One Minute for Oral Argument? Motion Decided in 60 Seconds Doesn’t Survive Appeal.

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

Stopwatch (pd)
"We anticipate that the court will engage counsel with more patience on remand."

I assume this is not something a trial court wants to see at the end of an opinion from an appellate court. But, this was precisely how the Appellate Division ended its decision in Midland Funding v. Bordeaux. The case, which involved the enforceability of an arbitration provision, is notable as much for the manner in which it was decided by the trial court as the legal issues at play in the decision.

In Midland Funding, plaintiff sued defendant over $1,018.04 in consumer debt that plaintiff purchased from the original creditor. In response, defendant denied liability and asserted a counterclaim alleging plaintiff violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. During discovery, defendant moved to compel plaintiff to answer interrogatories. Plaintiff responded with a motion to compel arbitration. On the eve of the return date of that motion, defendant moved for summary judgment. Oral argument on these motion was adjourned for approximately 30 days. 

When oral argument was eventually held, it did not last long. The Appellate Division noted that the transcript "show[ed] that the oral argument hearing began at 9:10 a.m. and concluded at 9:11 a.m." In the span of a minute, the trial court concluded that defendant's credit card agreement "contain[ed] an arbitration agreement," therefore "[i]t's going to arbitration." The trial court also denied defendant's summary judgment motion without explanation and declared that defendant's motion to compel answers to interrogatories was moot.

Continue reading “One Minute for Oral Argument? Motion Decided in 60 Seconds Doesn’t Survive Appeal.”

Res Ipsa At Red Lobster

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Not too long ago, I posted about a lawsuit filed by a diner against Applebees. (Click here if you don't remember.) In that case, the diner was allegedly burned after he leaned over a plate of sizzling fajitas for a pre-meal prayer. He sued, alleging that the hot plate was a dangerous and hazardous condition. Applebees argued that even if this was true, the dangerous condition was open, obvious, and easily understood, therefore it could not be liable for any damages that resulted from it. The court agreed and granted summary judgment in favor of Applebees.

Now comes another case where a diner was injured at a casual dining restaurant. This one, Clark v. Darden Restaurants, Inc., involved Red Lobster. In Clark, plaintiff was dining with a friend at Red Lobster. He was injured when their server dropped a plate on the table, causing the plate to shatter. Shards from the shattered plate punctured plaintiff's eyes. According to the court, the "evidence against the restaurant was damning." The server admitted that the plate was "slippery" and "greasy" and that he did not handle it properly. In light of this one-sided evidence, plaintiff moved for summary judgment, "invoking the familiar tort doctrine of res ipsa loquitur." He won, and Red Lobster appealed.

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Not Quite “Lord of the Flies.” New Jersey Court Rules on Liability For Injuries To Minors During Sporting Events

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

When I was around ten-years-old, I showed up for soccer practice a little late and found an ambulance at the field waiting to take one of my teammates to the hospital. He and another one of my teammates collided while both were going after the ball and one of them broke his leg. As far as I know, no lawsuit was ever filed. Earlier this week, the Appellate Division issued its opinion in C.J.R. v. G.A., and established the standard that might have applied had my teammates (or their parents) been a little more litigious.

    In C.J.R., the Medford youth lacrosse team was playing the Marlton youth lacrosse team. In the waning seconds of the game, with Medford ahead by one goal, plaintiff, a member of the Medford team, had the “ball nestled in the basket of his stick” when defendant, a player on the Marlton team, struck him in the forearm. The blow knocked plaintiff to the ground. He was later taken to a hospital and treated for a fractured arm. Plaintiff’s father sued both defendant and defendant’s father (the latter for negligent supervision). The trial court granted summary judgment to both defendants and plaintiff appealed, but only as to the dismissal of his claims against the child.

 

 

Continue reading “Not Quite “Lord of the Flies.” New Jersey Court Rules on Liability For Injuries To Minors During Sporting Events”

“Judges Think I Am Awesome!” Third Circuit Approves Use Of Judicial Endorsement on Lawyer’s Website

by: Peter J. Gallagher

In an interesting First Amendment decision issued yesterday, he U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down a New Jersey attorney-advertising guideline that banned attorneys from including judicial quotations in their advertising unless the full judicial opinions appeared in the advertisement.

In Dwyer v. Cappell, an attorney, Andrew Dwyer,  included several favorable quotations from judicial opinions on his firm’s webpage, including one where a judge, in the context of a fee application, noted that the attorney was “a fierce, if sometimes not disinterested advocate for his clients,” who had “molded the case to the point where it could be successfully resolved.” The judge who wrote that opinion asked Dwyer to remove the quotation from the website. When Dwyer refused, the judge contacted the Committee on Attorney Advertising.

After meeting with Dwyer and receiving submissions from him on the issue, the Committee proposed an attorney-advertising guideline, and solicited public comment on it, that would have banned attorneys from including quotations “from a judge or court opinion (oral or written) regarding the attorney[s’] abilities or legal services.”  Dwyer submitted a comment objecting to the proposed objection as an unconstitutional ban on speech. Nonetheless, three years later, the New Jersey Supreme Court approved an amended version of the guideline that banned attorneys from using quotations from judicial opinions in their advertisements, but allowed them to advertise using the full text of judicial opinions in which those quotations appeared. The comments to the proposed rule explained that it was designed to avoid confusing the public into believing that a judge was endorsing a specific attorney, something that is prohibited under the Rules of Professional Conduct.

 

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Victory For Commercial Affordable Housing

by:  Katharine A. Muscalino

Private commercial developers have struggled to install affordable housing in New Jersey’s municipalities for decades, facing opposition from communities, local governments, and the municipal zoning boards.  The Appellate Division has just eased the burden of private developers by holding, for the first time explicitly, that affordable housing built by a commercial developer (as opposed to a non-profit or public entity) qualifies as an “inherently beneficial use” in Conifer Realty LLC v. Township of Middle Zoning Board of Adjustment (September 9, 2011).  By being categorized as an inherently beneficial use, commercial affordable housing is subject to a less stringent standard for obtaining use variance relief.  In support of this holding, the Appellate division noted that the courts have previously recognized that affordable housing is an inherently beneficial use in a “variety of circumstances” and that housing needs are “clearly related to the general welfare under the zoning laws.”

The Appellate Division found that the zoning board construed previous opinions holding that affordable housing is an inherently beneficial use too narrowly.  The board had maintained that because all existing caselaw had addressed affordable housing constructed by public of non-profit entities, a commercial developer’s affordable housing could not qualify as an inherently beneficial use.  The Court directed that in analyzing whether a proposed use is inherently beneficial, “the focus of the inquiry is whether the proposal furthers the general welfare, not whether the undertaking is one that is not-for-profit or a commercial enterprise.”

In addition to remanding the application to the Board for consideration under the less stringent inherently beneficial use standard (the Sica test), the Appellate Division found the Board’s concerns regarding the negative criteria to be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.  The Appellate Division noted that the Board’s rejection of the application, base on density and environmental concerns, was contradicted by the Township’s Fair Share plan, which included the project, minimized the environmental impact, and promised to amend the zoning and density for the project.