Case Law Alerts
In the age of eCourts and electronic filing, New Jersey courts will not give attorneys leeway to plead ignorance of the amended rules.
This appeal concerned the use of eCourts in New Jersey and the potential to lead to possible professional liability for failure to use the electronic filing system. The defendant failed to file a demand for trial de novo and pay the required fee following a mandatory arbitration in a personal injury matter. On January 31, 2018, the arbitrator filed a net award of $200,000 in favor of the plaintiff. The time for the defendant to file a trial de novo demand and pay the $200 fee expired 30 days later, on March 2, 2018. The defense counsel, who had a JACS account, claimed he “was confused about how the $200 fee was to be paid to the court,” but he never contacted the court to ascertain the proper procedure. Instead, the attorney sent the trial de novo demand to the clerk of the civil division by Federal Express along with a check in the amount of $200 made payable to the Superior Court of New Jersey. She sent the trial de novo demand and $200 check on February 13, 2018, and sent a copy to the plaintiff.
On March 19, 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion to confirm the arbitration award. The defendant filed a cross-motion for leave to file a trial de novo demand. Defense counsel claimed that it was not until after the plaintiff filed her motion that he first became aware that the court had not processed his $200 check. On April 13, 2018, the trial court entered two orders: one confirming the arbitration award and entering judgment and the other denying the defendant’s motion for leave to file a trial de novo demand.
The defendant appealed from two April 13, 2018, Law Division orders: (1) enforcing the arbitration award and entering judgment against the defendant; and (2) denying the defendant’s motion for leave to file a demand for trial de novo. The Appellate Division held that there was no compliance with N.J.S.A. 2A:23A-20 to -30 and Rule 4:21A-6, let alone substantial compliance. Nine months prior to the expiration of the 30-day period in this matter, the New Jersey Bar was notified of mandatory eCourts filing and fee payment requirements. The eCourts filing system became mandatory in the Bergen County vicinage, the county where this case was venued, nearly four months before the expiration of the 30-day period in this matter. Further, the defendant’s filing of the de novo demand and payment of the fee did not comply with the mandatory eCourts filing and payment requirements. The attorney for the defendant received appropriate notice of the filing and payment deficiencies and had time within the 30-day period to contact the court to ascertain the proper procedure and cure those deficiencies. The attorney, however, took no steps to do so and provided no reasonable explanation why there was no strict compliance with the statute and rule.
This ruling has various implications that professional malpractice defense attorneys must be cognizant in representing clients facing exposure from failing to use New Jersey’s mandatory electronic filing system. In the age of eCourts and electronic filing, attorneys cannot plead ignorance in their failure to comply with the amended rules.
Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter, July 2019
Case Law Alerts is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. Copyright © 2019 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, all rights reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm.