• New Jersey Creates Complex Business Litigation Program
  • April 14, 2015
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Roseland Office
  • Key Points:

    • The Supreme Court of New Jersey has authorized a complex business litigation program.
    • Starting January 1, 2015, complex commercial and complex construction cases may be eligible for the program.
    • The program includes a threshold damages amount of $200,000, but parties under the threshold can move to be included in the program.

    On November 13, 2014, the Supreme Court of New Jersey authorized a complex business litigation program that expands upon a previous pilot program. Complex business, commercial and construction cases filed on or after January 1, 2015, will be eligible for the program, including jury and non-jury matters. A Complex Business Litigation Judge has been designated in each vicinage, and each Judge will receive specialized training relating to business litigation and effective case and trial management. The Judge will conduct an initial review of each case to determine if it is appropriate for the program. Also, each Judge will be expected to issue a minimum of two written opinions per year in order to develop case law dealing with business litigation. Cases in the program will not be subject to mandatory arbitration or mediation, but mediation will be encouraged.

    Program eligibility includes a threshold damages amount, with an amount in controversy of at least $200,000. The court can determine, upon motion, that a particular case with a lesser amount in controversy is appropriate for inclusion. Parties may also move for removal from the program on the grounds that the action does not meet the amount in controversy.

    Parties will designate a case as a complex business litigation matter on the Civil Case Information Statement and must specify if the matter is a complex commercial or a complex construction case. “Complex commercial” and “complex construction” are defined as follows:

    Complex Commercial: Defined as 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 statute; or involves other contentions of a complex business-commercial nature.

    Complex Construction: Defined as 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); or substantial time required to complete the trial. Complex construction does not include construction and professional payment and billing claims, change order claims, wrongful termination, quantum merit, construction lien or mechanics lien claims, unless associated with a complex construction claim as herein described.

    The program is based on the Supreme Court Working Group on Business Litigation’s report and recommendations published on April 10, 2014. The Working Group, established in 2013, was designed to meet the needs of New Jersey’s business community and develop a body of law in business litigation. The Working Group concluded that the program would address the business community’s goals of certainty, finality, timeliness and cost effectiveness in litigation. The program expands a pilot program operating in the Bergen and Essex vicinages where a single judge with experience in complex civil litigation oversees all business litigation cases from their inception. The Essex-Bergen pilot program concluded upon the implementation of the statewide Complex Business Litigation Program.

    According to the Supreme Court Working Group Report, the amount of the threshold damages was the only issue upon which the committee was seriously divided. Some members of the committee believed there should be a higher amount in controversy requirement, while other members suggested a lower threshold amount. The committee was able to compromise because parties have the opportunity to petition to be included in or removed from the program.

    The program offers a promising future for complex business litigation cases. Perhaps the most profound change for complex business cases will come from the assignment of a Complex Business Litigation Judge who will follow each case from its inception. This will provide a promise of streamlined, expedited and individually case-managed matters. The expedited process will aid attorneys in keeping down costs of litigation. The requirement that each Judge issue two opinions per year will help to develop a body of case law in this area of law that will provide clarity to the New Jersey business litigation community. The program will help to resolve complex business cases throughout New Jersey.