New Jersey’s Complex Business Litigation Program just completed what by all accounts was a busy and successful initial year of operation. Following the national trend of establishing specialized business courts, New Jersey on January 1, 2015 implemented the program in which one judge in each of the state’s fifteen vicinages is assigned to handle complex business, commercial and construction cases that are self-designated by the parties or counsel to be adjudicated in those specialized courts. The amount in controversy must be at least $200,000 to qualify, unless the court determines that cases with a lesser amount in controversy are appropriate for inclusion.
By the end of its first year in operation, the program had fielded 195 cases, 51 of which were resolved by year-end. Among the cases still pending, 104 were designated as complex commercial and 38 as complex construction. The remaining two cases fell into the self-designated categories of insurance fraud and personal injury. The majority of cases assigned to the program were filed in just four of the fifteen vicinages: Bergen (32), Monmouth (23), Middlesex (20) and Essex (19). The majority of pending cases are concentrated in those same four counties: Bergen (22), Monmouth (19), Essex (16) and Middlesex (14).
New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has pointed to the high concentration of complex cases in just four counties as an area for improvement through increased promotion of the specialized courts. Court administrators also have noted a need to increase the number of written decisions issued by the business courts. Each of the program’s designated judges is expected to post a minimum of two written decisions. Their output fell short of the mark during the program’s inaugural year. In the year ahead, the program will focus on continued specialized training for designated judges. Three training sessions were organized during the program’s first year. The objective, according to administrators, is to develop a core group of judges statewide capable of managing complex disputes.