Interlocutory Appeals From PIP Arbitration Decisions are Not Allowed

Allstate New Jersey Ins. Co. v. Neurology Pain Associates, 418 N.J. Super. 246 (App. Div. 2011).  The Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act (“AICRA”) changed the way personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefit arbitrations are handled under the No Fault Act, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-1 to -35.  The New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance (“DOBI”) promulgated regulations governing those proceedings, including a regulation that expressly authorized judical review of final arbitration awards.  The question in this case was whether interlocutory appeals are permitted.  Speaking for the Appellate Division, Judge Skillman concluded that such appeals are not allowed.

The issue arose after Allstate won the initial arbitration.  Neurology Pain Associates (“Neurology”), which had obtained an assignment of the insured’s rights, filed an appeal to a panel of dispute resolution professionals.  As part of the briefing on the appeal, Neurology filed a reply brief to which Allstate objected.  When the arbitration case coordinator decided that Neurology’s reply brief would be considered but Allstate’s objection would not be, Allstate filed suit in the Chancery Division to challenge that ruling.  The Chancery Division agreed with Allstate, but the Appellate Division reversed.

Judge Skillman’s opinion observed that the regulation that authorized judicial review of a final PIP arbitration award, N.J.A.C. 11:3-5.6(f), did not expressly allow appeals of interlocutory rulings.  Neither did any other regulation.  Had DOBI wished to allow interlocutory appeals in this context, a regulation could have said so explicitly.  That fact, along with the general policy against piecemeal appeals, led the Appellate Division to hold that Allstate had no right to an interlocutory appeal.

This decision also contains a lengthy discussion of intervention as of right under Rule 4:33-1.  The actual appellant in the case was the National Arbitration Forum (“NAF”), an entity designated by the Commissioner of DOBI, pursuant to AICRA, to administer PIP arbitrations.  It was NAF’s case coordinator who had made the decision regarding the reply brief issue.  Allstate’s Chancery case, however, did not name NAF as a party, but only Neurology.  Accordingly, NAF moved to intervene. 

The Chancery Division denied intervention, but the Appellate Division reversed.  Rule 4:33-1 is to be liberally construed, and since NAF was “acting as the designated agent of [DOBI] in administering” PIP arbitrations, intervention by NAF was necessary to protect “the orderly and efficient administration of PIP arbitration proceedings generally.”  Thus, NAF “made an adequate demonstration of ‘an interest relating to the … transaction which is the subject of the action,’” as Rule 4:33-1 requires.  Since all other prongs of Rule 4:33-1 were also satisfied, as Judge Skillman explained, NAF was a proper intervenor.