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The New Jersey Supreme Court is recognized as one of the leading state courts in the nation. The issues that come before the Court cover a vast array of topics from the education of our children to procedures in criminal trials. Cases come to the Court because the parties cannot agree. Often the circumstances of the cases are unique. The Court then must consider the unusual and often difficult problem presented and reach a decision that is fair and informed by existing law.

The following sections highlight some of the most notable cases by the New Jersey Supreme Court over the years and are designed to provide a better understanding of the Court’s work. They are not intended to provide a comprehensive statement of New Jersey law on the topics in question. Rather the sections highlight the scope of the important cases. Not all such cases are listed.

Hopefully, the discussion of these notable cases will provide a better appreciation of the Court’s role and give some insight into the development of New Jersey’s law. Because law evolves, whether through case law or legislative action or constitutional amendment, the reader should understand that any law or case discussed here may have been or may be subsequently modified or overturned.

Common Law

New Jersey’s 1947 Constitution created a court system capable of responding to the needs of New Jersey’s citizens, and to changes in our society. For more than seven decades, New Jersey’s Supreme Court has gained recognition nationally among state high courts for its timely, prudent and well-conceived innovations to the common law.

The common law, like other judicial principles, arises out of court rulings resolving controversies presented to courts by people in search of a solution. Individuals and others, ordinarily with the help of lawyers, select the issues to present to a court. In effect, the common law results from judicial decisions resolving those issues case-by-case. 

Relevant Cases: Fox v. Snow, 6 N.J. 12 (1950)
Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc 32 N.J. 358, 161 A.2d 69 (1960)
Marini v. Ireland, 56 N.J. 130, 265 A.2d 526 (1970)
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Arbitration and Mediation

The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized the need for, and benefits of, Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) programs as a means of encouraging dispositions of litigation, both before and after a complaint is filed, in an expeditious, less costly and convenient manner. Both arbitration and mediation are recognized and encouraged by court rules and case law development. The Supreme Court has established a court ordered mediation program under Rule 1:40 whereby civil cases are sent to a mediator on the court roster of approved mediators, following required education and certification, to conduct a confidential mediation prior to more formal court proceedings in the adversarial context. The mediator is required to give the parties one free hour of time for preparation and one free hour during the mediation as a means of serving the parties. A mediation can resolve the case only if the parties agree to the disposition.  

An arbitration resolves the matter based on presentation of the parties and decision by the arbitrator. There are court rules, R.4:21A, regarding mandatory and voluntary arbitration of certain types of cases with de novo review by the courts thereafter, if desired. 

Relevant Cases: Kernahan v Home Warranty Administrator of Florida, Inc., N.J. (2019)
Roach v BM Motoring, LLC., 228 N.J. 163 (2017)
Morgan v Sanford Morgan Institute, 225 N.J. 289 (2016)
Atalese v U.S. Legal Servs. Group, 219 N.J. 430 (2014)
Hirsch v Amper Fin. Servs., LLC., 215 N.J. 174 (2013)
Muhammad v County Bank of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, 189 N.J. 1 (2006)
Hojnowski v Vans Skate Park, 187 N.J. 323 (2006)
Martindale v Sandvik, Inc, 173 N.J. 76 (2002)
Garfinkel v Morristown Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates. P.A., 168 N.J. 124 (2001)
Barcon Assocs. v Tri-Asphalt Corp., 86 N.J. 179 (1981)
Fawzy v Fawzy, 199 NJ 456 (2009)
Willingboro Mall, Ltd. v 240/242 Franklin Avenue, LLC., 215 N.J. 242 (2013)
State v Williams, 184 N.J. 432 (2005)
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Criminal Procedure

The first New Jersey constitution, adopted in 1776, was a brief document setting up the structure of the government. As with the federal constitution adopted in 1789, it did not include a list of personal rights. Although the federal constitution swiftly remedied this omission, it was not until New Jersey’s second constitution, adopted in 1844, that New Jersey set forth an explicit listing of a criminal defendant’s rights. These included the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; the right to have a grand jury determine whether there was sufficient evidence to initiate criminal proceedings against a defendant; the right to be tried by a jury, in proceedings that were speedy and public; and the right not to be placed in criminal jeopardy twice for the same offense. This explicit listing was continued in our 1947 constitution.

Although New Jersey has recognized these rights as constitutionally required for more than 170 years, it is only recently that our Supreme Court has looked to our own constitution to assess whether a defendant’s rights have been protected. For many years it was guided by the approach taken by the United States Supreme Court, which originally held the view that the provisions of the federal Bill of Rights governed proceedings in the federal court but were not applicable to proceedings in state courts. That view changed dramatically in the 1960s when the United States Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, held that certain of these rights were indeed applicable in state court proceedings. It did so by utilizing the incorporation doctrine, ruling that the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated certain of the federally-guaranteed rights of the first ten amendments. The Supreme Court’s process of incorporation was incremental, rather than blanket. 

Relevant Cases: Miranda v Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)
State v. Johnson, 68 N.J. 349 (1975)
State v. Hagans, 232 N.J. 43 (2018)
State v. Novembrino, 105 N.J. 95 (1985)
United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984)
State v. Hempele, 120 N.J. 182 (1990)
California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988)
State v. Reed, 133 N.J. 237 (1993)
Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412 (1986)
State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6 (2009)
State v. Witt, 223 N.J. 409 (2015)
State v Cromedy, 158 N.J. 112 (1999)
State v. Henderson, 208 N.J. 208 (2011)
Download: Criminal Procedure

Incumbent upon civilized society is an underlying obligation to provide properly for the education of its citizenry. Without such an education, members of society lack one of the only means available to social and economic advancement. The citizens of New Jersey recognize that principle, and it is incorporated into the state’s 1947 Constitution. Article VIII, §4, paragraph 1 states, “The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a through and efficient system of free public schools for the instruction of all the children in the State between the ages of five and eighteen years.”

Implementing that important public policy has proven to be challenging over the years. The New Jersey Supreme Court has revisited this issue of “thorough and efficient” education for close to fifty years. In large part the problems have been the sources of funding and quality of education provided in various school districts. The Court has been at the center of the funding issue.  

The Court has also examined other issues bearing a correlation to the education of New Jersey’s residents. The cases that touch on education issues are far ranging. Examples include school busing, the interplay between private and public schools, and labor relationships within the school district. The Court has also addressed quasi-criminal matters involving the rights of students. The importance of these issues is evident from the breadth and depth of the Supreme Court’s involvement. The following is a sampling of key cases involving education.

Relevant Cases: Yanow v. Seven Oaks Park, Inc., 11 N.J. 341 (1953)
Booker v. Board of Education, 45 N.J. 161 (1965)
West Morris Regional Board of Education v. Sills, 58 N.J. 464 (1971)
Jenkins v. Morris School Dist., 58 N.J. 483 (1971)
Robinson v. Cahill, 69 N.J. 449 (1976)
N.J. Asso. for Retarded Citizens v. N.J. Dep’t of Human Servs., 89 N.J. 234 (1982)
Abbott v. Burke, 100 N.J. 269 (1985)
Bd. of Educ. v. Neptune Twp. Educ. Ass’n, 144 N.J. 16 (1996)
Joye v. Hunterdon Cent. Reg’l High Sch. Bd. Of Educ., 176 N.J. 568 (2003)
L.W. ex rel. L.G. v. Toms River Regional Schools Bd. of Educ., 189 N.J. 381 (2007)
Besler v. Board of Educ. Of West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Dist., 201 N.J. 544 (2010)
Abbott v. Burke, 206 N.J. 332 (2011)
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Family Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court consistently has been at the forefront of matters involving family relationships. The issues it has addressed have been as varied as human nature itself. As early as 1971, the Court corrected the course that family law had been on and recognized the notion of marriage as a shared enterprise in which the spouse’s contributions are to be valued equally. Khalaf v. Khalaf, 58 N.J. 63 (1971). It went on to uphold the constitutionality of the equitable distribution statute, Painter v. Painter, 65 N.J. 196 (1974) and identified a non-vested pension plan with future monetary benefits earned during the marriage as within the marital estate. Kikkert v. Kikkert, 88 N.J. 4 (1981).

In addition, recognizing that all relationships entitled to protection are not traditional marriages, the Court declared that committed same-sex couples must be afforded the same rights and benefits enjoyed by married opposite sex couples, Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006) and permitted the enforcement of financial agreements between unmarried parties living together based on promises that had been made and expectations developed. Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979). 

Relevant Cases: Khalaf v. Khalaf, 58 N.J. 63 (1971)
Painter v. Painter, 65 N.J. 196 (1974)
Kikkert v. Kikkert, 88 N.J. 4 (1981)
Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006)
Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979)
State v. Kelly, 97 N.J. 178 (1984)
J.B. v. M.B., 470 N.J. 9 (2001)
Beck v. Beck, 86 N.J. 480 (1981)
VC v. MJB, 163 N.J. 200 (2000)
Moriarty v. Bradt, 177 N.J. 84 (2003)
IMO DC & DC Minors, 203 N.J. 541 (2010)
Williams v. Williams, 59 N.J. 229 (1971)
Lepis v. Lepis, 83 N.J. 139 (1980)
Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982)
Lynn v. Lynn, 91 N.J. 510 (1982)
Gayet v. Gayet, 92 N.J. 149 (1983)
Innes v. Innes, 117 N.J. 496 (1990)
Kinsella v. Kinsella, 150 N.J. 276 (1997)
Crews v. Crews, 164 N.J. 11 (2000)
Mani v. Mani, 183 N.J. 70 (2005)
Fawzy v. Fawzy, 199 N.J. 456 (2009)
Bisbing v. Bisbing, 230 N.J. 309 (2017)
Baures v. Lewis, 167 N.J. 91 (2001)
Download: Family Law
Individual Rights
Importance: While many people think of the United States Constitution, and particularly the first ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, as the major source of legal protection of individual freedoms—such as free speech, freedom of religion, personal privacy rights and the right to due process of law—each state constitution is also an independent source of those rights. While the federal Constitution provides the basic guarantees that are enforced across the nation, each state is free in its own constitution to provide rights that exceed the minimum federal standard.  New Jersey in particular has a long tradition of interpreting the New Jersey Constitution in ways that are in keeping with the particular history and traditions of this State, and that often exceed the federal constitutional standard. Following are some examples.
Relevant Cases: State v. Schmid, 84 N.J. 535 (1980)
Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners' Association v. Khan, 210 N.J. 482 (2012)
Freedom from Religion Foundation V. Morris County Board Of Chosen Freeholders, 235 N.J. 385 (2018)
Ran-Dav's County Kosher, Inc. v. State, 129 N.J. 141 (1992)
Elmora Hebrew Center v. Fishman, 125 N.J. 404 (1991)
State v. Gregory, 66 N.J. 510 (1975)
Rodriguez v. Rosenblatt, 58 N.J. 281 (1971)
Right to Choose v. Byrne, 91 N.J. 287 (1982)
Quinlan, 70 N.J. 10 (1976)
Baby M, 109 N.J. 396 (1988)
V.C. v. M.J.B., 163 N.J. 200 (2000)
Download: Individual Rights
Municipal Law

Up to the mid 20th century, citizens could not generally sue towns when they were injured or refused to carry out contracts. Now, such municipal immunity has largely disappeared as to contract and tort claims against municipal entities. So the law covering these kinds today of cases resembles the case law set forth in the sections on torts and contracts.  

But some subjects remain unique to local government. What is the origin of home rule? Where do our towns get their right to pass ordinances that regulate people and businesses? When is local initiative barred by uniform state law?  Case law also enforces statutes governing citizens’ rights to attend public meetings and gain access to public records. And case law also governs the fairness of property tax assessments and the integrity of local officials.  

The general trend in the law has been to give local governments more authority to undertake initiatives on behalf of their citizens. When in doubt, the Supreme Court has given the go ahead to local regulations, unless they violate some specific constitutional right, like the right to free speech or equality before the law or interfere with the requirements of a state statute. For example, over the past decades, the Court has authorized local rent control, requirements for soil removal or regulation of firearms discharge. In this way our Court has been quite supportive of local home rule. 

Relevant Cases: Inganamort v. Bor. of Ft. Lee, 62 N.J. 521 (1973)
Fred v. Mayor and Council of Old Tappan, 10 N.J.515 (1952)
Chester Township v. Panicucci, 62 N.J. 94 (1973)
Overlook Terrace Management Corp. v. Rent Control Bd.of West New York, 71 N.J. 451 (1976)
FMC Stores v. Bor. of Morris Plains, 100 N.J. 418 (1985)
Jantausch v. Bor. of Verona, 24 N.J. 326 (1957)
Switz v. Middletown Tp., 23 N.J. 580 (1957)
Thompson v. City of Atlantic City, 190 N.J. 359 (2007)
Driscoll v. Burlington Bristol Bridge Co., 8 N.J. 433 (1952)
Polillo v. Deane, 74 N.J. 562 (1977)
State v. Caoli, 135 N..J. 252 (1994)
Irval Realty, Inc. v. Bd. Of Public Utilities Commissioners, 61 .N.J. 366 (1972)
North Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, 229 N.J. 541 (2017)
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Premises Liability

“Contractor sues Starbuck’s CEO after slipping on mansion floor.” “Trespassing teenager falls through skylight, sues property owner.” “Supermarket sued by shopper mugged in parking lot.” Headlines such as these while not common demonstrate the importance of Premise Liability Law in New Jersey. Simply because an accident occurred does not mean that the property or business owner is responsible for the injuries. What rights does a person have when entering onto another’s property? What duty should be imposed on the property owner?  Everyone has walked into a business, traveled over public sidewalks, been invited to a neighbor’s house, and perhaps engaged in an occasional trespass. All these routine activities have the potential of placing an individual in foreseeable harm. It follows that the law impose corresponding protections. The New Jersey Supreme Court initially confronted these questions by applying Common Law principles.  

Under Common Law a plaintiff must establish the existence of a duty of care that was breached by the property owner, causing injury to plaintiff. Townsend v. Pierre, 221 N.J. 36 (2015). To determine if a duty existed the Court examined the relationship between the property owner and the person entering the premises. Why was this person there? Was a benefit conferred on the owner by the person or were both parties mutually benefited? Identifying the status of the parties became a determinative factor in establishing the duty. The extent of the duty depended on 2  whether the person entering the property was a business invitee, social guest (also referred to as a licensee) or trespasser.  

Relevant Cases: Townsend v. Pierre, 221 N.J. 36 (2015)
Taneian v. Meghrigian, 15 N.J. 267 (1954)
Handleman v. Cox, 39 N.J .95 (1963)
Egan v. Erie Railroad Co., 29 N.J .243 (1959)
Brett v. Great Am. Recreation Inc., 144 N.J. 479, 508 (1996)
Gonzalez v. Safe and Sound Security, 185 N.J. 100 (2005)
Taylor v. N.J. Highway Authority, 22 N.J. 454 (1956)
Butler v. Acme Markets, Inc., 89 N.J. 270 (1982)
Hopkins v. Fox and Lazo Realtors, 132 N.J. 426 (1993)
Parks v. Rogers, 176 N.J. 491 (2003)
Rowe v. Mazel Thirty LLC, 209 N.J. 35 (2012)
Yankho v. Fane, 70 N.J. 528 (1976)
Mirza v. Fimore Corp., 92 N.J. 390 (1983)
Luchejko v. City of Hoboken, 207 N.J.191 (2011)
Qian v. Toll Brothers, Inc., 223 N.J. 124 (2015)
McDaid v. Aztec West Condominium Association, 234 N.J. 130 (2018)
Vincitore v. N.J. Sports & Exposition Authority, 169 N.J. 119, 125 (2001)
Jerista v. Murray, 185 N.J. 175 (2005)
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Products Liability

In few areas of the law has the New Jersey Supreme Court advanced the common law so definitively as in the field of product liability. Leading the way in the nation, our state Supreme Court re-prioritized society’s agenda to promote product safety, by providing a legal remedy to the consumers of defective goods.

The modern law of Product Liability began as a response to transformative changes in the production and marketing of consumer goods during the first decades of the 20th Century. The small manufacturer whose products were personally inspected and selected by a series of individual buyers was replaced by the mass marketer. The buyer who was able to select both the manufacturer and the particular goods was replaced by the passive consumer who bought out of stock, knew nothing about production, nor was in a position to influence it. Moreover, people who suffered damage when mass marketed goods turned out to be defective were at an increasing disadvantage in their ability to be compensated for their loss. 

Relevant Cases:  
Download: Products Liability
Professional Responsibility and Discipline of Attorneys

Under Article VI, section II, paragraph 3 of the 1947 State Constitution, the New Jersey Supreme Court has the exclusive authority to make Rules governing “the administration of all courts in the State,” governing “practice and procedure in all such courts,” and exercises “jurisdiction over the admission to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted.”  

The New Jersey system for admission and discipline of attorneys is governed by the Court rules and not by bar associations or other entities. It is a system unique to New Jersey. The Supreme Court has established procedures to assure the qualification of attorneys admitted to practice in the state and regarding their character and fitness. It has also established a comprehensive system for the discipline of attorneys through local district ethics committees or Special Ethics Masters who hear disciplinary cases.

Relevant Cases: Opinion 39 of Committee on Advertising, 197 NJ 66 (2008)
Petrillo v Bachenberg, 139 NJ 472 (1995)
Madden v Delran Tp., 126 NJ 591 (1992)
Rodriguez v Rosenblatt, 58 NJ 281 (1976)
Jacob v Norris, 128 NJ 10 (1992)
Weiss v Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, 143 NJ 420 (1996)
Heher v Smith, Stratton Wise, 143 NJ 448 (1996) and 170 NJ 213 (2001)
Reardon v Marlayne, Inc., 83 NJ 460 (1980)
Dewey v RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., 109 NJ 201 (1988)
Wilson, 81 NJ 451 (1979)
Hollendonner, 102 NJ 21 (1985)
American Trial Lawyers v N.J. Supreme Court, 66 N.J. 258 (1974)
Volsi, 85 NJ 576 (1981)
Committee on Advertising, 197 NJ 66 (2008)
Petrillo v Bachenberg, 139 NJ 472 (1995)
Madden v Delran Tp., 126 NJ 591 (1992)
Rodriguez v Rosenblatt, 58 NJ 281 (1976)
Jacob v Norris, 128 NJ 10 (1992)
Weiss v Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, 143 NJ 420 (1996)
Heher v Smith, Stratton Wise, 143 NJ 448 (1996) and 170 NJ 213 (2001)
Reardon v Marlayne, Inc., 83 NJ 460 (1980)
Wilson, 81 NJ 451 (1979)
Hollendonner, 102 NJ 21 (1985)
State v Rue, 175 NJ
Friedland, Querques and Robbins, 59 N.J. 209 (1971)
Download: Professional Responsibility and Discipline of Attorneys
The State Constitution

The people of New Jersey have, in fact, two constitutions that provide for their governance and protect their rights. First, is the more familiar United States Constitution. Like the people in all fifty states, however, New Jerseyans also have their own state constitution that provides additional constitutional rules applicable only in their state. New Jersey has had its own state constitution since 1776, and with numerous changes, modifications, and additions over the years, this has led to our current New Jersey state constitution. The New Jersey Supreme Court has the final say on the meaning and application of our state constitution.

When a contested court case raises a question regarding an interpretation of a provision of the state constitution, or how it applies to the facts of the case, the court must apply or interpret the constitution in order to decide the case. Such judicial decisions not only decide the specific case before the court but also serve as precedents to be applied to future questions regarding the meaning of that state constitutional provision. These judge-made interpretations, together with the text of the constitution itself, constitute the state constitutional law of our state. While these constitutional precedents are not written in stone, at times albeit highly unlikely, they can be overturned by future courts. Finally, it is in the area of constitutional law that courts are often called upon to protect a fundamental right of a citizen that has yet to be addressed by the legislature. When elected officials are unable to act, the courts are the only recourse available to the public.   

Relevant Cases: Peper v. Princeton University, 77 N.J. 55, 389 A. 2d 465 (1978)
Quinlan, 70 N.J. 10, 355 A. 2d 647 (1976)
Planned Parenthood of Central New Jersey v. Farmer, 165 N.J. 609, 762 A. 2d 620 (2000)
Right to Choose v. Byrne, 91 N.J. 287, 450 A.2d 925 (1982)
Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415, 908 A. 2d 196 (2006)
New Jersey Coalition Against the War in the Middle East v. J.M.B. Realty Corp., 138 N.J. 326, 650 A. 2d 757 (1994)
Comite Organizador de Trabajadores Agricolas (COTA) v. Molinelli, 114 N.J. 87, 552 A. 2d 1003 (1999)
Southern Burlington County NAACP v. Township of Mt. Laurel, 67 N.J. 151, 336 A.2d 713 (1975)
State v. Muhammad, 145 N.J. 23, 678 A. 2d 164 (1996)
Winberry v. Salisbury, 5 N.J. 240, 74 A. 2d 406 (1950)
Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Paulsboro, 191 N.J. 344, 924 A.2d 447 (2007)
State v. Gilmore, 103 N.J. 508, 511 A.2d 1150 (1986)
Robinson v. Cahill, 303 A.2d 273, 62 N.J. 473 (1973)
Abbott v. Burke, 495 A.2d 376, 100 N.J. 269 (1985)
Download: The State Constitution
Zoning and Planning
Importance: For more than five decades, New Jersey’s Supreme Court has been looked to by courts across the nation for how best to accommodate the many interests that come into competition (some might say clash) when real estate is developed. Given New Jersey’s status as the most densely populated state in the United States, the potential for objectors to any land use application isn’t small. Most disputes are resolved before local planning and zoning boards, yet many find their way to the Superior Court where trial judges attempt to apply the law as fairly as possible. When the losing party appeals, some of those decisions find their way to our state’s highest court. 
Relevant Cases: Ward v. Scott, 11 N.J. 117 (1952)
Kramer v. Bd. of Adjustment, 45 N.J. 68 (1965)
Kirsch Holding Co. v. Manalapan, 59 N.J. 241 (1971)
Southern Burlington County N.A.A.C.P. v. Mount Laurel Tp., 67 N.J. 151, 187 (1975)
Mount Laurel II, 92 N.J. 158 (1983)
Home Builders League v. Berlin, 81 N.J. 127 (1979)
Medici v. BPR Company, 101 N.J. 1 (1987)
PRB Enterprises, Inc., v. S. Brunswick Planning Board, 105 N.J. 1 (1987)
Riggs v. Long Beach Township, 109 N.J. 601 (1988)
Sica v. Board of Adjustment, 127 N.J. 152 (1992)
Wyzkowski v. Rizas, 132 N.J. 509 (1993)
Coventry Square, Inc. v. Westwood ZBA, 138 N.J. 285 (1994)
New Jersey Shore Builders Association v. the Township of Jackson, 199 N.J. 38 (2009)
Grippenburg v. Township of Ocean, 220 N.J. 239 (2015)
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