This Week’s Published Opinions

Today is a court holiday for New Jersey state and federal courts. That affords an opportunity to catch up with this week’s published opinions from the Supreme Court,, the Appellate Division, and the Third Circuit. Here are summaries of those rulings (the Third Circuit also issued some published immigration decisions this week, which are not covered here):

Glassman v. Friedel, 249 N.J. 199 (2021). In this unanimous opinion by Justice Patterson, the Court “address[ed] the allocation of damages in cases in which a plaintiff asserts claims against successive tortfeasors and settles with the initial tortfeasors before trial.” Modifying and affirming the decision of the Appellate Division (a ruling discussed here), the Court overruled Ciluffo v. Middlesex General Hospital, 146 N.J. Super. 476 (App. Div. 1977). That case had led the trial court to grant the non-settling medical malpractice defendants here a credit based on the amount that plaintiff had previously received in a settlement with other defendants. The evolution of New Jersey’s statutory regime for allocation of fault since Ciluffo called for that result. The Court laid out a detailed new regime to govern this area.

Cooper Hospital University Medical Center v. Selective Ins. Co., 249 N.J. 174 (2021). This case involved a question applicable to “a limited class of approximately 150 current New Jersey Medicare enrollees who were injured in automobile accidents before December 5, 1980, and whose medical care continues to be covered by Medicare as the primary payer.” Here, a victim of a 1977 accident, which paralyzed him, had insurance from defendant Selective before the accident. Sometime between 1979 and 2016, the victim became enrolled in Medicare. Selective continued to pay his medical expenses fro the 1977 accident until late 2015. After the victim had a 2016 stay at plaintiff’s hospital, plaintiff demanded payment from Selective, who resisted. Litigation ensued, and the trial court entered summary judgment for plaintiff. Selective appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, holding that Medicare was the “primary payer.” In a unanimous opinion by Justice Albin that analyzed the interplay of the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act, commonly known as the “No-Fault Act,” and Title XVIII of the federal Social Security Act, which deals with Medicare, the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s conclusion.

W.S. v. Hildreth, 470 N.J. Super. 57 (App. Div. 2021). This was a case under the Child Sexual Abuse Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1 (“CSAA”). The issue was whether plaintiff’s suit was timely, and whether he was required to file a notice of tort claim pursuant to the Tort Claims Act, 59:8-8(a) (“TCA”). Writing for the Appellate Division, and applying de novo review, Judge Messano determined that the Law Division had correctly denied a defense motion to dismiss. He cited amendments to the CSAA that “became effective on December 1, 2019, [so that] plaintiff’s complaint, which otherwise would have been time-barred, was resuscitated under the newly enacted statute of limitations in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2a.” Additionally, a newly enacted portion of the TCA, N.J.S.A. 59:8-3(b), “specifically eliminated the need to file a notice of claim in advance of filing suit” for sexual abuse. The panel’s reasoning differed from that of the Law Division, but the result was the same.

United States v. Taylor, ___ F.4th ___ (3d Cir. 2021). Defendant was convicted of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. he appealed on the sole ground that the District Court violated his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself when that court denied his request to proceed pro se. The Third Circuit agreed with defendant and, speaking through Judge Rendell, vacated the conviction and remanded for a new trial. The District Court had not conducted “a sufficiently penetrating inquiry to satisfy itself” that defendant could “knowingly and intelligently” waive his right to counsel. Thus, a new trial was required.