Rule 1:6-2(d) provides in pertinent part that unless a civil motion “involves pretrial discovery or is directly addressed to the calendar,” a party’s request for oral argument “shall be granted as of right.” For motions that can be appealed as of right, Rule 1:7-4(a) requires a trial court to “by opinion or memorandum decision, either written or oral, find the facts and state its conclusions of law thereon.” In Stephenson v. Rutgers University, No. A-1660-10 (App. Div. Sept. 22, 2011), the Appellate Division highlighted the importance of those Rules in vacating the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the defendants because the trial court did not conduct oral argument and did not provide a proper explanation for its ruling.
In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that Rutgers and one of its employees unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49. The plaintiff had been a part-time student manager of a Rutgers sports team, and she claimed that she was discriminated against with respect to her compensation and harassed because of a disability and her perceived sexual orientation.
The defendants filed a summary judgment motion and requested oral argument pursuant to Rule 1:6-2(d). The plaintiff opposed the motion and the defendants filed a reply. The trial court did not conduct oral argument and dismissed the complaint. In doing so, the judge handwrote a nine-sentence explanation outlining the basis of his ruling.
In reviewing the trial court’s ruling, the Appellate Division first outlined the requirements of Rule 1:6-2(d) and Rule 1:7-4(a). With respect to the former, the Appellate Division noted that the trial court did not have the option to deny oral argument on a substantive motion like the defendants’ summary judgment motion. As to the trial court’s explanation of its ruling, the Appellate Division pointed out that it did not include findings of fact and was “cursory.” Accordingly, the Appellate Division determined that the trial court’s ruling did not comply with Rule 1:7-4(a). Therefore, the Appellate Division reversed the summary judgment order and remanded the case to the trial court, instructing the court to “address both the statute of limitations issue, which was apparently the basis for his decision, and the substantive-law issues raised in the motion.”