Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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In this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether an attorney’s pledge of anticipated attorney’s fees could be considered an account receivable and secured under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and whether the lender here complied with the requirements of the UCC to perfect its security interest. Plaintiff John Giovanni Granata retained Diane Acciavatti to bring a legal malpractice complaint against defendants Edward Broderick Jr., and Broderick, Newmark, & Grather. Acciavatti accepted a $10,000 retainer and agreed to a contingent fee arrangement. After a jury trial, Granata was awarded a judgment of $1,597,193, and the trial judge granted Acciavatti’s motions for fees, costs, and pre-judgment interest. Defendants appealed, and Granata cross-appealed. Acciavatti had an oral agreement with Granata to represent him at $350 per hour and told him she would seek counsel fees from defendants after the appeal. While the appeal was pending, Acciavatti withdrew from the practice of law. Dominic Caruso was appointed attorney-trustee for Acciavatti’s practice, and the firm of Roper & Twardowsky, LLC (the Roper firm), filed a substitution of counsel form for Acciavatti. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded for a new trial. Following a two-day mediation, the case settled for $840,000. Three of Acciavatti’s creditors then claimed liens upon any legal fees owed to her from the case. The appellate panel considered whether Acciavatti possessed an interest in her anticipated legal fees and whether one of her creditor's UCC filing granted it a perfected interest in those fees. The panel reasoned that, “[i]f both questions [we]re answered in the affirmative, [the creditor], as a perfected secured creditor, would enjoy priority over [the other creditors], who are subsequent lien creditors seeking to levy on the same collateral.” The panel expressed agreement with cited decisions and held “that, under certain circumstances, an attorney’s pledge of anticipated counsel fees can be considered an account receivable and secured under Article 9.” The panel observed that “[the appealing creditor] met the requirements of N.J.S.A. 12A:9-203 for its security interest to attach to Acciavatti’s counsel fees." Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Granata v.Broderick" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Givaudan Fragrances Corporation (Fragrances) faced liability as a result of environmental contamination from a manufacturing site that a related corporate entity operated in a facility in Clifton. The issue this case presented for review involved Fragrances' effort to obtain insurance coverage for environmental claims brought by governmental entities in response to discharges of hazardous substances that occurred during the pertinent policy periods running through January 1, 1986. Fragrances claimed that the defendant insurance companies (defendants) wrote liability policies for Givaudan Corporation during those relevant years. Fragrances argued that it was entitled, either as an affiliate of Givaudan Corporation or by operation of an assignment of rights, to have the insurers provide it with coverage for that environmental liability. Defendants claimed that they insured Givaudan Corporation as their named insured, not Fragrances, and that any assignment to Fragrances was invalid because defendants did not consent to the assignment, as was required for a valid assignment according to the language of the insurance policies. Therefore, collectively, defendants refused to honor Fragrances' right to bring insurance contract claims against them. Fragrances filed its complaint in February 2009 seeking a declaratory judgment that it was entitled to coverage under the policies. In February 2010, while the declaratory judgment action was pending, Fragrances notified defendants that Givaudan Roure Flavors Corporation (corporate successor-in-interest to Givaudan Corporation) planned to assign its post-loss rights under the insurance policies to Fragrances. Defendants refused to consent to the assignment. Nevertheless, Flavors executed the assignment to Fragrances. Both sides moved for summary judgment. Because Fragrances was not acquired by Givaudan Corporation during the policy period, the trial court determined that it could not be an affiliated corporation covered under the policies. The court also determined that the assignment in this case was an assignment of policies, which could not be assigned. The court denied Fragrances' motion and granted defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded, explaining that although the anti-assignment clauses in the occurrence policies at issue would prevent an insured from transferring a policy without the consent of the insurer, once a loss occurs, an insured s claim under a policy may be assigned without the insurer s consent.The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding that, once an insured loss has occurred, an anti-assignment clause in an occurrence policy may not provide a basis for an insurer s declination of coverage based on the insured's assignment of the right to invoke policy coverage for that loss. The assignment at issue in this case was a post-loss claim assignment and therefore the rule voiding application of anti-assignment clauses to such assignments applied. View "Givaudan Fragrances Corp. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a conflict among the three members of IE Test, LLC (IE Test). After a dispute between defendant Kenneth Carroll and the other members, Patrick Cupo and Byron James, IE Test filed an action to expel Carroll, pursuant to the Limited Liability Company Act (LLCA). In 2004,Carroll and Cupo formed Instrumentation Engineering, LLC. Carroll owned a fifty-one percent interest in Instrumentation Engineering, and Cupo owned the remaining forty-nine percent. James was employed by Instrumentation Engineering, initially as Business Development Manager and later as Vice President. Carroll, Cupo, and James entered into a preliminary agreement stating intention to enter into an operating agreement for IE Test. Carroll claimed that Instrumentation Engineering owed substantial sums to him and his companies, and that became a point of contention among Cupo, James, and Carroll soon after they agreed to share ownership of IE Test. Carroll acknowledged that IE Test had no legal obligation to repay him for losses sustained because of Instrumentation Engineering's bankruptcy, but pressed for compensation that would allow him to recover some of his lost investment. By early 2010, Cupo and James were actively pursing a strategy to use the LLCA to expel Carroll as a member of the LLC. The trial court found in IE Test's favor on its claim based on subsection 3(c), reasoning that the "not reasonably practicable" language imposed a less stringent standard than did subsection 3(a). The trial court granted IE Test's motion for partial summary judgment and expelled Carroll as an LLC member. Carroll appealed. In an unpublished opinion, an Appellate Division panel affirmed, construing N.J.S.A.42:2B-24(b)(3), and its counterpart provision in the Revised Uniform Limited Liability Company Act (RULLCA), N.J.S.A.42:2C-46(e), to mandate that a trial judge engage in predictive reasoning in order to evaluate the future impact of an LLC member's current conduct. The panel found that Carroll's relationship with Cupo and James never recovered from Carroll's demand that he be compensated in a manner that permitted him to recoup his lost investment. The Supreme Court reversed. Applied to the record of this case, the standard of subsection 3(c) did not warrant a grant of partial summary judgment expelling Carroll from IE Test. View "IE Test, LLC v. Carroll" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Jazz Photo Corp., one of several commercial entities (collectively referred to as the Jazz Entities), entered into a factoring agreement with Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Inc. Jazz Photo sold Rosenthal its accounts receivable in return for cash. Five years later, Vanessa Benun, the daughter of Jack Benun, a principal of the Jazz Entities, guaranteed Jazz Photo's obligations under that agreement. At that time, Benun also executed a mortgage on real property she owned in Monmouth County as security for her personal guaranty. In March 2005, another of the Jazz Entities, Ribi Tech Products, LLC entered into a factoring agreement with Rosenthal. Benun personally guaranteed Ribi Tech's obligations to Rosenthal. In March 2007, Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti, L.L.P. (Riker), a law firm providing legal services to Jack Benun and the Jazz Entities, obtained a third mortgage from Benun on the same real property. This mortgage was executed in favor of Riker to secure Jack Benun's personal debt under a letter agreement. When Benun executed the mortgage, Jack Benun owed Riker $1,679,701.33 in unpaid legal fees, and the letter agreement reflected his obligations to Riker and Riker's promise to provide continuing legal representation. Riker's mortgage was recorded on April 13, 2007. Rosenthal received actual notice of the Riker mortgage in August 2007. Despite notice of the Riker mortgage, Rosenthal continued to make advances to the Jazz Entities that totaled millions of dollars. In September 2009, Jazz Products filed for bankruptcy. The Jazz Entities defaulted on their obligations to Rosenthal, owing Rosenthal close to $4 million. Benun, in turn, defaulted on her personal guaranty to secure the debt. After Riker recorded its mortgage on the Monmouth County property, it continued to perform legal services for Jack Benun, and his unpaid legal fees ballooned to over $3 million. Jack Benun, and the Jazz Entities defaulted on their obligation to Riker and Benun defaulted on her guaranty. Rosenthal filed a foreclosure complaint against Benun, her husband, and Riker. Benun and her husband did not respond, and Rosenthal requested that a default judgment be entered against them. Riker answered, disputing the priority of Rosenthal's mortgages. Later, both Rosenthal and Riker filed cross-motions for summary judgment regarding the priority of their respective mortgages. The trial court granted Rosenthal's motion, determining that the dragnet clauses in the Rosenthal mortgages were fully enforceable. With regard to priority, the trial court held that Riker's argument that its mortgage displaced the two Rosenthal mortgages was legally flawed because the firm accepted a mortgage on the property with knowledge of two prior mortgages, each securing an obligation of up to $1 million, and with knowledge of the anti-subordination clauses. The court concluded that there was no convincing justification for rewarding Riker a superior priority. Riker appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division, finding that Rosenthal had advance notice of the law firm's intervening lien but nonetheless proceeded to make optional advances to the commercial entities. "Having done so, its mortgages securing those optional future advances were subordinated to the law firm's intervening lien." View "Rosenthal & Rosenthal, Inc. v. Benun" on Justia Law

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This appeal as of right arose from defendants' alleged breach of a settlement agreement executed by defendants and one of the plaintiffs in this action, Globe Motor Company (Globe), to resolve prior litigation between the parties. Shortly after defendants sent two checks totaling $75,000 to plaintiffs to settle the earlier action, a Trustee appointed to represent the estate of an insolvent Minnesota entity brought an adversary proceeding against plaintiffs. The Trustee demanded that plaintiffs disgorge the settlement funds, on the ground that those funds had belonged to the bankrupt entity, not to defendants, and that the transactions were therefore voidable under provisions of the United States Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C.A. 544 and 548. Plaintiffs paid $22,500 to resolve the bankruptcy Trustee's claim. Plaintiffs filed this action against defendants, seeking to recover the money that they paid to settle the bankruptcy proceeding as well as attorneys' fees and costs. The motion judge entered summary judgment for plaintiffs on their breach of contract claim. An Appellate Division panel affirmed that determination, with one judge dissenting. After its review, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the motion judge improperly granted summary judgment in plaintiffs' favor. The Court concluded that the record did not establish plaintiffs' right to judgment as a matter of law. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "GlobeMotor Company v. Igdalev" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a law firm practicing as a limited liability partnership (LLP) failed to maintain professional malpractice insurance to cover claims against it, and, if so, whether that failure should cause the revocation of the firm's LLP status, rendering innocent partners personally liable. In July 2009, Mortgage Grader hired Olivo of Ward & Olivo (W&O) to pursue claims of patent infringement against other entities. Mortgage Grader entered into settlement agreements in those matters. In exchange for one-time settlement payments, Mortgage Grader granted those defendant-entities licenses under the patents, including perpetual rights to any patents Mortgage Grader received or obtained through assignment, regardless of their relationship to the patents at issue in the litigation. It is those provisions of the settlement agreement that allegedly gave rise to legal malpractice. In 2011, W&O dissolved and entered into its windup period. W&O continued to exist as a partnership for the sole purpose of collecting outstanding legal fees and paying taxes. The next day, Ward formed a new LLP and began to practice with a new partner. Mortgage Grader filed a complaint against W&O, Olivo, and Ward in October 2012, alleging legal malpractice by Olivo, and claiming that the settlement agreements resulting from Olivo's representation harmed Mortgage Grader's patent rights. The motion court denied Ward's motion to dismiss, first determining that Mortgage Grader had failed to comply with the statutory requirement to serve an affidavit of merit (AOM) on each defendant named in the complaint, and rejected its substantial compliance argument. However, the court also determined that W&O failed to maintain the requisite insurance, which caused its liability shield to lapse and relegated W&O to a GP. Thus, the motion court concluded that Ward could be held vicariously liable for Olivo's alleged legal malpractice. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that law firms organized as LLPs that malpractice insurance did not extend to the firm's windup period, and tail insurance coverage was not required. View "Mortgage Grader, Inc. v. Ward & Olivo, L.L.P." on Justia Law

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In a series of decisions arising from personal injuries sustained by business invitees on the premises of businesses whose operations involve customer self-service, the New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized a principle known as “mode of operation.” This appeal arose from a slip-and-fall accident that occurred at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Cherry Hill. On the evening of her accident, plaintiff Janice Prioleau and her adult son and daughter, Richard Prioleau and Adriana Prioleau, were on a trip from their home in Delaware to New Jersey. Plaintiff and her children recalled that the weather that evening was rainy; plaintiff stated that there was a torrential storm. Plaintiff and her children decided to stop at the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to have dinner. Plaintiff testified that, because of the heavy rain outside, she and her children tracked water into the restaurant. As she approached the restroom, plaintiff slipped and fell, landing on her buttocks and hands. According to plaintiff, the floor near the restroom felt greasy and wet. She stated that there were no mats or warning signs in the area where she fell. Plaintiff s children agreed with her that the floor near the restroom at the restaurant was slippery and greasy. Plaintiff’s testimony established that she had not yet ordered or purchased her dinner when her accident occurred. Instead, by her own account, plaintiff fell immediately after entering the restaurant. She asserted a negligence claim and specifically alleged that defendants failed to exercise reasonable care by failing to provide plaintiff, an invitee, with a safe place to traverse the premises. The jury found defendants negligent, without identifying the theory of negligence on which its verdict was based, and concluded that defendants’ negligence was a proximate cause of plaintiff’s accident. Defendants appealed the trial court’s judgment. A divided Appellate Division panel affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for a directed verdict. The majority reasoned that the unifying factor in case law recognizing the “mode-of-operation” doctrine was the negligence [that] resulted from the business’s method of operation, which was designed to allow patrons to directly handle merchandise or products without intervention from business employees, and entailed an expectation of customer carelessness. Finding no reversible error in the Appellate Division’s judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Prioleau v. Kentucky Fried Chicken, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bruce Kaye, the controlling principal of three entities that sold and managed timeshare interests in resort properties in Atlantic County, hired defendant Alan Rosefielde, an attorney admitted to practice law in New York but not in New Jersey, initially as outside counsel, and then as an employee. After defendant had worked closely with plaintiff for approximately four months, the parties entered an agreement providing that, as compensation for his services, defendant would earn an annual salary of $500,000. For approximately two years, defendant served as Chief Operating Officer for several of the timeshare entities, and effectively functioned as their general counsel. In that capacity, defendant committed serious misconduct by acting on his own behalf instead of for his employers benefit, and exposing his employers to potential liability. Based on this misconduct, and dissatisfaction with defendant’s performance, plaintiff terminated defendant’s employment. Kaye, in his individual capacity and as trustee of two trusts, Kaye’s son Jason Kaye, and the business entities that Kaye owned, sued Rosefielde and several other entities. Plaintiffs asserted claims based on Rosefielde’s breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, legal malpractice, unlicensed practice of law, and breach of the duty of loyalty. Following a lengthy bench trial, the trial court found that Rosefielde engaged in egregious conduct constituting a breach of his duty of loyalty, breach of his fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, and civil fraud. The trial court rescinded Rosefielde’s interest in several entities, awarded compensatory damages, punitive damages, and legal fees, and dismissed Rosefielde’s counterclaims. It declined, however, to order the equitable disgorgement of Rosefielde’s salary as a remedy for his breach of the duty of loyalty, on the ground that his breach did not result in damage or loss to the entities that employed him. The Appellate Division affirmed that determination, and the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification on the issue of equitable disgorgement. “In imposing the remedy of disgorgement, depending on the circumstances, a trial court should apportion the employee’s compensation, rather than ordering a wholesale disgorgement that may be disproportionate to the misconduct at issue. . . . If an agent is paid a salary apportioned to periods of time, or compensation apportioned to the completion of specified items of work, he is entitled to receive the stipulated compensation for periods or items properly completed before his renunciation or discharge. This is true even if, because of unfaithfulness or insubordination, the agent forfeits his compensation for subsequent periods or items.” The judgment of the Appellate Division was reversed with respect to the remedy of equitable disgorgement, and the matter was remanded to the trial court to decide whether plaintiffs were entitled to disgorgement. If so, the trial court should apportion Rosefielde’s compensation, ordering disgorgement only for monthly pay periods in which he committed acts of disloyalty. View "Kaye v. Rosefielde" on Justia Law