Justia New Jersey Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) found by clear and convincing evidence that respondent Carlia Brady, formerly a Judge of the Superior Court, violated Canon 1, Rule 1.1; Canon 2, Rules 2.1 and 2.3(A); and Canon 5, Rule 5.1(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code). The ACJC unanimously recommended the sanction of removal from judicial office. On June 11, 2013, officers of the Woodbridge Township Police Department (WTPD) arrested respondent at her home in Woodbridge. She was charged in a complaint warrant with hindering the apprehension of another, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3, by “knowingly harboring Jason Prontnicki, a known fugitive,” in her residence. Respondent was indicted on three charges: second-degree official misconduct; third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution; and third-degree hindering apprehension. The trial court granted respondent’s motion to dismiss the official misconduct charge but denied her motion to dismiss the hindering apprehension or prosecution charges. The State appealed the dismissal of the official misconduct charge, and respondent appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss the other charges. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s determinations and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. The State later moved to dismiss with prejudice the remaining two counts of the indictment. The trial court granted that motion, thus concluding the criminal proceedings against respondent. On March 6, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated respondent to her duties as a Superior Court judge. Several months later, the ACJC issued its complaint. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court modified the sanction of removal recommended by the ACJC and imposed a three-month suspension on respondent. "We view that sanction to be commensurate with the conduct proven by clear and convincing evidence and to further our disciplinary system’s purpose of preserving public confidence in the judiciary." View "In the Matter of Carlia M. Brady" on Justia Law

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Pfizer’s Human Resources Department sent an e-mail to Pfizer employees at their corporate e-mail addresses announcing Pfizer’s five-page Mutual Arbitration and Class Waiver Agreement (Agreement) and included a link to that document. The e-mail also included a included a link to a document that listed “Frequently Asked Questions,” including “Do I have to agree to this?” to which the response indicated, “The Arbitration Agreement is a condition of continued employment with the Company. If you begin or continue working for the Company sixty (60) days after receipt of this Agreement, it will be a contractual agreement that binds both you and the Company.” The “FAQs” document also encouraged any employee who had “legal questions” about the Agreement “to speak to [his or her] own attorney.” Pfize terminated Amy Skuse's employment in August 2017, and Skuse filed a complaint alleging that Pfizer and the individual defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination by terminating her employment because of her religious objection to being vaccinated for yellow fever. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Skuse opposed the motion, contending that she was not bound by Pfizer’s Agreement, arguing that she was asked only to acknowledge the Agreement, not to assent to it, and that she never agreed to arbitrate her claims. The trial court dismissed Skuse’s complaint and directed her to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. The Appellate Division reversed, identifying three aspects of Pfizer’s communications to Skuse as grounds for its decision: Pfizer’s use of e-mails to disseminate the Agreement to employees already inundated with e-mails; its use of a “training module” or a training “activity” to explain the Agreement; and its instruction that Skuse click her computer screen to “acknowledge” her obligation to assent to the Agreement in the event that she remained employed for sixty days, not to “agree” to the Agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the Agreement was valid and binding, and held the trial court was correct in enforcing it. View "Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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In August 2017, the State filed a petition to civilly commit P.D., relying on P.D.’s conviction for an offense that qualified as a “sexually violent offense” as defined in N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.26, and other offenses. The State submitted two clinical certificates from psychiatrists who opined that P.D. suffered from a mental abnormality or personality disorder that made him “likely to engage in acts of sexual violence if not confined to a secure facility for control, care and treatment.” The trial court entered an order temporarily civilly committing P.D. to the Special Treatment Unit. P.D. waived his right under the SVPA to a court hearing within twenty days of the court’s temporary commitment order. P.D. thereafter filed a motion to compel discovery, which the trial court denied. The court found no support for P.D.’s contention that a person facing an SVPA commitment hearing could seek discovery under the general civil discovery rule, Rule 4:10-1, or other rules governing civil cases. The Appellate Division denied P.D.’s motion for leave to appeal the trial court’s decision. Finding no reversible error in the trial or appellate court orders, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of the Civil Commitment of P.D." on Justia Law

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The target of a State narcotics investigation, Quincy Lowery, advised detectives that defendant Robert Andrews, a former Essex County, New Jersey Sheriff’s Officer, had provided him with information about the investigation and advice to avoid criminal exposure. The State obtained an arrest warrant for defendant and search warrants for defendant’s iPhones, which were seized. According to the State, its Telephone Intelligence Unit was unable to search Andrews’s iPhones. A State detective contacted and conferred with the New York Police Department’s Technical Services unit, as well as a technology company, both of which concluded that the cellphones’ technology made them inaccessible to law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory advised that it likewise would be unable to access the phones’ contents. The State therefore moved to compel Andrews to disclose the passcodes to his two iPhones. The issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether a court order requiring a criminal defendant to disclose the passcodes to his passcode-protected cellphones violated the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution or New Jersey’s common law or statutory protections against self-incrimination. The Court held that neither federal nor state protections against compelled disclosure shielded Andrews' passcodes. "Here, the State correctly asserts that the lawfully issued search warrants -- the sufficiency of which Andrews does not challenge -- give it the right to the cellphones’ purportedly incriminating contents as specified in the trial court’s order. And neither those contents -- which are voluntary, not compelled, communications -- nor the phones themselves -- which are physical objects, not testimonial communications -- are protected by the privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, production of the cellphones and their contents is not barred." View "New Jersey v. Andrews" on Justia Law

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To make up for the tax revenue shortfall COVID-19 created and to maintain the State’s fiscal integrity, the New Jersey Legislature passed, and the Governor signed into law a bill that authorized the State to borrow up to $9.9 billion. Under the new law, the “New Jersey COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act” (Bond Act or Act), the State could issue bonds for private sale or borrow funds from the federal government. Up to $2.7 billion in borrowing could be used for the period from July 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, and up to $7.2 billion for the period from October 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. Before the Bond Act was enacted, the Assembly Minority Leader asked the Office of Legislative Services (OLS) to offer an opinion on “whether or not the State may issue general obligation bonds without voter approval to meet the needs of the State arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.” OLS issued an opinion letter on May 7, 2020, answering in the affirmative: “the COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster contemplated by the [Emergency Exception], and the State therefore may issue bonds, without the usual requirement for voter approval, to meet COVID-19 related emergency needs.” The opinion letter drew a distinction between “borrowing to supplement revenue for future fiscal year budgets,” which OLS believed would violate the Constitution, and “borrowing money where the anticipated revenue certified in accordance with . . . the Constitution becomes insufficient due to an unexpected event” -- a reference to FY2020 -- which OLS found permissible. The New Jersey Republican State Committee filed a complaint contending the asserted legislation violated the Debt Limitation Clause of the State Constitution, and sought to restrain the Governor from signing or enforcing the bill. After review, the Supreme Court determined the Bond Act did not violate the Constitution, subject to limits imposed by the Court in this opinion. View "New Jersey Republican State Committee v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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The Ridgefield Park Board of Education (Board) and the Ridgefield Park Education Association (Association) negotiated a collective negotiations agreement (CNA) covering 2011-2014 that went into effect three days after the New Jersey Legislature enacted Chapter 78. The 2011-2014 CNA expired before the employees achieved full implementation of the premium share set forth in N.J.S.A. 52:14-17.28c (Tier 4). After the 2011-2014 CNA expired, the Board and the Association negotiated a CNA covering 2014-2018, which, like its predecessor, stated that employees would contribute 1.5% of their salary towards health insurance or the minimum set forth by statute, regulation, or code. During the 2014-2015 school year, the employees contributed to the cost of their health care at the full premium share required by Tier 4. The Board and the Association disputed Chapter 78’s impact on employee contributions for the CNA’s remaining three years. The Board contended that Chapter 78 preempted any negotiated term for those contributions and that the Association’s members were required to contribute to their health benefits at the Tier 4 level for the duration of the CNA. The Association contended that Chapter 78 did not preempt the 1.5% contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA. PERC held that the health insurance premium contribution rate set forth in the 2014-2018 CNA was preempted by Chapter 78 and granted the Board’s request for a restraint of binding arbitration as to that issue. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that adherence to Chapter 78’s plain language would bring about an “absurd result” contravening legislative intent, and required the employees to contribute only 1.5% of their salaries for the three contested years. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the health insurance premium contribution rates paid by the Association’s members were preempted by statute and therefore non-negotiable. PERC’s construction of Chapter 78 comported with the statute’s language and the Legislature’s stated objective to achieve a long-term solution to a fiscal crisis. View "In the Matter of Ridgefield Park Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Juan Cruz-Pena was convicted by jury of first-degree kidnapping for confining C.M. for a “substantial period” for the purpose of committing various crimes against her. The Appellate Division reversed the kidnapping conviction, concluding that C.M.’s captivity did not fall within the meaning of the kidnapping statute because her “confinement was merely incidental to the underlying sex crime.” The State appealed, and the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division: "the case law construing that language, must be read in a sensible manner and not taken to an illogical conclusion. Holding a victim in captivity for a period of four to five hours, while assaulting and sexually abusing her, satisfies the 'substantial period' requirement of the kidnapping statute -- even if the length of the confinement is co-extensive with the continuous sexual and physical abuse of the victim." View "New Jersey v. Cruz-Pena" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a challenge to the City of Newark’s authority to create by ordinance a civilian oversight board to provide a greater role for civilian participation in the review of police internal investigations and in the resolution of civilian complaints. The Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 (FOP) filed a complaint claiming that the Ordinance was unlawful. Based on the record and arguments presented on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial court held the Ordinance invalid and enjoined its operation in virtually all respects. The court left intact, however, the Ordinance’s grant of authority to the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to conduct general oversight functions, including aiding in the development of a disciplinary matrix for use by the police force. The Appellate Division invalidated the Ordinance’s required treatment of the CCRB’s investigatory findings, determining that the binding nature of the CCRB’s findings, absent clear error, impermissibly “makes the CCRB’s factual findings paramount to the findings of the IA department.” The New Jersey Supreme Court modified the Appellate Division's judgment, concluding: (1) state law permitted the creation by ordinance of this civilian board with its overall beneficial oversight purpose; (2) the board’s powers must comply with current legislative enactments unless the Legislature refines the law to specifically authorize certain functions that Newark intends to confer on its review board; (3) board can investigate citizen complaints alleging police misconduct, and those investigations may result in recommendations to the Public Safety Director for the pursuit of discipline against a police officer; (4) the board cannot exercise its investigatory powers when a concurrent investigation is conducted by the Newark Police Department’s Internal Affairs (IA) unit; and (5) where there is no existing IA investigation, the review board may conduct investigations in its own right. In addition, the review board could conduct its oversight function by reviewing the overall operation of the police force, including the performance of its IA function in its totality or its pattern of conduct, and provide the called-for periodic reports to the officials and entities as prescribed by municipal ordinance. View "Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark" on Justia Law

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Nineteen-year-old Mark Zwierzynski permitted underage adult friends to consume alcoholic beverages in his home. Nineteen-year-old Brandon Narleski and twenty-year-old Nicholas Gomes left the home severely intoxicated. Shortly afterwards, Gomes lost control of his vehicle and crashed. Narleski died at the scene. Gomes’s blood alcohol concentration was twice the legal limit. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's review was whether the common law imposed a duty on underage adults -- over the age of eighteen but under twenty-one -- to refrain from making their homes a safe haven for underage guests to consume alcoholic beverages and, if so, what the standard for liability would be if an underage guest, who becomes intoxicated, afterwards drives a motor vehicle and injures or kills a third party. The Court held an underage adult defendant may be held civilly liable to a third-party drunk driving victim if the defendant facilitated the use of alcohol by making his home available as a venue for underage drinking, regardless of whether he was a leaseholder or titleholder of the property; if the guest causing the crash became visibly intoxicated in the defendant’s home; and if it was reasonably foreseeable that the visibly intoxicated guest would leave the residence to operate a motor vehicle and cause injury to another. The Appellate Division was reversed, the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Zwierzynski was vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Estate of Brandon Narleski v. Gomes" on Justia Law

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Jenny Craig, Inc. hired Marilyn Flanzman to work as a weight maintenance counselor in 1991. In May 2011, Flanzman signed a document entitled “Arbitration Agreement” in connection with her employment. In February 2017, when the dispute that led to this appeal arose, Flanzman was eighty-two years old. Flanzman’s managers informed her that her hours would be reduced from thirty-five to nineteen hours per week. In April 2017, Flanzman’s managers further reduced her hours to approximately thirteen hours per week. In June 2017, they reduced her hours to three hours per week, at which point she left her employment. Flanzman brought suit, asserting claims for age discrimination, constructive discharge, discriminatory discharge, and harassment. Relying on the Agreement, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Defendants contended that California law governed the Agreement and that the Agreement was enforceable. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss and ordered the parties to arbitrate Flanzman’s claims. It held that California law governed the arbitration and that the proper forum was assumed to be California. Finding no reversible error, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc." on Justia Law