The Appellate Division issues many, many opinions dealing with all types of substantive legal questions. We will not be discussing any such cases in today’s post; instead, we want to highlight two recent unpublished Appellate Division opinions. In the first opinion, Belmonte v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., No. A-5440-09 (App. Div. June 7, 2011), the Appellate Division provides a reminder to trial courts about how they are supposed to handle certain types of motions. In the second case, Hackensack Radiology Group, P.A. v. Rakshpal, No. A-5590-09 (App. Div. June 7, 2011), the Appellate Division reminds litigants of the types of trial court rulings from which they can appeal and those for which they must seek leave.
In Belmonte, the plaintiff, an employee of defendant New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc. (“NJ Transit”), filed suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. NJ Transit moved for summary judgment. Although NJ Transit requested oral argument, the trial court decided the motion on the papers. In granting the motion, the Court provided the following rationale in its Order: “Court finding no genuine issue of material fact, and finding that under FELA case law the railroad has no liability.” The plaintiff moved for reconsideration, which the court denied. In its order, the court stated: “Ordered that the motion for reconsideration is DENIED, the Court finding that the plaintiff failed to provide new information or controlling decisions . . . which the Court overlooked or erred.”
The Appellate Division reversed and remanded “because the reasons provided by the trial court were insufficient to allow us to evaluate the merits of the appeal.” The Appellate Division stressed that pursuant to Rule 1:7-4(a) and Rule 4:46-2(c), a trial court must make findings of fact and conclusions of law on every motion that is decided by written orders that are appealable as of right. After discussing previous cases in which it had outlined a trial court’s obligations to make findings of fact and conclusions of law, and pointing out that the trial court did not amplify its reasons for its rulings within fifteen days of the plaintiff’s appeal (as it is permitted to do under Rule 2:5-1(b)), the Appellate Division remanded the case “to the trial court for reconsideration of its decision to grant summary judgment, after allowing oral argument, and for the court to provide a full explanation of its findings of fact and conclusions of law. We express no opinion regarding the appropriate resolution of this motion.”
In Hackensack Radiology Group, P.A., the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to transfer the action from the Special Civil Part to the Law Division. The defendant then appealed that order. However, the Appellate Division dismissed the appeal because “[a]n order that denies transfer of an action is not a final judgment because it does not adjudicate the claims asserted in the complaint and any counterclaims.” The Appellate Division reminded the defendant, and litigants generally, that such an interlocutory order can only be appealed by leave of court pursuant to Rule 2:5-6(a). The court went so far as to say that even if the defendant had filed a motion for leave to appeal and attempted to satisfy Rule 2:5-6(a)’s strict standard it would “undoubtedly” have denied such a motion.