Choice of Applicable Statutes of Limitation Under the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law

Pitcock v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP, 426 N.J. Super. 582 (App. Div. 2012).  This case arose out of a dispute between defendant, a New York law firm with a Newark satellite office, and plaintiff, a former partner of that law firm who had worked at the New York office.  The parties filed three different lawsuits against each other in New York.  All of those cases were dismissed for various reasons.  Plaintiff then filed this case in New Jersey, where plaintiff lived, asserting malicious prosecution as regarded the law firm’s New York lawsuit against him.  Plaintiff’s suit was too late under the New York statute of limitations but would have been timely under New Jersey’s limitations law.  Thus, the case posed an issue of choice of law.

The trial court dismissed the case as time-barred.  Plaintiff appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed in an opinion by Judge Skillman.  That opinion first recapped the history of choice of law analysis in New Jersey statute of limitations cases, from Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., 63 N.J. 130 (1973), which rejected the common law rule that a New Jersey court would automatically apply New Jersey’s statute of limitations, through Gantes v. Kason Corp., 145 N.J. 478 (1996), which adopted the “governmental interest” test that applied in other choice of law contexts.

Judge Skillman then noted that, most recently, P.V. v. Camp Jaycee, 197 N.J. 132 (2008), which did not involve a statute of limitations question, replaced the governmental interest test with the “most significant relationship” principle embodied in the Restatement (Second) of Conflicts of Law.   He concluded that the Supreme Court would now apply the most significant relationship test to statute of limitations conflict of laws issues as well.

Having reached that determination, the panel found this appeal easy.  New York had the most significant relationship to the dispute.  The “proceeding complained of” (in the words of section 155 of the Restatement)– the alleged malicious prosecution– occurred in New York, the parties’ relationship was centered there, and New Jersey had no contacts with or interest in the case other than the fact that plaintiff lived in New Jersey and the law firm had a satellite office here.  Thus, the factors made applicable to statute of limitations decisions by section 142 of the Restatement pointed firmly to the application of New York law.