Failure to Provide Trial Court’s Supplemental Opinion to Appellate Division Dooms Appeal

Raspavolo v. New Jersey State Police, 2011 WL 2848475 (App. Div. Sept. 20, 2011).  Plaintiff appealed the January 22, 2010 denial of his motion to vacate a previously entered dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim.  In an opinion filed on July 20, 2011, the Appellate Division (Judges Grall and LeWinn) reversed the ruling below.  The panel noted that the record was “devoid of any decision or statement of reasons by the motion judge in support of the January 22, 2010 order.”

Seven days after that Appellate Division decision, however, the trial judge advised the panel that, pursuant to Rule 2:5-1(b), he had orally supplemented the record with supplementary findings of fact and conclusions of law that supported his ruling.  The panel was never provided with that statement of reasons.

Observing that a party is obligated to provide the appellate court with “such … parts of the record … as are essential to the proper consideration of the issues,” (quoting Rule 2:6-1(a)(1)(H)), the panel issued a superseding opinion.  Since plaintiff had failed to provide the supplemental statement of reasons, review of the merits was impossible, and the panel was therefore obligated to affirm the ruling below against plaintiff.

The moral of this story is obvious:  always check to see if the lower court has exercised its right to supplement its opinion, per Rule 2:5-1(b), and if that has occurred, provide that supplementation to the Appellate Division or face dismissal of an appeal that might have succeeded had the appellant provided a full record.