Digging Out

This past Monday, I argued two appeals in the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  They were the Accutane matters discussed and .  In the period leading up to those arguments, and the days following, the courts continued to issue opinions.  Here are brief summaries of some of the most significant of those rulings:

Krzykalski v. Tindall, 232 N.J. 525 (2018).  In a 6-0 opinion written by Justice Solomon, the Court in this automobile accident matter ruled that, under the Comparative Negligence Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.1 et seq., the jury properly apportioned fault between the defendant and a John Doe defendant.  Both plaintiff and defendant recognized that the John Doe defendant had a role in the accident, and plaintiff’s uninsured motorist carrier was aware of the litigation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Morris County Freeholder Bd., 232 N.J. 542 (2018).  This case, which the Court certified directly from the trial level, addressed the issue of whether Morris County’s use of public funds to repair twelve churches, as part of a historic preservation program, violated the Religious Aid Clause of the New Jersey Constitution.  That clause provides that no person shall “be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right or has deliberately and voluntarily engaged to perform.”  Speaking through Chief Justice Rabner, with Justice Solomon filing a concurring opinion, the Court held that the use of public funds here violated the Religious Aid Clause because the funds went toward religious uses.  The Court also rebuffed an argument that its ruling violated the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution.  Despite those rulings, the Court did not unwind the awards of funds, but made its ruling prospective only.

State in the Interest of C.K., 233 N.J. 44 (2018).  This unanimous opinion by Justice Albin held unconstitutional N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(g), a Megan’s Law provision that subjects certain juvenile sex offenders to an irrebuttable presumption that they can never be redeemed, and can never seek relief from lifetime registration and notification requirements from which N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f) allows other sex offenders to seek relief after fifteen years.  Section 2(g) violated the substantive due process clause of the New Jersey Constitution, the Court held, because it bears no relationship to a legitimate governmental objective to bar juvenile offenders, who differ from adult offenders in certain ways, from demonstrating that they meet the requirements of section 2(f) to be relieved of Megan’s Law obligations.

State v. Dorn, 233 N.J. 81 (2018).  In another unanimous opinion, this one written by Justice Solomon, the Court found that an amendment to an indictment on the eve of trial to increase a drug charge from a third degree offense to a second degree offense violated defendant’s right to a grand jury presentment under Article I, Paragraph 8 of the New Jersey Constitution.  The Court also held that there was no error in admitting into evidence a map that purported to identify areas within 500 feet of public parks or buildings.  Defendant had asserted lack of authentication, but the Court found that defendant had waived any such argument below.

Goffe v. Foulke Management Corp., 454 N.J. Super. 260 (App. Div. 2018).  The flow of decisions regarding the validity of arbitration clauses continues unabated.  In this ruling by Judge Fisher in consolidated consumer cases against car dealers, the Appellate Division held that it was improper to have applied arbitration clauses that appeared in sales contracts.  That was because those contracts were rescinded by agreements that did not contain arbitration clauses, and the litigation was largely or entirely about the propriety of rescission.

Brennan v. Lonergan, 454 N.J. Super. 613 (App. Div. 2018).  Judge Hoffman authored this opinion, which affirmed the dismissal of a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:32C-1 to -18, against defendant, a frequent candidate for public office.  Plaintiff alleged that defendant had submitted a false statement in a request for public campaign funds.  The Law Division granted summary judgment in favor of defendant, and the Appellate Division affirmed, but on different grounds.  Judge Hoffman concluded that plaintiff lacked standing to bring a False Claims Act case, because he was not the “original source” of the information supporting his Complaint, but rather relied solely on publicly available information.  Looking to the parallel federal False Claims Act, Judge Hoffman concluded that complaints based on publicly available information were “parasitic” cases that the Legislature did not contemplate in enacting New Jersey’s False Claims Act.

GBForefront, L.P. v. Forefront Management Group, LLC, 888 F.3d 29 (3d Cir. 2018).  Judge Jordan wrote this opinion, which addresses the issue of how to determine the citizenship of a traditional trust for purposes of diversity of citizenship considerations.  The panel ruled that the citizenship of such a trust is determined based solely on the citizenship of its trustee, which is a different rule than that applicable to a business trust.  This decision recognized that Americold Realty Trust v. Conagra Foods, Inc., 136 S.Ct. 1012 (2016), had overruled in part Emerald Investors Trust v. Gaunt Parsippany Partners, 492 F.3d 192 (3d Cir. 2007), which had found it unnecessary to distinguish between the two types of trusts.