The Supreme Court Loads Up on New Appeals

The Supreme Court usually adds new appeals in relatively small groups. But its latest tranche of grants of review consists of eight new cases, implicating numerous different area of the law.

Arafa v. Health Express Corporation is one of two arbitration cases that the Court will take up. The question presented, as phrased by the Supreme Court Clerk’s office, is “If the plaintiffs are exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, are the parties’ arbitration agreements unenforceable, or can the New Jersey Arbitration Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-1 to -32, apply in place of the FAA?” Reversing the Law Division, a three-judge Appellate Division panel, in an unpublished opinion, held that the inapplicability of the FAA made the parties’ arbitration agreement unenforceable.

Colon v. Strategic Delivery Solutions, LLC presents the same question as Arafa, “[a]mong other issues” (which include whether plaintiffs waived their rights to a jury trial and to proceed in the form of a class action). In Colon, however, the opinion of a different three-judge panel, reported at 459 N.J. Super. 359 (App. Div. 2019), answered that question differently than did Arafa, holding that if the FAA did not apply (a question that the panel remanded for further consideration), the New Jersey Arbitration Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:23B-1 to -32, would apply and would require arbitration of plaintiffs’ claims.

In Gourmet Dining, LLC v. Union Township, the question presented is “Under the circumstances presented, is a for-profit restaurant located on the campus of a non-profit university exempt from paying local property taxes?” In a published opinion by a three-judge panel, the Appellate Division reversed the Tax Court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant municipality and held that the property was exempt from tax. 459 N.J. Super. 323 (App. Div. 2019).

Narleski v. Gomes presents an issue of common law tort: “Does an adult who is under the legal drinking age owe injured parties a duty under the common law to desist from facilitating drinking by underage adults in his or her place of residence?” In an opinion reported at 459 N.J. Super. 377 (App. Div. 2019), a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division answered “no,” affirming the Law Division’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants on a third-party complaint by a liquor store. But the panel announced a new rule, applicable prospectively only, that “an adult who is under the legal drinking age shall owe injured parties a duty under the common law to desist from facilitating drinking by underage adults in his or her place of residence.”

State v. Jackson is the only criminal case in this group. The question presented there is “Were defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights violated when the court restricted his cross-examination of a co-conspirator about the sentencing exposure the co-conspirator avoided by pleading guilty and testifying against defendant?” The Law Division found no constitutional violation, and a two-judge Appellate Division panel, in an unpublished opinion, agreed.

Given the number of Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”) cases that go on appeal, it is perhaps unsurprising that an OPRA case is among those that the Court has added to its docket. The question presented in Libertarians for Transparent Government v. New Jersey State Police is “Does section ten of the Open Public Records Act, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10, require disclosure of the name of a state trooper listed in the Office of Professional Standard’s annual report to the Legislature as having been terminated for misconduct?” The Law Division granted a motion to dismiss the complaint. A two-judge Appellate Division panel affirmed in an unpublished opinion.

The question presented in Oasis Therapeutic Life Centers, Inc. v. Wade is “Did plaintiff’s complaint, which alleged that defendants interfered with plaintiff’s efforts to purchase a property for use as a group home for individuals with autism, plead an actionable claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49?” A published opinion of a three-judge Appellate Division panel, reported at 457 N.J. Super. 218 (App. Div. 2018), held that plaintiff had stated a claim. That ruling reversed a dismissal of the case that the Law Division had entered.

Finally, Township of Manalapan v. Gentile presents this question: “In this condemnation action concerning property zoned for three-acre lots, was the Township entitled to a hearing to determine whether a zoning change was reasonably probable before defendants’ expert testified that the highest and best use of the property was half-acre lots?” At the trial level, a jury returned a verdict that fixed the fair market value of the property at issue at $4.5 million. The Township appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed in an unpublished opinion by a two-judge panel. Now the Supreme Court will have its innings.