Late Last Week ….

Toward the end of last week, the Supreme Court issued one opinion and the Appellate Division published rulings in two appeals. Here are summaries:

Boyle v. Huff, ___ N.J. ___ (2024). This was Justice Noriega’s first majority opinion as a Justice. It was not, however, his first opinion since he joined the Court. That is because, as discussed here, he filed a dissenting opinion previously. The Boyle opinion, a unanimous one, addressed the question of whether an indemnification clause in a condominium association’s bylaws applied to an indemnitee’s first-party claim for attorneys’ fees and costs against the association. Finding the indemnification provision ambiguous and therefore construing it against the indemnitee, the Court held that the provision did not extend to first-party claims such as that involved here. That reversed the ruling of the Appellate Division below. The Court reached that result only after a careful analysis of all three sentences of the key provision, which gave rise to some confusion. Justice Noriega emphasized that parties were not prevented from indemnifying regarding first-party claims, but parties must include clear language to do that.

State v. M.F.L., ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). This was an appeal from an order of the Law Division that denied defendant’s motion to to modify his conviction and a Sex Offender Restraining Order (“SORO”) issued pursuant to Nicole’s Law, N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2 and 2C:44-8. The SORO barred defendant from any contact with his ex-wife and their two minor children. In making its ruling, the Law Division applied criteria stated in Carfagno v. Carfagno, 288 N.J. Super. 424 (Ch. Div. 1995), a case decided in the context of a final restraining order under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq. (“PDVA”) On appeal, defendant contended that it was not appropriate to import the Carfagno factors into a decision under Nicole’s Law, a different statute. In an opinion by Judge Firko, the Appellate Division disagreed, finding that “the motion judge appropriately considered the similarities between the domestic violence restraining orders and properly applied the Carfagno factors to the facts before her in considering defendant’s application” to modify the SORO. The panel also tersely rejected constitutional and evidentiary objections raised by defendant.

State v. Jones, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). This opinion by Judge Rose involved three consolidated cases. It turned on State v. Comer, 249 N.J. 359 (2022). That case, in the wake of a line of decisions by the Supreme Court of the United States about the treatment of juvenile criminal offenders, “held [that] juvenile offenders – prosecuted as adults and convicted of murder – are constitutionally entitled to reconsideration of their sentences after twenty years’ imprisonment,” as Judge Rose summarized it. That was because, in certain respects, “children are different,” Comer said. But defendants in these cases were between ages 18 and 20 when they committed their crimes. They sought to extend Comer to cover themselves. The Law Division in each case disagreed, and the Appellate Division affirmed. On appeal, both sides cited cases from other jurisdictions in support of their positions, but the Appellate Division found defendants’ cases unpersuasive. The Appellate Division affirmed for two reasons. First, the panel “conclude[] the Court’s decision was limited to juvenile offenders tried and convicted of murder in adult court. In [the panel’s] view, the Court neither explicitly nor implicitly extended this right of sentence review to offenders who between eighteen and twenty years of age when they committed their crimes.” Second, as an intermediate appellate court, the Appellate Division had no ability to go beyond what the Supreme Court had held.