After a year of considering the needs of parties to business-related litigation, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has announced that the Judiciary will implement a “Complex Business Litigation Program” effective January 1, 2015, designed to streamline and expedite resolution of complex business disputes, including complex construction-related matters.
For a case to be eligible for the program, at least $200,000 must be in controversy (unless the court determines that the threshold should be relaxed given the particular circumstances of the case), and the matter must fit within the court’s definition of a “Complex Commercial” or “Complex Construction” litigation. The definition of Complex Commercial litigation includes claims:
by, against, and among parties that arise out of business or commercial transactions and involve parties’ exposure to potentially significant damage awards; or where the business or commercial claim involves complex factual or legal issues; a large number of separately represented parties; potential numerous pre-trial motions raising difficult or novel legal issues; case management of a large number of lay and expert witnesses or a substantial amount of documentary evidence (including electronically stored information); substantial time required to complete the trial; significant interpretation of a business or commercial statue; or involves other contentions of a complex business/commercial nature.
Business-related actions to impose a constructive trust or an equitable lien can also qualify for the program, but other actions that are generally filed with General Equity, as well as “matters primarily involving consumers, labor organizations, personal injury, condemnation” or a government party are specifically excluded.
The court has defined “Complex Construction” as meaning
claims by, against, and among owners, contractors, subcontractors, fabricators and installers, architects, engineers, design and construction consultants, and other similar parties associated with a construction project that involves parties’ exposure to potentially significant damage awards because of claimed design and construction defects, or facility delivery delay claims or where the construction claim involves complex factual or legal issues; a large number of separately represented parties; potential numerous pre-trial motions raising difficult or novel legal issues; case management of a large number of lay and expert witnesses or a substantial amount of documentary evidence (including electronically stored information); substantial time require to complete the trial.
Billing disputes, change order claims or lien enforcement actions not otherwise associated with a Complex Construction claim, as described above, will not be eligible for the program.
Assuming its case is eligible for inclusion in the Program, what advantages does the Complex Commercial or Complex Construction track offer over the various other “standard” tracks that are already provided for by the Rules of Court?
The centerpiece of the program is that eligible cases will be individually case managed, from beginning to end, by a designated judge with experience in complex civil litigation. Early and consistent case management, geared towards a streamlined adjudication, are key goals of the Program. Judges assigned to the program will receive supplementary training in relevant subjects such as securities, business valuation, the Uniform Commercial Code, and e-discovery. Cases before these judges will not be subject to the court’s presumptive mediation or arbitration programs, but parties will be encouraged to participate in mediation by carefully selected neutrals. The program will include jury and non-jury matters, and the Judges overseeing them will be expected to issue a minimum of two written opinions each year.
The implementation of this program may mark the most profound change in the New Jersey Rules of Court since standardized “Best Practices” were implemented in 2000. The requirement for each judge in the program to issue at least two written opinions a year should also help the Judiciary to develop a greater body of case law on complex business and construction related topics, to the benefit of the legal and business communities.