Legal Writing Tip: Don’t start your brief by calling the trial judge “attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, [and] politically well-connected.”

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

This should probably be obvious, but apparently it wasn’t, at least to one California lawyer. So, in a published opinion, Briganti v. Chow, the California Court of Appeals included a “Note on Civility, Sexism, and Persuasive Brief Writing” to remind that attorney, and all of us, that this is not a good way to start a brief .

The dispute in Briganti was straightforward. Plaintiff sued defendant for allegedly defaming her in a Facebook post. Defendant moved to strike plaintiff’s complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. (As an aside, only John Oliver could entertain and inform when talking about Anti-SLAPP statutes.) The trial court denied the motion in part and granted it in part. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

But the interesting part of the decision, and the sole reason the Court of Appeals chose to publish it, was its “concluding note on civility, sexism, and persuasive brief writing.”

Continue reading “Legal Writing Tip: Don’t start your brief by calling the trial judge “attractive, hard-working, brilliant, young, [and] politically well-connected.””

Attention Landlords: Another Quirk In New Jersey Landlord-Tenant Law That You Are Not Going To Like

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

For the uninitiated landlord, New Jersey landlord-tenant court can be a bit of a shock. The deck seems insurmountably stacked in the tenant’s favor. And when a landlord acquires its property via foreclosure, the process is even more confusing. A recent trial court decision, UTS Bechman, LLC v. Woodard, is a good example of how confusing, and sometimes counter intuitive, landlord-tenant court can seem to a landlord.

In Bechman, tenant and her husband were involved in a contentious divorce. During and after the divorce, tenant leased the underlying property, which had been the marital home but was then in foreclosure, from her husband. The property was eventually sold at sheriff’s sale and plaintiff took title to the property. When it acquired the property, plaintiff posted a notice on the door identifying itself as the new owner and providing an address where rent should be paid.

Over the next four months, plaintiff never received rent from tenant, so it sued, seeking to evict her from the property. Seems simple enough, right? Nope.

Continue reading “Attention Landlords: Another Quirk In New Jersey Landlord-Tenant Law That You Are Not Going To Like”

Plaintiff’s Slip And Fall Lawsuit Against Church Barred By Statute . . . And The Bible

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

Winter is right around the corner. Unfortunately, that means snow is also just around the corner. But it also means that its time for another case about someone allegedly being injured after slipping and falling in the snow. The facts of these slip and fall cases often read like law school exam questions. I have written about several of them in the past, from the relatively straightforward (Just In Time For Summer, A New Decision On When You Are Required To Clear Snow From Your Property) to the more unique (Shortcut Across Bank Parking Lot Leads To A Slip And Fall, But No Liability For The Bank) to the even more unique (New Jersey Court Answers The Burning Question: Can I Sue The Owner Of An Abandoned Church If I Slip And Fall On The Sidewalk Outside The Church?). A recent decision from the Appellate Division, Castellano v. Garrett Enterprises, LLC, is the latest in this long line of interesting slip and fall cases.

In Castellano, plaintiff was ordered to participate in a 48-hour Intoxicated Driver Resource Center program as part of the disposition of his second drunk-driving conviction. The program was held at a local church. It snowed in the days leading up to plaintiff’s attendance, including the night before. On the night of the program, while plaintiff was walking around the premises, he slipped and fell. He sued the church, among others.

The church moved for summary judgment on charitable immunity grounds. The trial court granted the motion and the Appellate Division affirmed, relying, among other things, on the Gospel according to Mark.

Continue reading “Plaintiff’s Slip And Fall Lawsuit Against Church Barred By Statute . . . And The Bible”

“This case is about the mattress and a pen”

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

Maybe it is because I was a journalism major in college, but I am a sucker for a good lede. The district court’s decision in West v. Emig has a great one. It begins:

Christopher H. West is an inmate who has frequently ingested inedible objects. During his incarceration, he has eaten the foam from inside his mattress, and he has also swallowed writing instruments, including pens. This case is about the mattress and a pen.

I was hooked, but then it got even more interesting.

Plaintiff claimed that, at two different prisons, employees removed the mattress from his cell “after he ingested foam from inside [the] mattresses.” Instead of following the grievance policy, which is typically required before an inmate can sue, West sued two former prison employees in federal court in Delaware, seeking $5 million in damages from each. He argued that he could not pursue his administrative remedies because, you guessed it, “the prisons denied him a pen needed to complete the prison grievance form – albeit for his own safety.” In other words, they removed his mattress because he ate the mattress foam, but he could not file a grievance about that because they previously removed his pen because he had a habit of eating his pens.

When plaintiff sued, defendants moved for summary judgment. They raised four defenses, including failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The district court only addressed that defense, and granted defendants’ motion based on it. Plaintiff appealed, and the Third Circuit reversed.

Continue reading ““This case is about the mattress and a pen””

Fee Dispute Between Counsel Inspires Court To Bemoan The Death Of The Practice Of Law As A Profession

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

In the final scene of the movie Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino’s character defends Chris O’Donnell’s character, who is about to be expelled from the (fictional) prestigious Baird School. Among many other things, Pacino’s character exclaims: “I don’t know who went to this place. William Howard Taft. William Jennings Bryant. William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead, if they ever had one.” Similarly, although slightly less dramatically, a fee dispute between counsel in Meister v. Verizon New Jersey Inc. led the trial court to eulogize the law as a profession:

This unfortunate fee dispute, coming as it does in the midst of seemingly final negotiations of a settlement, should resolve, with certainty, any lingering doubt that the practice of law, that storied profession of Marshall and Jefferson and Lincoln, is really now just another capitalist enterprise.

The court walked these comments back, slightly, by acknowledging that “[t]he practice of law is not a hobby” and “[h]ard working and industrious counsel who take risks to advance a client’s case and to maximize a client’s recovery should be rewarded.” But it then immediately returned to its original thesis:

However, while lawyers may indeed make a client’s life better through their advocacy and vigilant protection of that client’s interests, they are uniquely able to make it seem as though they are not doing so when quarreling, as they are here, over who gets to spell out how much they should be paid from their paralyzed client’s recovery and why one is more entitled to do so than another.

This is probably not how the lawyers in the case hoped the court would start its opinion.

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You think you had a bad day at work, this guy tried to drive across the Elizabeth River in an excavator.

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

If ever a lawyer should have been awarded points for creativity, Diaco Construction, Inc. v. Ohio Security Ins. Co. is the case where it should have happened. It is an insurance coverage dispute, but don’t stop reading just because of that. The underlying facts are interesting and the insured’s lawyer’s arguments, though ultimately unsuccessful, were creative.

The facts in Diaco were summarized succinctly by the Appellate Division:

Plaintiff . . . lost an excavator in the Elizabeth River in the course of constructing concrete headwalls and outlets for stormwater runoff pursuant to its contract with the City of Elizabeth. [Plaintiff’s] employee was operating the excavator on the riverbank when he sensed it slipping into the river. Trying to avert disaster, the operator turned the machine and tried to drive it across the river. The effort was not a success as the excavator got stuck three-quarters of the way across. Although nothing leaked into the river from the wreck, the excavator was a total loss and it cost [Plaintiff] over $300,000 to remove it a week later following oral demand by the City and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Plaintiff’s insurance company paid $95,000 for loss of the excavator and $28,750 for debris removal. Plaintiff then made a claim with its carrier for the balance. The carrier denied the claim and plaintiff sued. The normal, mind-numbing review of insurance policy language followed.

Continue reading “You think you had a bad day at work, this guy tried to drive across the Elizabeth River in an excavator.”

“But you yada yada’d over the best part!”

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

As any Seinfeld fan knows, you cannot “yada yada” over the best part of a story. But in a recent decision, a New Jersey court did just that.

In Barry v. Melmed Construction Company, Inc., the court spent eleven pages discussing a relatively routine case where defendant waived the right to enforce the arbitration provision in its contract with plaintiffs – defendant waited too long to raise the issue, actively participated in litigation in state court, etc. – but then dropped this bomb at the very end of the decision:

We acknowledge the anomaly of plaintiffs’ assertion that they are not bound by the arbitration clause their counsel drafted and they insisted be included in the contract between the parties, particularly in light of counsel’s apparent admission that he drafted the clause to allow plaintiffs to argue it could not be enforced against them. While not endorsing such conduct, we do not address it in light of defendants’ waiver of an arbitration remedy.

So let me get this straight, plaintiffs demanded that their contract with defendant include an arbitration provision, and then had their counsel draft the provision so that they could later argue that the provision could not be enforced against them?!? And the court waited until the end of the case, in a footnote no less, to bring this up?!? This was the most interesting part of the case! Reducing it to a footnote on the last page, and then not even discussing it substantively, is the judicial equivalent of “yada yada-ing” the best part of the story.