The Printing Mart Decision

The end of August is usually a relatively sleepy period in terms of Supreme Court decisions.  On this date in 1989, however, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Printing Mart v. Sharp Electronics, 116 N.J. 739 (1989).  That opinion discusses at length the law of tortious interference and defamation, and is a good source for basic principles in those areas of law.  But Printing Mart has become best known as the leading case on the subject of the standard for motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim, under Rule 4:6-2(e), the state court analog to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

The Court capsulized its opinion regarding motions to dismiss at the very end of its ruling.  “The importance of today’s decision lies not so much in its explication of the principles of tortious interference and defamation as in its signal to trial courts to approach with great caution applications for dismissal under Rule 4:6-2(e) for failure of a complaint to state a claim on which relief may be granted.  We have sought to make clear that such motions, almost always brought at the very earliest stage of the litigation, should be granted only in the rarest of instances.  If a complaint must be dismissed after it has been accorded the kind of meticulous and indulgent examination counselled in this opinion, then, barring any other impediment such as a statute of limitations, the dismissal should be without prejudice to a plaintiff’s filing of an amended complaint.”

Despite the length and depth of the opinion, and its importance in this area of civil procedure, Printing Mart was issued as an unsigned, per curiam decision.  Nonetheless, 23 years after its issuance, Printing Mart remains highly relevant, both on the procedural issue and in its discussion of the substantive law areas that the Court found secondary in lasting importance.