This Week in the Supreme Court

It’s the time of year when the Supreme Court gets into a higher gear when it comes to issuing opinions. The Court released three decisions this week, all of them unanimous. Here are summaries:

In re Protest of Contract for Retail Pharmacy Design, ___ N.J. ___ (2024). As discussed here, this case involved the question of the proper venue for an appeal of an action by University Hospital, a state entity. A disappointed bidder for the design, construction, and operation of a pharmacy at the hospital appealed the rejection of its bid to the Appellate Division, invoking Rule 2:2-3(a)(2), which permits appeals to the Appellate Division (as opposed to a trial level court) from actions of a “state administrative agency.” The Appellate Division held that the hospital was not a “state administrative agency” and dismissed the appeal. The Supreme Court granted review and affirmed. Justice Patterson wrote an opinion that discussed exhaustively what is or is not a “state administrative agency,” applying principles of statutory interpretation, and laid out criteria for courts and parties to apply going forward. Like the Appellate Division, the Supreme Court did not preclude the disappointed bidder from presenting its appeal to the Law Division.

Seago v. Board of Trustees, Teachers’ Pension & Annuity Fund, ___ N.J. ___ (2024). Experts in brief-writing often suggest that an appeal can be won (or lost) based on the preliminary statement and/or the statement of facts. This opinion by Justice Fasciale is an example of that. The issue was whether the Fund rightly denied plaintiff’s attempt to transfer funds from her Public Employees’ Retirement System to her account with defendant after she changed jobs. The Fund maintained that she did not act timely to do that, and her application was submitted late. But the reason for that was that her employer, who was responsible for making her submission, did not do that timely. The Supreme Court held that, in those circumstances, the Fund had acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and unreasonably in denying the transfer, reversing both courts below. It was a rare case of the use of equitable estoppel against a public body.

New Jersey Division of Child Protection & Permanency v. B.P., ___ N.J. ___ (2024). This was an appeal from a decision of the Family Part finding defendant guilty of abusing and neglecting her newborn baby. Both defendant and her baby tested positive for marijuana after the birth. Defendant told a DCP&P caseworker that she would avail herself of services that the agency offered in such circumstances. Defendant was discharged from the hospital, but her baby remained there, and defendant did not return to care for her. Defendant gave the hospital incorrect contact information and the hospital could not contact her. As a result, the baby stayed in the hospital for two extra days, cared for fully by hospital employees. The Appellate Division affirmed the finding of abuse and neglect, but the Supreme Court reversed in an opinion by Justice Pierre-Louis. The statute required that the DCP&P prove that “a child’s “physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired” due to the parent’s failure to “exercise a minimum degree of care . . . in supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care.” That was not proven here, since the baby was not in “imminent danger” because, at the hospital, the baby could and did get food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Thus, by leaving her baby at the hospital, defendant did not act recklessly or with gross negligence.