Court Approves Service Of Complaint Through Facebook

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

In what has become more and more common in recent years, a New Jersey court recently had to decide whether to allow a plaintiff to serve a defendant over Facebook rather than in person or through other more traditional means. In 252 Main NM, LLC v. John R. Heywang, Lauran Heywang, and American Express Centurion Bank, the trial court’s ruling was a mix of the old and the new. It held that plaintiff could serve defendant via Facebook, but that plaintiff also had to serve defendant via publication in a local newspaper.

In 252 Main, plaintiff sued defendant to foreclose on a tax lien. Plaintiff’s counsel attempted to locate defendant’s address so it could serve him with the complaint. Counsel performed an internet search for defendant’s address; arranged for a skip trace search; submitted an Open Records Act request for defendant’s voter registration records; and submitted an inquiry to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. All of these efforts yielded the same address in Teaneck, New Jersey. Defendant owned that property at one time, but lost it to foreclosure in June 2018 and was evicted in January 2019.

“Having exhausted traditional modes to locate defendant,” plaintiff’s counsel turned to social media. He located a Facebook account for defendant, which included pictures of defendant. The Facebook page indicated that defendant was from Teaneck and was living in Cancun. But defendant’s only post on the page was from January 2016.

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Before Applying A 30-Year-Old Decision To Modern Technology, A New Jersey Court References A Musical From The 1890’s

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

In Pathri v. Kakarlamath, the issue before the court was whether a witness could testify via contemporaneous video transmission in a divorce trial. The trial court denied the witness’s request to do so and the issue went up on appeal, where the Appellate Division began its decision, naturally, by referencing Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Major General’s Song” from The Pirates of Penzance:

In most respects, the bench and the bar might – with apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan – proclaim the court rules to be “the very model of a modern” set of civil guidelines. But, in one respect, the rules haven’t quite caught up to the technological revolution. So, feeling “plucky and adventury,” we granted leave to appeal to consider how a judge should assess a party’s request to appear at trial and present testimony by way of contemporaneous video transmission.

Pathri was a matrimonial action. Plaintiff and defendant, both of whom were originally from India, came to the United States in 2007. Plaintiff sued defendant in 2018 and moved back to India shortly thereafter. Defendant countersued for divorce. One week before the scheduled trial, plaintiff requested that he be allowed to appear and testify at trial via “contemporaneous video transmission” from India. He claimed he could not obtain a visa to enter the United States. Plaintiff opposed the request and the trial judge denied it, because it would “inhibit her ability to assess plaintiff’s testimony and credibility.” Plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Division stayed the divorce trial and heard the appeal on an emergent basis. It vacated the trial court’s decision and remanded the matter back to the trial court with instructions on how to address the issue.

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Tenant Responsible For Visitor’s Slip-And-Fall On Commercial Property

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent decision in Shields v. Ramslee Motors, is the latest in a seemingly endless series of cases dealing with the duties of landlords and tenants to keep their property clear of snow and ice. These cases usually involve sidewalks, but Shields involved a driveway.

In Shields, plaintiff was a Federal Express delivery man. After delivering an envelope to the tenant’s car dealership, he slipped on snow and ice on the dealership’s driveway. He sued both the dealership and its landlord. The dealership settled, while the landlord moved for summary judgment.

The lease between the landlord and the tenant provided that the tenant was “solely responsible for the maintenance and repair of the land and any structure placed on the premises . . . as if TENANT were the de facto owner of the leased premises.” The lease allowed the landlord to come onto the property to inspect the property or make repairs, but expressly noted that this provision should not be deemed “a covenant by the LANDLORD nor be construed to create an obligation on the part of the LANDLORD to make such inspection or repairs.” Based on these provisions, the landlord argued that it was not responsible for clearing the property of snow and ice.

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New Jersey Court: Length of Opinion Not Indicative of Time or Effort Put Into Decision

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

Procedural issues are usually pretty boring, but the issue in N.J. Div. of Child Prot. & Permanency v. A.L. is different. OK. It might still be boring to most, but it is interesting (or at least informative) if you have ever spent weeks researching and drafting an appeal only to have an appellate court reject your position with a short opinion.

The underlying case in A.L. is sad, but also irrelevant for our purposes. Defendant was found to have abused or neglected her child. She appealed that ruling to the Appellate Division, which, in a three-paragraph decision, recounted the underlying facts, concluded that defendant’s arguments lacked sufficient merit to warrant further explanation, and affirmed substantially for the reasons set forth in the trial judge’s “comprehensive and well-reasoned written opinion.”

Defendant moved for reconsideration, arguing that the court “eschewed the basic appellate obligation to review the record.” The only evidence defendant offered to support this argument was that the Appellate Division’s decision was only three paragraphs long. Needless to say, this argument did not prevail.

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Arbitration Award Vacated Because Arbitrator Hid Ownership Interest In Arbitration Service

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

Arbitration awards are rarely overturned. The standard to vacate an award is high, and judicial review of awards is often unexacting. So when a court overturns an award, it is usually worth a closer look. And one recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Monster Energy Company v. City Beverages , LLC, is definitely worth a closer look. In Monster, the court vacated an arbitration award based on the “evident partiality” of the arbitrator. The main evidence of the arbitrator’s “evident partiality” was his ownership interest in JAMS, a fact he did not disclose before the arbitration. At the risk of revealing my own ignorance, I did not know that JAMS is owned, at least in part, by some of the neutrals who mediate/arbitrate cases through JAMS. But it is, and after Monster, those owners should disclose that relationship to the parties before beginning an arbitration.

The defendant in Monster was a beer distributor. In 2006, it signed an agreement with plaintiff to be the exclusive distributor of plaintiff’s energy drinks for 20 years in a specific geographical territory. But the agreement contained an out for plaintiff – it could terminate the agreement without cause if it paid a severance fee to defendant in an amount agreed upon by the parties in the agreement. Eight years after signing the agreement, plaintiff exercised this clause, paid the severance fee, and terminated the agreement. Defendant objected, arguing that the termination violated Washington’s Franchise Investment Protection Act.

The agreement between the parties contained an arbitration provision, requiring that any dispute be resolved by JAMS Orange County. After plaintiff served its arbitration demand, JAMS provided the parties with a list of seven neutrals. The parties chose their arbitrator from this list. The chosen arbitrator then provided a disclosure statement, which included the following: “I practice with JAMS. Each JAMS neutral, including me, has an economic interest in the overall financial success of JAMS.” The arbitrator also disclosed that he had arbitrated one matter for plaintiff in the past five years, and that he had ruled against plaintiff in that case, which involved a dispute between plaintiff and another distributor.

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On Amateur Chihuahua Breeding And Bailments

by: Peter J. Gallagher (LinkedIn)

After reading the opening paragraph of the Appellate Division’s decision in Rivera v. Canseo, I was hooked. Here it is:

[Plaintiff] owns a female chihuahua. Defendant . . . owns a male Chihuahua. [Plaintiff] and [defendant] reached an oral agreement to have their dogs mate. [Plaintiff] was to obtain puppies from the mating and [defendant] was to receive consideration for the use of his dog.

Interesting facts, check. Awkward references to uncomfortable subjects reminiscent of 1950’s health class videos – “obtain puppies from the mating” – check. And what exactly does it mean to “receive consideration for the use of his dog”? Needless to say, I was hooked.

[As it turns out, the consideration question was never answered. Plaintiff claimed that defendant was to receive “the pick of the litter if the mating ultimately resulted in the birth of puppies,” while defendant claimed he was to receive $500, “regardless of whether [plaintiff’s] dog was impregnated.” Because “[t]he exact nature of [defendant’s] expected consideration [was] not material” to the court’s decision, however, the dispute was never resolved.]

In Rivera, after plaintiff and defendant agreed to have their Chihuahuas mate, plaintiff brought her dog to defendant’s home, along with a supply of the dog food to which her dog was accustomed. According to plaintiff, her dog was in good health when she left her at defendant’s home. Clearly a hopeless romantic, “[defendant] placed [plaintiff’s] dog and his dog in the basement together” and locked the door.

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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.”

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