Dog Bite, OPRA, “Ministerial Act,” and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Appeals for the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court announced that it has granted certification in four new appeals. As is often the case, the nature of those matters is very varied.

In Goldhagen v. Pasmowitz, the question presented, as phrased by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office, is “Does the strict liability dog bite statute, N.J.S.A. 4:19-16, have an assumption of the risk exception for independent contractors?” The Law Division, later affirmed by a two-judge panel of the Appellate Division in an unpublished per curiam opinion, granted summary judgment to the defense.

Simmons v. Mercado is an appeal from a published opinion of a three-judge Appellate Division panel. That ruling, reported at 464 N.J. Super. 77 (App. Div. 2020), was summarized here. The question presented there is “Are complaints and summonses in the State’s Electronic Complaint Disposition Record (ECDR) system subject to production under the Open Public Records Act?” The Law Division ruled for plaintiffs, but the Appellate Division reversed and held for defendants.

Estate of Gonzalez v. City of Jersey City presents this question: “Were the actions of the police officers ministerial in nature such that they were not immune from liability under the Tort Claims Act?” The Law Division granted summary judgment to defendants, applying immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:3-3. The Appellate Division, in an unpublished opinion by a three-judge panel, reversed, finding that “multiple disputed issues of material fact regarding the manner in which the officers executed their duty,” precluded summary judgment.

The final appeal is a criminal case, State v. Harris. The question presented there is “In this post-conviction relief proceeding, did defendant show that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel entitling him to a new trial?” The Law Division held that defendant had made that showing, but an unpublished per curiam opinion of a two-judge Appellate Division panel disagreed and reversed the Law Division’s decision.