Dog (Bite) Days of Summer, Part I: Owners Usually, But Not Always, Strictly Liable For Dog Bites

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

Beware of dog (pd)As dog owners in New Jersey know, or should know, they are usually strictly liable for injuries suffered by anyone bitten by their dogs. New Jersey does not follow a "one free bite rule." Instead, under New Jersey law: "The owner of any dog which shall bite a person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, shall be liable for such damages as may be suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of such dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness."

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For example, trespassers, who are obviously not "lawfully on or in a private place," cannot sue under the dog bite statute. A different exception was at play in Carpentiero v. Pocknett, where a dog groomer was bitten in the face by a dog while bathing the dog. In that case, defendant brought her dog to Katie's Pet Depot, where plaintiff, an independent contractor, worked as a part-time pet groomer. Plaintiff testified that had she been advised that the dog was old and had arthritis, she would have "muzzled the dog prior to grooming." But she was never told that, therefore she did not muzzle the dog, and, while she was bathing the dog, she was bitten in the face.  

Continue reading “Dog (Bite) Days of Summer, Part I: Owners Usually, But Not Always, Strictly Liable For Dog Bites”

Exception To The Rule: Ambulance Service Providers Are “Learned Professionals” And Not Subject To New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act

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

Ambulance (pd)New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act ("CFA") is generally recognized as one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the country. It prohibits "any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise or misrepresentation" that leads to an "ascertainable loss." But, certain "learned professionals" — doctors, lawyers, hospitals, etc. — are insulated from liability under the CFA. In Atlantic Ambulance Corporation v. Cullum, the Appellate Division added ambulance service providers to the list of "learned professionals" who are not subject to the CFA. 

In Atlantic Ambulance, defendants received services from plaintiff, an ambulance service provider. After they failed to pay the bills for those services, plaintiff sued. In response, defendants filed a counterclaim alleging that they were overbilled by plaintiff in violation of the CFA. Defendants sought to bring their counterclaim as a class action on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated people who were allegedly overcharged during a six-year period.

After five years of discovery, defendants moved for class certification. The trial court denied the motion for a number of reasons, only one of which is relevant for this post. Plaintiff argued that defendants could not maintain a cause of action under the CFA because they did not pay their bills, therefore they had not suffered any "ascertainable loss." The trial court agreed, expressly rejecting defendants' argument that an excessive bill from plaintiff, by itself, was enough to prove an ascertainable loss. Defendants appealed. 

Continue reading “Exception To The Rule: Ambulance Service Providers Are “Learned Professionals” And Not Subject To New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act”

Extra! Extra!

by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

The latest edition of  "Commercial Litigation Briefs" is out. The newsletter is published by my firm and contains short articles on topics and cases of interest to commercial litigators. This month there are two articles — one by me and one by my colleague, John DeSimone. My article discusses a recent decision from the Delaware Supreme Court that required Wal-Mart to produce attorney-client communications to shareholders as they investigated whether to bring a derivative lawsuit against the company. John's article reports on a recent New Jersey Appellate Division decision about debt buyers trying to collect on charged-off credit card accounts they purchased from other debt buyers, which also provides helpful guidance for litigators on the hearsay exception for business records.

Enjoy!

New Jersey Supreme Court: Cell Phone Users Have Privacy Interest In Cell Phone Location Information

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

 

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today that police cannot access the location information revealed by your cell phone without first acquiring a warrant based on probable cause.  In State v. Earls, police were investigating a string of burglaries.  A court-ordered trace of a cell phone stolen in one of the burglaries led them to an individual at a bar in Asbury Park who told them that his cousin had sold him the phone.  The individual also told police that his cousin was involved in the burglaries and kept the stolen items in a storage locker that was rented by his cousin or his cousin’s girlfriend.  The next day, police located the girlfriend, went with her to the locker, and found various stolen items.  The next day, police learned that the girlfriend had disappeared, and that defendant had threatened her when he learned that she was cooperating with police.   After obtaining an arrest warrant for defendant, police began to search for him.  As part of this search, the police contacted T-Mobile to obtain information about the location of a cell phone that they believed defendant had been using.  This information eventually led them to a motel where defendant and his girlfriend were staying. 

Defendant was arrested and eventually indicted on several charges stemming from the burglaries.  He moved to suppress evidence seized at the motel where he was apprehended.  The trial court denied the motion, holding that police should have obtained a warrant before tracking defendant’s phone, but that the information was nonetheless admissible under the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement (the emergency being the threat to defendant’s girlfriend’s safety).  Defendant pled guilty but appealed the suppression ruling.  The Appellate Division affirmed, but on different grounds, holding that defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his cell phone location information. 

The Supreme Court reversed.  It began by discussing the advances in cell phone technology that now make it possible for providers to pinpoint the location of a cell phone within a matter of feet, and the fact that details about the location of a cell phone can provide an intimate picture of an individual’s personal life by revealing where people go and with whom they affiliate.  Under New Jersey law, individuals do not lose their right to privacy simply because they have to provide personal information like this to third parties to obtain services.  Thus, cell phone users reasonably expect that the private information that they (or, perhaps more accurately, their phones) transmit to cell phone providers about their location will remain private:

[C]ell phones are not meant to serve as tracking devices to locate their owners wherever they may be.  People buy cell phones to communicate with others, to use the Internet, and for a growing number of other reasons. But no one buys a cell phone to share detailed information about their whereabouts with the police . . . Citizens have a legitimate privacy interest in such information. Although individuals may be generally aware that their phones can be tracked, most people do not realize the extent of modern tracking capabilities and reasonably do not expect law enforcement to convert their phones into precise, possibly continuous tracking tools.

Accordingly, before police can obtain this information from a cell phone provider, they must obtain a warrant based on a showing of probable cause or qualify for an exception to the warrant requirement. 

In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that federal courts are split on whether a warrant is required before police can obtain information about an individual’s cell phone location.  However, it also noted that the New Jersey Constitution generally provides greater protection against unreasonable searches and seizures that the Fourth Amendment.  This decision further emphasizes the differences between New Jersey law and federal law, particularly as it relates to information that is revealed to third parties. 

New Jersey Supreme Court Considers Condominium Association’s Ban On Window Signs

 by:  Katharine A. Muscalino

On September 1, 2010, a three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division struck down, as an unconstitutional limitation on free speech, a condominium association’s governing documents’ prohibition on posting signs in unit windows, with the exception of a single “For Sale” sign.  On October 24, 2011, the New Jersey Supreme Court heard argument on these issues, and is expected to issue an opinion either upholding the Appellate Division’s rejection of such restrictions or overturning the Appellate Division and finding that such signs may be banned.  Because many Associations’ governing documents include bans like the one at issue in Mazdabrook, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion could have a wide-ranging impact, and should likely inspire condo associations to review their by-laws so as not to run afoul of its holding.

 

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