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In November 2008, following the collapse of the housing market, the New Jersey Supreme Court implemented a statewide Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program to address the economic crisis that left many facing the loss of their homes. After defaulting on her home loan with plaintiff GMAC Mortgage, LLC, defendant TamiLynn Willoughby entered into the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The mediation process led to an agreement between GMAC and Willoughby that gave Willoughby a path to save her home through a permanent modification of the loan. The agreement, executed in 2010, set forth the required down payment and monthly payments, the unpaid principal balance, the amount in arrears, and the length and interest rate of the loan. Willoughby complied with that agreement, paying the down payment and each monthly installment for one year. Then, GMAC began sending Willoughby proposals differing from the 2010 agreement, which GMAC claimed was provisional. Willoughby moved to enforce the 2010 settlement agreement, but instead the chancery court ordered additional mediation sessions. Willoughby never accepted in writing any of GMAC s proposals to modify the original agreement. Protracted litigation ensued. Willoughby's efforts to enforce the 2010 settlement agreement proved fruitless, and GMAC s foreclosure action ended with a Sheriff's sale of Willoughby's home. Willoughby was denied relief by the chancery court, which held that the 2010 mediation agreement was provisional and not enforceable as a final settlement agreement. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, concluding Willoughby and GMAC entered into an enforceable settlement agreement through the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The case was remanded to the chancery court to consider an appropriate remedy. View "GMAC Mortgage, LLC v. TamiLynn Willoughby" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a judgment requiring the release, pursuant to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), of the constitution and bylaws of a volunteer fire company that was a member of a fire district established pursuant to N.J.S.A.40A:14-70. The New Jersey Supreme Court held the fire district, to which the OPRA request was made, was obliged to release such documents in its possession or to obtain them from a member volunteer fire company under its supervision and release them. "OPRA demands such transparency and accountability of public agencies, and the fire district is undoubtedly a public agency subject to OPRA." However, to the extent the holding under review also concluded that the member volunteer fire company was a public agency subject directly and independently to OPRA requirements, the Supreme Court disagreed and modified the judgment below accordingly. View "Verry v. Franklin Fire District No. 1" on Justia Law

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Defendant S.B. was a congregant of the Eternal Life Christian Center (ELCC), a registered non-profit and religious institution. Defendant was also subject to Megan’s Law because of two sexual assault convictions in 1991. To comply with the Megan’s Law reporting requirements, defendant notified the ELCC pastors and elders of his convictions. Defendant participated in the church’s No Limits Youth Ministry (NLYM), the stated goal of which is to prepare students to be effective at home, junior high, senior high, and college. Based on defendant’s participation in the NLYM, the grand jury indicted him for third-degree prohibited participation in a youth serving organization, in violation of N.J.S.A.2C:7-23. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the NLYM was not a youth serving organization under Megan’s Law. The trial court granted defendant s motion, reasoning that the statute was vague with respect to how religious institutions fit within the definition of youth serving organization. The issue presented for the New Jersey’s review centered on whether the NLYM was exempt from the definition of a youth serving organization under N.J.S.A.2C:7-22. The Court concluded a plain-language reading of N.J.S.A.2C:7-22 did not exempt a youth ministry associated with a church or other religious organization from the definition of youth serving organization. Therefore, the Court reinstated the indictment and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "New Jersey v. S.B." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the tragic death of eleven-year-old Abiah Jones after she fell from a ride in an amusement park. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s consideration was: (1) the circumstances under which a defendant is barred from asserting contribution and common-law indemnification claims against a public entity for purposes of the Tort Claims Act; (2) whether the jury should be permitted to allocate a percentage of fault to a public entity pursuant to the Comparative Negligence Act and the Joint Tortfeasors Contribution Law; and (3) the effect of any such allocation of fault on plaintiffs recovery of damages if the jury returns a verdict in their favor. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s determination. The plain language of N.J.S.A.59:8-8 required parties seeking to assert a claim against a public entity to serve a notice of claim within ninety days of the date on which the cause of action accrues. Because the Morey defendants did not serve a timely notice of claim on the Association, their third-party contribution and common-law indemnification claims against the Association are barred. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that the trial court should have afforded defendants an opportunity to present evidence of negligence, that negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death. If defendants present prima facie evidence, the trial court should instruct the jury to determine whether any fault should be allocated in accordance with N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2. Should the jury find negligence was a proximate cause of Abiah Jones’s death, the trial court should mold any judgment entered in plaintiffs’ favor pursuant to N.J.S.A.2A:15-5.2(d) to reduce the damages awarded to plaintiffs by the percentage of fault that the jury allocates. View "Jones v. Morey Pier, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the applicability of qualified immunity to a claim brought under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA), N.J.S.A.10:6-1 to -2, against a police detective named in his individual and official capacity. Plaintiff Denise Brown filed suit claiming her state constitutional rights were violated in 2008 when a State Police officer accompanied her into her apartment, without a warrant and without her consent, in order to secure the premises while awaiting the issuance of a search warrant. Victims claimed two men with handguns forcibly entered a home, stole jewelry and other belongings, and fled in a blue BMW. Plaintiff loaned her blue BMW to her boyfriend, Carlos Thomas. Thomas was ultimately charged in connection with his alleged involvement in the home invasion. A State Police representative notified plaintiff of Thomas’s arrest and that the State Police had her vehicle. They searched plaintiff’s car and found contraband, a gun holster, and other items, including jewelry, linking the car to the home invasion. During the investigation, State Police received a tip that Thomas had given plaintiff a locket reported as stolen during the break-in. As a result, the police determined the investigation should include a search of plaintiff’s home. A detective explained to plaintiff that if she refused consent, he would then proceed to seek a search warrant, securing the premises in the interim by either preventing her from entering the home or allowing her access, accompanied by police, to prevent loss or destruction of evidence. Given the options, plaintiff declined to grant consent and refused to allow the officers to secure the apartment from outside. The parties agreed there was probable cause to believe that plaintiff had evidence in her home and, in fact, a search warrant was obtained later that day. The State moved to dismiss, using qualified immunity as grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined a law enforcement officer, without a warrant and without consent, may not lawfully insist on entering a residence based on an assertion that exigent circumstances require the dwelling to be secured. However, in light of the circumstances of this case, the police did not violate a clearly established right when entering the home to secure it. Qualified immunity applied. View "Brown v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this case was whether, after a public entity denies a citizen's record request pursuant to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law right of access, the entity can be precluded from instituting a proceeding under the Declaratory Judgment Act (DJA). A month after the Appellate Division declared the New Jersey Firemen Association to be a public entity, plaintiff Jeff Carter submitted a request for the Association to release certain financial relief information issued to an Association member, John Doe. The Association refused, contending that disclosure would compromise the reasonable expectation of privacy that applicants, such as Doe, have when seeking its assistance. Carter renewed his request, claiming he was entitled to certain payroll records with appropriate redactions. The Association responded by filing a declaratory judgment action to obtain a judicial determination of its responsibilities under OPRA when it is asked to disclose the personal financial information of its members. Carter answered, counterclaimed, and filed a third-party complaint against Doe. At that point, Carter narrowed his records request to the relief checks paid to Doe. The trial court found that, under OPRA and the common law, Doe's privacy interest outweighed the public's interest in disclosure. The Appellate Division reversed and held that the Association s DJA complaint was improper because OPRA exclusively vests the requestor, not the custodian, with the right to institute a proceeding. The Appellate Division also determined that Doe's privacy interest was not substantial enough to outweigh the public's interest in government transparency. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division, concluding OPRA does not, in all instances, prohibit a public entity from instituting proceedings under the DJA to determine whether records are subject to disclosure. In addition, after carefully balancing the public's interest in accessing information against the private interest in confidentiality, the Court found find the relief checks to Doe were exempt from disclosure under OPRA and the common law right of access. View "In the Matter of the New Jersey Firemen Association Obligation to Provide Relief Applications Under the Open Public Records Act" on Justia Law

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In 2017, officers arrested defendant Amed Ingram after an officer observed him in possession of a defaced .45 caliber handgun loaded with eight rounds. The State charged defendant with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun, second-degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, second-degree possession of a firearm by certain persons with a prior conviction, and fourth-degree receipt of a defaced firearm. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint generally tracked the language of the statutes under which defendant was charged and, in the space to explain how law enforcement became aware of the stated facts, the officer wrote, officer observations. The officer also prepared a preliminary law enforcement incident report (PLEIR), which, at the time, was incorporated into the affidavit, rating defendant 6 out of 6 the highest level for risk of both failure to appear and new criminal activity. The PSA also noted defendant s criminal history. The State moved for detention and submitted the following documents: the complaint-warrant, the affidavit of probable cause, the PSA, the PLEIR, and defendant s criminal history. Defense counsel objected and argued that the CJRA and court rules required the State to present a live witness to establish probable cause. The trial court rejected defendant's claims. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and the Appellate Division that neither the statute's plain language nor principles of due process required the State to present testimony from a live witness at every detention hearing. Instead, the State may proceed by proffer to try to satisfy its burden of proof and show that detention is warranted. Trial judges, however, retain discretion to require direct testimony when they are dissatisfied with the State s proffer. View "New Jersey v. Ingram" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved the collective negotiations agreements CNAs between: (1) Atlantic County and the Fraternal Order of Police, Atlantic Lodge #34 (FOP Lodge 34); (2) Atlantic County and the Atlantic County Prosecutor s Office, P.B.A. Local #77 (PBA Local 77); and (3) Bridgewater Township and the Policemen s Benevolent Association, Local #174 (PBA Local 174). Atlantic County informed FOP Lodge 34 and PBA Local 77 that when their respective CNAs expired the County would no longer implement the incremental salary scheme provided for in those contracts. Both unions filed charges with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC or the Commission), claiming that Atlantic County had engaged in an unfair labor practice, contrary to the Employer-Employee Relations Act (EERA). The hearing examiner agreed with the unions and found that Atlantic County's departure from the dynamic status quo, in this case, the refusal to pay automatic increments, constituted a unilateral change in a mandatory subject of negotiations in violation of the [EERA]. Atlantic County petitioned PERC for review, and the Commission came to the opposite conclusion. All three unions appealed. The Appellate Division consolidated the cases and reversed the Commission. The New Jersey Supreme Court did not determine whether, as a general rule, an employer must maintain the status quo while negotiating a successor agreement. In these cases, the governing contract language required that the terms and conditions of the respective agreements, including the salary step increases, remain in place until a new CNA is reached. Therefore, the judgment of the Appellate Division was affirmed on other grounds. View "In the Matter of Atlantic County" on Justia Law

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Defendant Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc., New Jersey’s largest health insurer, maintained a two-tiered provider-hospital system. Plaintiff Saint Peter’s University Hospital, Inc., and plaintiff Capital Health System, Inc. and others, commenced separate lawsuits claiming Horizon treated them unfairly and in a manner that contravened their agreements when they were placed in the less advantageous Tier 2. Plaintiffs assert Horizon’s tiering procedures were pre-fitted or wrongfully adjusted to guarantee selection of certain larger hospitals for the preferential Tier 1. The New Jersey Supreme Court was asked, by way of interlocutory appeal, to settle multiple discovery disputes that arose in the course of the litigation. The Supreme Court concluded the Appellate Division exceeded the limits imposed by the standard of appellate review both by assessing the disputed information’s relevance against the panel’s own disapproving view of the merits and by giving no apparent weight or consideration to the protections afforded by confidentiality orders. Having closely examined the record, the Supreme Court rejected the Appellate Division’s determination that the chancery judges encharged with these matters abused their discretion. It was not an abuse of discretion for the chancery judges to find the information sought was relevant to plaintiffs’ claims that Horizon violated either the network hospital agreements’ contractual terms, or the overarching implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, when they were relegated to the less desirable Tier 2. View "Capital Health System, Inc. v. Horizon Healthcare Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the scope of a municipality's obligation to disclose electronically stored information in accordance with the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Plaintiff John Paff filed a request with Galloway Township's records custodian for specific information in emails sent by the Township's Municipal Clerk and Chief of Police over a two-week period. From those emails, Paff sought only information contained within the following fields: sender, recipient, date, and subject. Paff did not request the contents of the emails. The Township contended that only the emails (not specific information embedded within them) were government records subject to disclosure under OPRA. On that basis, the Township denied the records request. The trial court ordered the production of the fields of information sought by Paff because OPRA defined a government record as information stored or maintained electronically by a municipality. A panel of the Appellate Division reversed, concluding that OPRA required only the production of the emails, not information electronically stored within them. The Supreme Court held the Appellate Division's overly constrictive reading of OPRA "cannot be squared with OPRA s objectives or statutory language." The Appellate Division erred in finding that the government record is the email itself and not the easily accessible fields of information that were maintained electronically. View "Paff v. Galloway Township" on Justia Law