Cleaning Up From Last Week

Due in part to my attendance at the NJSBA Annual Meeting last week, this blog is somewhat behind on last week’s published opinions by the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division. Here are summaries of the two published rulings, one from each court, from last week that this blog has not already covered.

Maia v. IEW Construction Group, ___ N.J. ___ (2024). This case, a putative class action under the Wage Payment Law , N.J.S.A. 34:11-4.1 et seq. (“WPL”), and the Wage and Hour Law, N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a et seq. (“WHL”), centered on a 2019 amendment to those statutes, L. 2019, c. 212 (“Chapter 212”). As Justice Fasciale noted in his opinion for a unanimous Court, “[s]ome of the conduct on which plaintiffs base their complaint preceded the effective date of Chapter 212; some followed that effective date.” The question for the Court was whether Chapter 212 applied retroactively, or only prospectively, from its effective date forward. The Law Division held that Chapter 212 applied only prospectively and, therefore, on a defense motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, partially dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint. As summarized here, the Appellate Division reversed the partial dismissal in an opinion reported at 475 N.J. Super. 44 (App. Div. 2023). The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal and reversed the Appellate Division, applying de novo review of the purely legal issue presented. Justice Fasciale presented a detailed history of the WPL and WHL, analyzed the retroactivity issue using settled criteria from prior decisions, and concluded, as had the Law Division, that the Legislature did not intend Chapter 212 to apply retroactively.

Association for Governmental Responsibility, Ethics, and Transparency v. Mantaloking Tp., ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). This was a 2-1 decision, which permits an appeal to the Supreme Court as of right. Judge Rose wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Perez Friscia joined. Judge Smith was the dissenter. Since this may not be the last stop on this train, the first paragraph of the majority opinion suffices to describe the issue and its background: “This appeal presents a novel issue, requiring us to determine whether the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA), N.J.S.A. 47:1A-1 to -13, or the common law right of public access, mandates disclosure of an attorney’s identity when the attorney renders legal advice to a colleague or friend about an ongoing prosecution. In the present matter, a municipal prosecutor sought counsel from an attorney who, in turn, rendered advice via email to the prosecutor’s personal account. The prosecutor, in turn, disclosed the contents of the email in open court and provided a printed copy of the email to the defense, but redacted the sender’s name and email address. The municipality thereafter denied a government records request for the unredacted email.” Plaintiff sought to compel production of the email, but the Law Division held that the email was not a government record, and that neither OPRA nor the common law right of access required that the email be disclosed. In dissent, Judge Smith contended that the email was a government record, so he saw no reason to reach the common law right of access.