To Start the Week, A Catch-Up Post

While the Supreme Court has been quiet since it handed down this decision, the Appellate Division has issued six published opinions during the recent period. Here are summaries of those opinions.

In the Matter of Appointment of the Council on Affordable Housing by Governor Philip Murphy, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). Despite what one might think based on the title of this case , it was not about Governor Murphy’s appointments to the Council on Affordable Housing (“COAH”). Rather, this appeal involved the complaint of seventeen municipalities that Governor Murphy had failed to fill vacant COAH seats by making appointments. The municipalities sought a writ of mandamus to compel the Governor to fill the seats. In an opinion by Judge Rose that relied on a series of cases dating back to 1856, the Appellate Division held that “the Governor cannot be compelled by mandamus to fill COAH’s vacancies.” The panel accordingly dismissed the appeal.

Pritchett v. State , ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). In Pritchett v. State, 248 N.J. 85 (2021), a case under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., the Supreme Court remanded the matter for further consideration of a jury’s $10 million punitive damages award to plaintiff. The Court set standards for that evaluation. This was an appeal from that remand, in which the Law Division had upheld the punitive damages award. With Judge Currier writing for the Appellate Division, that court affirmed the award, holding that the Law Division had properly applied the Supreme Court’s criteria. The State argued that appellate review of the Law Division’s analysis should have been de novo, but the Appellate Division adhered to prior law saying that a more deferential standard applies in that context. In contrast, de novo reviewed governed the panel’s review of the amount of the jury’s award, and the Appellate Division found no basis to disturb the amount.

In the Matter of Registrant J.R., ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). Judge Puglisi wrote this opinion for the Appellate Division. As she summarized the case, “as an issue of first impression, we are asked to consider whether a New Jersey court may consider a motion to terminate the registration requirements of an individual subject to Megan’s Law in New Jersey but residing in another state.” The panel concluded “that although a New Jersey court may have jurisdiction to decide the motion, it must decide on a case-by-case basis whether the registrant has standing to bring the motion. Because the Megan’s Law judge correctly determined J.R. lacked standing to have his motion decided in New Jersey, we affirm.”

In re Appeal of the New Jersey Dep’t of Environmental Protection’s Denial of Request for Adjudicatory Hearing Under N.J.A.C. 7:26C-9.10, Dated May 12, 2022, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). The caption of this case went on even further than what appears here, but you get the idea, which was that this was an appeal from an action of the DEP. Judge Whipple’s simplified summary described the case as follows: “In this appeal we consider whether a Remediation in Progress waiver (RIP waiver) issued by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) conveys a property interest to the recipient that is constitutionally protected by the right to due process. We conclude it does not and affirm.”

State v. Haskins, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). This case, like State v. Smith, 251 N.J. 244 (2022), involved tinted windows in an automobile. The police stopped defendant’s vehicle because they believed that its tinted windows violated the Motor Vehicle Code. When police searched the vehicle, they found marijuana, drug paraphernalia, a handgun, and suspected heroin. After his motion to suppress that evidence failed, defendant pled guilty to several crimes. He appealed, asserting that the State had failed to prove, under the principles of Smith, that the tinted windows violated the Motor Vehicle Code. The issue in the case was whether and to what extent the standards of Smith applied retroactively. Writing for the Appellate Division, Judge Natali concluded that Smith “constituted a new rule of law for retroactivity purposes, and is further entitled to pipeline retroactivity.” As a result, the Appellate Division vacated the result below and remanded for further proceedings.

Sadeeshkumar v. Venugopal, ___ N.J. Super. ___ (App. Div. 2024). Judge Mawla wrote the Appellate Division’s opinion in this case, a Family Part appeal in which the issue was whether the Family Part correctly denied defendant’s application to amend his answer to the divorce complaint in the matter. The panel reversed the Family Part, rejecting that court’s view that the proposed amendment was to be denied because it would “exacerbate the contentious rapport between the parties during this litigation,” and that the age of the case called for denial of the right to amend. The parties did not have a trial date, discovery was still outstanding, and this was not a run-of-the-mill divorce,” as there were a number of complex, interrelated issues. Perhaps the most important part of the decision was its discussion of Rule 5:4-2(e), a provision on which plaintiff relied but the Family Part did not. That Rule, “unique to dissolution cases,” allows a party to amend a counterclaim to allege events that occurred after the case began, as Judge Mawla explained following a detailed recitation of the Rule’s history. Defendant here did not assert a counterclaim, but merely sought to amend his answer. Plaintiff thus could not validly rely on Rule 5:4-2(e), and the Bar got an education about that Rule.