Dismissal With Prejudice Too Harsh A Remedy For Expert’s Unavailability

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

Gavel (pd)There is often tension between a court's need to effectively manage its docket and the overriding objective that a lawsuit be resolved on its merits and not because a party (or its counsel) misses a deadline. Courts establish deadlines. If they are ignored, can the court — as a sanction, and in the interest of managing its docket — dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice? According to the Appellate Division in a recent unpublished decision, Trezza v. Lambert-Wooley, the answer to this question is "no," unless the noncompliance was purposeful and no lesser remedy was available to the court. 

In Trezza,plaintiffs sued defendants for medical malpractice. Three years after the lawsuit was filed, the court set a peremptory trial date. This was rescheduled when the court did not reach the case on the trial date. The trial did not take place on the rescheduled date or a subsequent rescheduled date, both times because defendant's designated trial counsel was unavailable. Thereafter, the Presiding Judge issued a sua sponte order scheduling trial for approximately four months later and setting forth "specific and stringent terms as to the course and conduct of the case relative to trial." The order mandated that: (1) the trial date would not be adjourned to accommodate the parties' or counsels' personal or professional schedules; (2) counsel was required  to monitor the schedules of their parties, witnesses, and experts, and if one or more were not going to be available on the trial date, arrange for a de bene esse deposition ahead of trial; and (3) if designated trial counsel was not available on the trial date, alternate counsel would have to be found, whether or not from the same firm.

Five days before the scheduled trial date, plaintiff's counsel requested that the trial be carried for four days due to the unavailability of plaintiff's liability expert, which he only learned about a few days prior to the request. Defendants' counsel consented to the request. The judge assigned to the case considered the request but, in light of the Presiding Judge's order, determined that he did not have the authority to grant the adjournment. He sent the parties to the Presiding Judge, who denied the request and directed the parties to proceed to trial. "Predicated upon the terms of the order, the age of the case, and plaintiff's expert's unavailability, the judge [then] dismissed the complaint with prejudice." Plaintiffs appealed.

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Municipality Need Not Negotiate With Mortgage Holder Before Condemning Property

By: Peter J. Gallagher

Last year, we told you about a decision from the Appellate Division holding that a condemning authority does not have to engage in bona fide negotiations with a mortgage holder that has obtained final judgment on the property that the authority is seeking to condemn. Click here for the prior post. The Supreme Court has now affirmed the Appellate Division’s decision.

Under New Jersey law, before condemning real property, a condemning authority must, among other things, engage in bona fide pre-litigation negotiations with the party that "owns title of record to the property."  N.J.S.A. 20:3-6. Prior case law had made clear that this limitation meant that a condemning authority was not required to negotiate with a leaseholder or some other party that might have an "interest" in the property, but was instead required to negotiate only with the record title owner. In Borough of Merchantville v. Malik & Son, LLC, however the Supreme Court was faced with a slightly different question — whether a municipality needs to negotiate with an entity that held the mortgage on the underlying property, had obtained final judgment of foreclosure against the title owner, and was on the verge of taking the property to sheriff’s sale. The Supreme Court ruled that it does not.

 

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