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Plaintiff Josh Willner was injured while climbing a rock wall owned by his employer, Ivy League Day Camp. Willner sued the camp and the manufacturers of the wall and parts contained in the wall, Vertical Reality, Inc. (Vertical Reality), and ASCO Numatics (Numatics), respectively, alleging strict products liability claims and negligence. Throughout trial, evidence was submitted regarding Numatics’ conduct both before and after the incident. Prior to summation, the court dismissed the design defect and failure to warn claims, allowing Willner to proceed only on his strict liability claim of manufacturing defect against Numatics. Vertical Reality’s counsel underscored Numatics’ alleged malfeasance. Numatics objected and moved for a mistrial. The trial court denied the motion, but instructed the jury to disregard counsel’s comments concerning Numatics’ conduct. Numatics thereafter requested an instruction to the jury regarding the applicability of Numatics’ conduct in the context of Willner’s manufacturing defect claim. The judge denied that proposal and instead provided an instruction that substantially mirrored Model Jury Charges (Civil), 5.40B, “Manufacturing Defect” (2009). The jury found: Vertical Reality’s rock wall was designed defectively; Vertical Reality provided inadequate warnings; and Numatics’ product was manufactured defectively, all proximate causes of Willner’s fall. The jury awarded Willner monetary damages, allocating seventy and thirty percent liability to Vertical Reality and Numatics, respectively. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's jury instruction under a different standard of review than was used by the Appellate Division: the judge’s actions were harmless error. The Court reversed the imposition of sanctions, holding it would have been unfair to impose sanctions "in a case where the only means for a party to avoid sanctions would be to pay an amount greater than the jury’s verdict against that party, without advance notice of that consequence." View "Willner v. Vertical Reality, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the sexual assault trial of fourteen-year-old “Alex,” the family court admitted into evidence the "tender-years" exception to the hearsay rule: the video-recorded statement that seven-year-old “John” gave to police, in which he alleged that Alex had sexually touched him on a school bus. John, who suffered from severe developmental disabilities, who during out-of-court and in-court questioning was unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and who was declared incompetent as a witness by the court, was permitted to testify pursuant to the incompetency proviso of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). The State recalled John to the stand. He had difficulty answering simple questions. For example, he stated “It’s right,” if the prosecutor referred to a spider as a flower, and in response to a leading question, indicated that the color black might be red. John stated that Alex, whom he identified in the courtroom, touched him on “my clothes, my pee-pee and my butt.” However, John stated that a little boy named Alex sat near him and that the little boys and big boys were separated on the bus. The family court adjudicated Alex delinquent. Alex appealed. The Appellate Division held that John was effectively unavailable for cross-examination, and therefore the admission of his statement to the detective violated Alex’s federal confrontation rights. The panel did not address any state-law evidentiary claims and remanded to the family court to assess whether the State’s remaining evidence was sufficient to prove the adjudication beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court granted the State’s petition for certification. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed Alex’s delinquency adjudication on state-law grounds, concluding John's video-recorded statement was not admissible because the statement did not possess a sufficient probability of trustworthiness to justify its introduction at trial under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(27). Striking the recorded statement from the record did not leave sufficient evidence in the record to support, on any rational basis, the adjudication of delinquency against Alex. View "New Jersey in the Interest of A.R." on Justia Law

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In 2009, a detective responded to a robbery call and met with S.T. (the victim) and defendant Gary Twiggs, who stated they had been robbed by a white male wearing a mask, later identified as Dillon Tracy. A police officer took the mask for DNA analysis. In July 2014, police collected DNA from Tracy. His DNA matched the sample found on the mask. Tracy later confessed, implicating Twiggs. Based on Tracy’s testimony, police arrested Twiggs for conspiracy and the robbery, and a grand jury returned an indictment. Twiggs moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the claim was barred by the general criminal statute of limitations. The State responded that the DNA exception within N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) tolled the statute of limitations. The trial court found the DNA-tolling provision inapplicable and dismissed the indictment. A divided panel of the Appellate Division affirmed. In 2002, ten-year-old Iyonna Jones found a note from her mother, Elisha Jones -- intended for Iyonna’s aunt, Likisha Jones -- explaining that Iyonna’s nine-year-old sister, Jon-Niece Jones, had stopped breathing and that Elisha went to “tak[e] care of it.” Likisha called her brother, James Jones, telling him that there was a family emergency. James and Iyonna’s uncle, Godfrey Gibson, traveled to Elisha’s home. James, Gibson, and Elisha drove to a wooded area in Upper Freehold, New Jersey. Elisha took the bin into the woods. Nearly four months later, Elisha died. Years later, in March 2005, a hunter found a child’s skeletal remains. In July 2012, Iyonna provided information relating to the disappearance of Jon-Niece. Law enforcement compared Iyonna’s DNA and the DNA of Jon-Niece’s father to the DNA generated from the skeletal remains. In January 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment, charging James, Likisha, and Gibson with third-degree conspiracy, as well as substantive tampering, obstruction, and hindering charges. James and Likisha moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing expiration of the applicable statute of limitations. The trial court denied the motion. The Appellate Division reversed the denial of defendants’ motion to dismiss the tampering, obstruction, and hindering charges; affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss the conspiracy charge; and remanded for resentencing on the conspiracy charge. The Court granted the State’s petition and defendants’ cross-petitions for certification. Both cases implicated the DNA-tolling exception. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the exception applied only when the State obtained DNA evidence that directly matched the defendant to physical evidence of a crime. Because the DNA identifications at issue in these cases did not directly link defendants to the relevant offenses, the Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s affirmance of the trial court’s dismissal of the indictments against defendant Gary Twiggs in its entirety and against defendants James and Likisha Jones in relevant part. View "New Jersey v. Twiggs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Dunbar Homes, Inc., (Dunbar) owns a 276-unit garden apartment complex in the General Business Zone (GB-Zone) of Franklin Township (Township). Dunbar sought approval to develop an additional fifty-five garden apartments, which at that time were a permitted conditional use in the GB-Zone. As such, construction of the additional apartments required submission of an application for site plan approval and a “conditional use special reasons” variance pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d)(3) ((d)(3) variance). On May 28, 2013, the Township introduced and scheduled a public hearing for an ordinance that eliminated garden apartments as a permitted conditional use in the GB-Zone. The Township adopted the new ordinance on July 16, 2013, and it became effective on August 5, 2013. Eighteen days before it adopted its new ordinance, the Township advised Dunbar of the potential GB-Zone change. The day before the Township adopted its new ordinance, Dunbar submitted an application to the Planning Board for site plan approval and a (d)(3) variance. Two days after the Township’s new zoning ordinance eliminated garden apartments as a conditional use in the GB-Zone, a Township zoning officer emailed Dunbar to indicate that its application was incomplete under the Township’s Zoning and Subdivision Ordinance (Ordinance). The zoning officer provided a list of items “needed for completeness” and instructed Dunbar it would need to apply for a “restricted use special reasons” variance under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d)(1) ((d)(1) variance) Since a (d)(3) variance need not meet the stringent standards required for a (d)(1) variance, approval of a (d)(1) variance was less likely. Dunbar appealed the Township’s decision to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (Board), arguing that the application was “complete” upon submission and was therefore protected by the TOA Rule. Dunbar filed a complaint, asserting that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious or unreasonable. The trial court agreed and reversed the Board, concluding that “there was enough submitted to functionally begin a review” of Dunbar’s application. Thus, the court found that Dunbar was protected by the TOA Rule and could therefore pursue a (d)(3) variance. The Township appealed the trial court’s decision and the Appellate Division reversed. The New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court: "the plain language of the MLUL defines an 'application for development' as 'the application form and all accompanying documents required by ordinance.' Because Dunbar’s application lacked many of the documents required by the Ordinance, the application was not complete upon submission and does not benefit from the TOA Rule." View "DunbarHomes, Inc. v. Zoning Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were: (1) the extent of Kean University’s (Kean) notice obligations as a public body under the Open Public Meetings Act (the OPMA or the Act), and whether the notice for the personnel exception established in Rice v. Union County Regional High School Board of Education, 155 N.J. Super. 64, 73 (App. Div. 1977) (the Rice notice) applied here; (2) timing parameters for the release of minutes of meetings; and (3) the appropriate remedy if the OPMA was violated in the latter respect in this matter. Kean’s Board of Trustees (the Board), as a public body, is required to annually establish and publish a schedule of its regular meetings. Plaintiff Valera Hascup received a letter from the University President informing her that he would not nominate her for reappointment at the Board’s meeting scheduled for December 6, 2014. On November 29, 2014, the Board published a tentative agenda for the December meeting on the Kean University website, indicating that the Board intended to discuss faculty reappointments during the public meeting. It did not send a Rice notice. On December 18, 2014, co-plaintiff James Castiglione, a Kean professor and President of the Kean Federation of Teachers (KFT), filed an Open Public Records Act request seeking the minutes from the closed sessions of the September 15 and December 6, 2014 meetings. The Appellate Division affirmed the determination that the Board did not make the meeting minutes promptly available, but reversed and vacated a permanent injunction. The New Jersey Supreme Court found there was no obligation to send Rice notices here, where the Board determined from the start to conduct its discussion about faculty reappointments in public session. With respect to the release of meeting minutes, the delay that occurred was unreasonable no matter the excuses advanced by the Board, but the Court modified the Appellate Division’s holding requiring the Board to set a regular meeting schedule. View "Kean Federation of Teachers v. Morell" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether a homeowner, who challenged the issuance of a zoning permit allowing construction on neighboring property, had a statutory right to be heard before the Borough’s Planning Board, and if so, whether the violation of that right gave rise to an action under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2. In 2009, the Borough of Spring Lake’s then zoning officer issued a zoning permit (First Permit) to Thomas Carter to construct a two-and-a-half-story residence. Plaintiff Mary Harz owned adjoining residential property and brought to the attention of the new Borough zoning officer her concern that Carter’s foundation exceeded the height permitted by the Borough’s zoning ordinance. The Supreme Court found that the Borough’s zoning officer did not adhere to the precise statutory procedures for processing Harz’s appeal, and the Court did not take issue with Harz’s claims that the Borough could have responded in a more efficient way to her objections. In the end, however, Harz could not establish that the Borough denied her the right to be heard before the Planning Board. She therefore could not demonstrate that she was deprived of a substantive right protected by the Civil Rights Act. View "Harz v. Borough of Spring Lake" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved questions about the insurance coverage available to defendant Honeywell International, Inc. (Honeywell) for thousands of bodily-injury claims premised on exposure to brake and clutch pads (friction products) containing asbestos. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification to address two issues: (1) whether the law of New Jersey or Michigan (the headquarters location of Honeywell’s predecessor when the disputed excess insurance policies were issued) should control in the allocation of insurance liability among insurers for nationwide products-liability claims; and (2) whether it was error not to require the policyholder, Honeywell, to contribute in the allocation of insurance liability based on the time after which the relevant coverage became unavailable in the marketplace (that is, since 1987). The Supreme Court determined New Jersey law on the allocation of liability among insurers applied in this matter, and the Court set forth the pertinent choice-of-law principles to resolve this dispute over insurance coverage for numerous products-liability claims. Concerning the second question, on these facts, the Court also affirmed the determination to follow the unavailability exception to the continuous-trigger method of allocation set forth in Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. United Ins. Co., 138 N.J. 437 (1994). View "Continental Insurance Company v. Honeywell International, Inc." on Justia Law

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The police spotted defendant Leo Pinkston in a car that matched the general description of a vehicle used in a shooting. The officers “activated their lights and sirens.” Defendant allegedly “disregarded” the lights and sirens and drove off. Ultimately, defendant struck another car, and both vehicles collided with a light pole and caught on fire. Defendant was charged with second-degree eluding and second-degree aggravated assault while eluding. Pretrial Services recommended against defendant’s release, and the State moved to detain defendant. Defense counsel asked for an adjournment to obtain additional discovery and subpoena police officers to testify at the hearing. The trial court denied defendant’s request. After considering the complaint, affidavit of probable cause, Public Safety Assessment, Preliminary Law Enforcement Incident Report, and the arguments of counsel, the court concluded that: (1) probable cause existed; and (2) clear and convincing evidence established that defendant should be detained. The Appellate Division affirmed the finding of probable cause and order of detention. Shortly before this appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court was argued, defendant pled guilty, and the State moved to dismiss as moot. The Supreme Court determined hat defendants have a qualified right to call adverse witnesses at detention hearings. However, Pinkston pled guilty; the Supreme Court did not review the trial court's decision to detain him pretrial. This appeal was dismissed as moot. View "New Jersey v. Pinkston" on Justia Law

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At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was two determinations of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) Board of Trustees (Board), each involving a police officer’s claim that he was “mentally . . . incapacitated” by a traumatic event within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7(1). In Mount v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Board and the Appellate Division panel rejected Officer Christopher Mount’s claim that he was permanently disabled because he witnessed at close range the incineration of three young victims in an explosion after a high-speed motor vehicle collision. The Supreme Court held Mount had proven that he experienced a terrifying or horror-inducing event that met the standard of Patterson v. Board of Trustees, SPRS, 194 N.J. 29 (2008), and that the event was undesigned and unexpected within the meaning of Richardson v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, 192 N.J. 189 (2007). The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division panel’s judgment and remanded to the panel to decide Mount’s claim that his mental disability was a direct result of that incident. In Martinez v. Board of Trustees, PFRS, the Supreme Court considered the Division’s decision reversing the Board’s denial of accidental disability benefits to Detective Gerardo Martinez, a municipal police department’s hostage negotiator. Martinez claimed that his permanent disability resulted from psychological injuries sustained when a lengthy hostage negotiation ended with the shooting death of the hostage-taker, as he and Martinez spoke by cellphone. The Supreme Court held Martinez did not demonstrate the incident that caused his disability was undesigned and unexpected under the Richardson test, and therefore he was not entitled to accidental disability benefits pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7. View "Mount v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen's Retirement System" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this matter centered on the admissibility of evidence procured from a home after police officers’ warrantless entry. A man was attacked at a bus stop in Willingboro and his cell phone was stolen. He and a police officer tracked the phone’s location to a nearby house using a phone tracking application. Several officers arrived at the house, and one spotted the stolen cell phone’s case through a window. When no one responded to their knocks on the door, the officers entered the house through an unlocked window. Once inside, they performed a protective sweep to determine whether the suspect was inside, and they found defendant, J.A., then seventeen years of age, under the covers of a bed. Shortly thereafter, defendant’s mother and brother arrived home. After the officers explained their investigation, defendant’s mother consented to a search of the house, and defendant’s brother voluntarily retrieved the stolen phone. Defendant was later charged with second-degree robbery for theft of the phone. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the officers’ entry into his home was unconstitutional because the officers entered without a warrant and there were no circumstances that would justify an exception to the warrant requirement. The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that although the officers’ search procedure may have been imprudent, it was ultimately defendant’s brother - without any coercion or duress from law enforcement - who retrieved the cell phone. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate panel’s determination that the officers’ warrantless entry was justified by the claimed exigency faced by the officers. However, the Court agreed defendant’s brother’s actions did not constitute state action and were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful police conduct. Because we find that the brother’s independent actions operated to preclude application of the exclusionary rule to the evidence, the Court did not reach the question of defendant’s mother’s consent to search. Accordingly, the Court modified and affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "New Jersey in the Interest of J.A." on Justia Law