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Plaintiff Amanda Kernahan purchased a “home service agreement” from defendants Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, Inc., and Choice Home Warranty. When she became dissatisfied, she filed a complaint in Superior Court seeking statutory and common law relief. Plaintiff claimed that the agreement misrepresented its length of coverage and that the deceptively labelled “MEDIATION” section of the agreement failed to inform her that she was waiving her right to a jury trial and would be deterred from seeking the additional remedies of treble damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice in favor of arbitration, citing the "mediation" provision. The trial court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss, concluding that the arbitration provision was unenforceable. The court found the provision both ambiguous and noncompliant with Atalese v. U.S. Legal Services Group, L.P., 219 N.J. 430 (2014), “in either its form or its function.” The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for reconsideration, rejecting defendants’ argument that language stating that all claims will be resolved “exclusively” by arbitration would or should have adequately informed plaintiff that she is waiving her right to proceed in court, as opposed to use of other available dispute resolution processes. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s refusal to dismiss the complaint, and the New Jersey Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Kernahan v. Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, Inc." on Justia Law

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The under review by the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed several actions by the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with regard to property in the Borough of Oakland that is subject to the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act (Highlands Act), N.J.S.A. 13:20-1 to -35. N.J. The Supreme Court granted certiorari review only the determination that the property owner -- Bi-County Development Corporation (Bi-County) -- qualified for the exemption allowed under the Highlands Act for the construction of affordable housing projects, N.J.S.A. 13:20-28(a)(17) (Exemption 17). The issue required interpretation of Exemption 17’s language concerning expiration of its safe harbor. The Court agreed with the Appellate Division, and the DEP, that this project could proceed under Exemption 17 because its qualification had not expired. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division substantially for the reasons expressed in the published decision of the panel, adding only that affirmance was based solely on a plain language reading of the Highlands Act that did not incorporate the definition of “final approval” contained in the separate but related Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 to -163. View "N.J. Highlands Coalition v. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection ." on Justia Law

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In March 2017, police officers responded to a report of a shooting in a parking lot at Lafayette Gardens in Jersey City and found Terrel Smith’s body; he had been shot multiple times. The police identified “Michael Gregg” as a witness and interviewed him. Over time, he made two separate -- and inconsistent -- statements. Gregg identified defendant Shaquan Hyppolite from a photo array. Defendant was charged and arrested for murder and weapons offenses. The affidavit of probable cause in support of the complaint stated that “an eyewitness . . . positively identified Shaquan Hyppolite AKA Quan as the actor who” killed Terrel Smith. The State moved for pretrial detention the next day. Two days later, the State made available fifty-one pages of discovery materials and a DVD recording of Gregg’s interview. On the day of the detention hearing, the State also turned over a four-page written summary of that interview titled “Second Interview of [Gregg].” The State did not disclose Gregg’s first statement before the hearing. At the detention hearing, the court ordered that defendant be detained. Two months later, a grand jury indicted defendant. The State turned over additional discovery, including Gregg’s first statement to the police, recordings of interviews of "Bill" and "Frank," and an application for a communications data warrant for Gregg’s cell phone. This marked the first time defendant received Gregg’s initial statement to the police, in which he denied having seen the shooter. Bill’s statement revealed that he told the police he was in jail at the time of the homicide. Frank told the police that he was en route to Popeyes when he heard gunshots from Lafayette Gardens. The application for the communications data warrant noted that an eyewitness saw the victim engaged in a conversation with three men before the shooting, “which conflicts with [Gregg’s] version of events.” Based on the new discovery, defendant moved to reopen the detention hearing. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that when exculpatory evidence is disclosed after a detention hearing, judges should use a modified materiality standard to decide whether to reopen the hearing. "If there is a reasonable possibility that the result of the detention hearing would have been different had the evidence been disclosed, the hearing should be reopened." Applying that standard in this case, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to reopen the detention hearing. View "New Jersey v. Hyppolite" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (Division) brought a guardianship action against R.L.M. and J.J., seeking to terminate their parental rights to their daughter R.A.J. At a case management conference early in the proceeding, J.J. told the court that he did not want an attorney appointed for him. As the conference continued, J.J.’s previously assigned counsel continued to speak on his behalf. At the second case management conference, J.J. left the courtroom before the conference began. At the third conference, J.J. stated that he wanted to retain substitute counsel. The judge noted that J.J.’s assigned counsel would continue to represent him pending any substitution of attorney. J.J. did not retain private counsel. At the final case management conference and the pretrial conference, J.J.’s assigned counsel represented him; J.J. declined to appear. The Court granted J.J.’s petition for certification, in which he claimed only that he was entitled to a new trial by virtue of the trial court’s denial of his request to represent himself. "Although a parent’s decision to appear pro se in this complex and consequential litigation represents poor strategy in all but the rarest case," the New Jersey Supreme Court found N.J.S.A. 30:4C-15.4 plainly authorized that parent to proceed unrepresented. "The parent’s right of self-representation, however, is by no means absolute. That right must be exercised in a manner that permits a full and fair adjudication of the dispute and a prompt and equitable permanency determination for the child." In this case, the the Supreme Court found the trial court properly denied J.J.’s "untimely and ambivalent claim." View "New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency v. R.L.M." on Justia Law

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Law enforcement officers arrested defendant Laurie Wint on a New Jersey murder charge and brought him to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office for questioning. Wint invoked his right to counsel after receiving Miranda warnings, and the interrogation ceased. Immediately afterwards, two detectives from Pennsylvania investigating an unrelated murder in Bucks County entered the interrogation room to question Wint. After receiving his rights for the second time, Wint again requested the presence of counsel, ending the interrogation. Wint remained in continuous pre-indictment custody in Camden County when, six months later, he was transported to Bucks County. There, Pennsylvania detectives again administered Miranda warnings but did not provide counsel as Wint had earlier requested. This time, Wint waived his rights and allegedly incriminated himself in the New Jersey murder. The trial court denied Wint’s motion to suppress his incriminating remarks believing that Wint reinitiated communication with the Pennsylvania detectives. With the admission of Wint’s incriminating statements at trial, a jury convicted Wint of passion/provocation manslaughter and other related offenses. The issues this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration centered on whether Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477 (1981), by attempting to question defendant in Camden and later questioning him in Pennsylvania after he earlier requested counsel. The Court also considered the exceptions to the rule requiring the suppression of any statement secured during a subsequent custodial interrogation after a defendant requests counsel: whether (1) counsel was provided during the questioning, (2) defendant initiated the communication, or (3) a break in custody occurred. The Court concluded the Pennsylvania detectives violated Edwards by attempting to question Wint in Camden after his earlier request for counsel, and Wint did not initiate the interrogation that occurred in Bucks County. The giving of repeated Miranda warnings did not cure the Edwards violation. Pre-indictment, pretrial detainment did not qualify as a break in custody under Maryland v. Shatzer, 559 U.S. 98 (2010), and none of the exceptions set forth in Edwards applied here. Edwards required suppression of Wint’s incriminating statement concerning the shooting in Camden; the admission of that statement was not harmless error. View "New Jersey v. Wint" on Justia Law

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Defendant Carlos Green Green struck and killed Billy Dudley, who was lying in the road on a late night in December 2014. A toxicology lab determined Green’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to be 0.210% at the time of the accident. Green had two prior DWI convictions in 1998 and 2009, for which his sentences each required completion of an educational course at the Intoxicated Driving Resource Center (IDRC). Dudley died as a result of his injuries and Green was charged with first-degree vehicular homicide while intoxicated and within 1,000 feet of a school. Before trial, the State moved in limine to introduce Green’s two prior DWI convictions, which the State argued were relevant to the issue of recklessness. According to the State, the prior convictions demonstrated that Green “had knowledge of the substantial and unjustifiable risks associated with driving while intoxicated.” The trial court denied the State’s motion to introduce those prior convictions; the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding those prior convictions. View "New Jersey v. Green" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on the State’s use of the Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C (Alcotest) to obtain breath samples from drivers suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. In 2008, the Supreme Court found Alcotest results admissible in drunk-driving cases to establish a defendant’s guilt or innocence for drunk driving. The Court also required that the devices be recalibrated semi-annually to help ensure accurate measurements. Defendant Eileen Cassidy pleaded guilty in municipal court to driving under the influence based solely on Alcotest results showing her blood alcohol level had exceeded the legal limit. Upon learning that the results of her test were among those called into question from the New Jersey State Police’s Alcohol Drug Testing Unit; the coordinator responsible for administering the calibrations was criminally charged, and the samples taken from some 20,000 people were procured by machines calibrated by that coordinator. Cassidy moved to withdraw her guilty plea. A special master issued a 198-page report concluding the reliability of the Alcotest had been undermined by the coordinator’s faulty calibrations. As such, the State could not carry its burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence the Alcotest was scientifically reliable. The Supreme Court exercised its original jurisdiction to vacate Cassidy’s conviction. View "New Jersey v. Cassidy" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from 532 product-liability claims filed against Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and Roche Laboratories Inc. (collectively Roche), corporations with their principal places of business in New Jersey. Roche developed, manufactured, marketed, and labeled Accutane, a prescription medication for the treatment of severe and persistent cases of acne. Plaintiffs alleged Accutane caused them to contract inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and that Roche failed to give adequate label warnings to advise them of the known risks of the medication. At issue for the New Jersey Supreme Court was : (1) what law governed whether Roche’s label warnings were adequate (the law of each of the 45 jurisdictions in which plaintiffs were prescribed and took Accutane or the law of New Jersey where the 532 cases are consolidated); and (2) the adequacy of the label warnings for the period after April 2002. The Court found that because Roche’s warnings received the approval of the FDA, they enjoyed a “rebuttable presumption” of adequacy under New Jersey’s Products Liability Act (PLA). The Court reversed all cases in which the Appellate Division reinstated plaintiffs’ actions against Roche. "New Jersey has the most significant interests, given the consolidation of the 532 cases for MCL purposes. New Jersey’s interest in consistent, fair, and reliable outcomes cannot be achieved by applying a diverse quilt of laws to so many cases that share common issues of fact. Plaintiffs have not overcome the PLA’s presumption of adequacy for medication warnings approved by the FDA. As a matter of law, the warnings provided physicians with adequate information to warn their patients of the risks of IBD." As a result, the 532 failure-to-warn cases brought by plaintiffs against Roche were dismissed. View "Accutane Litigation" on Justia Law

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William Hendrickson, Jr. worked as a fire safety inspector with the Department of Community Affairs. While on duty, he uttered an obscene and belittling remark about a female supervisor overheard by two of his colleagues. The DCA brought three disciplinary charges against Hendrickson. In September 2014, after a departmental hearing on the disciplinary charges, the DCA issued an order terminating Hendrickson’s employment. The ALJ held that Hendrickson uttered a gender slur in a workplace environment and therefore violated the State’s policy prohibiting gender discrimination and engaged in conduct unbecoming a public employee. Although the ALJ was troubled by Hendrickson’s failure to acknowledge his wrongdoing, she reasoned that removal was “too harsh” a punishment given Hendrickson’s lack of a disciplinary record in the fifteen months before and nine months after the incident. She instead ordered Hendrickson suspended for six months. The ALJ forwarded the decision to the Civil Service Commission, and both parties filed exceptions. Hendrickson argued that the discipline was too severe, and the DCA argued that termination was the appropriate punishment. Failing to reach a quorum, the ALJ's decision was deemed adopted by the Civil Service Commission. The Appellate Division reversed the ALJ’s decision and reinstated the DCA’s termination of Hendrickson’s employment, acknowledging the ALJ’s decision “was 'deemed-adopted’ as the Commission’s final decision. Nevertheless, the panel held that because the vacancies on the Commission disabled it from forming a quorum and acting, “the deemed-adopted statute does not require traditional deferential appellate review of the ALJ’s decision.” The New Jersey Supreme Court determined the Appellate Division erred in suggesting appellate review of a disciplinary sanction imposed by a judge was de novo and different from traditional appellate review of an agency determination. Consequently, and based on a deferential standard of review, the Supreme Court could not conclude the ALJ's decision was shocking to a sense of fairness, and affirmed the ALJ's decision. View "In the Matter of William R. Hendrickson, Jr., Department of Community Affairs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Maureen McDaid brought a negligence action against defendants Aztec West Condominium Association; Preferred Management, Inc., the Association’s management company; and Bergen Hydraulic Elevator, the elevator-maintenance provider. The complaint alleged that McDaid suffered serious injuries when she was exiting the elevator and the elevator doors unexpectedly and “repeatedly” closed on her. At the end of the discovery period, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and dismissed McDaid’s complaint. The court rejected the application of the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, finding that the malfunctioning of elevator doors is not an occurrence that “ordinarily bespeaks negligence.” More specifically, the court stated that McDaid “did not refute the contention that the electric eye, being a mechanical device, is subject to failure from time to time totally unrelated to negligence.” The New Jersey Supreme Court found that because the malfunctioning of elevator doors that close on a passenger bespeaks negligence, giving rise to a res ipsa inference, the trial court improvidently granted summary judgment. View "McDaid v. Aztec West Condominium Association" on Justia Law