, including bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress.  Defendants moved for partial summary judgment as to the plaintiff who was not the biological mother of the child, asserting that she lacked an “intimate, familial relationship” with the dead child, as required by Portee v. Jaffee, 84 N.J. 88 (1980).  The Law Division granted the motion, but the Appellate Division, on leave to appeal, reversed, finding that, despite the lack of a biological relationship, that plaintiff’s bystander claim could go forward.  Judge Fuentes wrote the panel’s opinion.

Bland v. City of Newark, 900 F.3d 77 (3d Cir. 2018).  This was a Civil Rights Act case where the question was whether police officers who had used lethal force were entitled to qualified immunity.  The District Court denied such immunity.  The Third Circuit, speaking through Judge Hardiman, disagreed and afforded qualified immunity.

Newark Cab Association v. City of Newark, 901 F.3d 146 (3d Cir. 2018).  This was another Civil Rights Act case, brought by individuals and entities who are in the taxi or limousine business in Newark.  They asserted that the defendant City had infringed their constitutional rights by allowing Uber drivers, who compete with the taxis and limousines for business, to operate under less restrictive conditions than those applicable to plaintiffs.  The District Court granted a defense motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  On plaintiffs’ appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed in an opinion by Judge Chagares.