Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) are lawsuits intended to intimidate or punish those engaged in constitutionally protected activity by, essentially, suing them into submission or silence through the prospect of costly and time-consuming litigation. Thirty-two states have enacted some form of anti-SLAPP legislation designed to weed out these cases and, in most instances, provide for dismissal of such actions early in the process. New Jersey is not one of those states. That may soon change. State Senate Bill S2802, the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act (the “Act”), and its Assembly counterpart, A4393, were introduced in June 2022 and provide an expedited process for dismissal of SLAPP actions. The legislation is modeled after the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act (UPEPA) drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and approved and recommended by it in 2020 for enactment in all states. The Act would apply to a civil cause of action against a person based on the person’s (1) communications during a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative, or other governmental proceeding; (2) communications on an issue under consideration or review by such a body; or (3) engagement in any other activity that is protected by the First Amendment freedoms guaranteed by the United State Constitution or New Jersey Constitution and that relates to...
Author: Nomi I. Lowy
NJ Supreme Court to Decide Whether Counsel Fees Are to Be Awarded to a Prevailing Requestor of Government Records Under the Common Law
New Jersey provides a statutory and common law right of access to government records. While New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), the statutory right of access, expressly mandates an award of counsel fees to a prevailing requestor, there has been some confusion among New Jersey courts, based upon the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Mason v. City of Hoboken, as to whether there is a corresponding right to an award of counsel fees to a prevailing common law requestor. The New Jersey Supreme Court has recently granted certification on this issue and will now have the opportunity to unequivocally clarify the right of a prevailing common law requestor to recover the attorney’s fees incurred in challenging a wrongful denial of access. The case before the Supreme Court involves a request by the Asbury Park Press for access to the internal affairs file of a Township of Neptune police sergeant who chased down his ex-wife’s car and executed her with his service revolver in the summer of 2015. That internal affairs file contained more than 25 reports for a host of incidents, including domestic violence and assaultive behavior on the job. There was, understandably, strong public outcry over the horrific event, and the Asbury Park Press sought information about the sergeant’s internal affairs history...
Instruction on Nominal Damages Was Anything but Instructive as Jury Returns $800,000 “Nominal” Damage Award
In its recent opinion in Graphnet, Inc. v. Retarus, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court revisited the role of nominal damages in the defamation context. This time, the issue arose after trial in connection with a jury instruction that advised the jury, in part, that it may award nominal damages to compensate a plaintiff for injury to reputation caused by a defendant’s defamation. In 2014 defendant Retarus published a brochure that contained allegedly defamatory statements about one of its competitors, plaintiff Graphnet. The jury found that Retarus did defame Graphnet but that Graphnet had not shown any actual loss. The jury, nonetheless, awarded Graphnet $800,000 in nominal damages. This exorbitant nominal damage award was, at least in part, the result of a confusing and contradictory jury instruction, which advised the jury both that it was “permitted to award nominal damages to compensate the plaintiff” and that “[n]ominal damages…are not designed to compensate a plaintiff.” Only the latter part of that instruction is correct. Nominal damages, as distinct from compensatory or actual damages, are not meant to compensate the plaintiff for actual loss. Rather, they serve the purpose of vindicating the character of a plaintiff who has not proved a compensable loss. Nuwave Inv. Corp. v. Hyman Beck & Co., Inc., 221 N.J. 495, 499 (2015)....
“Public Figure” Status in the Age of Social Media: A Second Supreme Court Justice Calls for Review of the New York Times v. Sullivan Actual Malice Standard
United States Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, dissenting from the denial of certiorari in Berisha v. Lawson, et al., joined fellow Justice Clarence Thomas in questioning the appropriateness of the “actual malice” standard, which, under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and its progeny, requires public official and public figure plaintiffs to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that, in publishing material about the plaintiff, the defendant acted with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman left unanswered significant questions as to what constitutes a republication when corrections or modifications are made to an online publication, thereby retriggering the statute of limitations for defamation. In a 4-3 opinion, the majority established a test for whether a correction or modification is a republication that increases the likelihood that trial courts will deny summary judgment motions, leaving the question of republication for the jury. The practical effect of this will likely be far fewer corrections to online publications for fear of reviving or extending the applicable statute of limitations. Specifically, the majority held that an online article is republished if an author makes a material and substantive change to the original defamatory article. According to the majority: A material change is one that relates to the defamatory content of the article at issue. It is not a technical website modification or the posting on the website of another article with no connection to the original defamatory article. A substantive change is one that alters the meaning of the original defamatory article or is essentially a new defamatory statement incorporated into the original article. It is not the mere reconfiguring of sentences or substitution of words that are not susceptible of...
The Law Division in a to-be-published opinion in Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP v. New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, Division of Law, recently held that public policy does not favor access to unfiled discovery in public sector litigation under New Jersey’s common-law right of access. Plaintiff filed a complaint in lieu of prerogative writs for failure to comply with the Open Public Records Act, (“OPRA”), and the common-law right of access in refusing to provide plaintiff with copies of unfiled transcripts of expert depositions in environmental litigation brought by the State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”). Because the transcripts in their entirety had not been filed with the Court, NJDEP denied plaintiff’s OPRA request on privilege and confidentiality grounds.
New Jersey courts decided a trio of cases last month that shine a spotlight on the State’s Open Public Records Act (“OPRA”), which governs the disclosure of government records when requested by members of the public. These opinions — the holdings of which are summarized below — serve as important guideposts for practitioners litigating OPRA-related matters.
On July 25, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided McGovern v. Rutgers. The Court’s ruling — which found violations of Open Public Meetings Act, N.J.S.A. 10:4-6 et seq. (“OPMA”), but no statutory remedy — highlights the need for an amendment to OPMA providing effective remedies for violations of OPMA.
On May 21, 2012, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a corrected Opinion in W.J.A. v. D.A.. In that Opinion, the Court held that presumed damages continue to play a role in New Jersey’s defamation jurisprudence in private plaintiff cases that do not involve matters of public concern. Where a plaintiff does not proffer any evidence of actual damage to reputation, the doctrine of presumed damages permits him/her to survive a motion for summary judgment and to obtain nominal damages if successful at trial. The Court emphasized, however, that in order to receive compensatory damages, a plaintiff must prove actual harm to his/her reputation.
In Durando v. The Nutley Sun, the New Jersey Supreme Court confirmed that — absent clear and convincing evidence of actual malice — an admittedly incorrect “teaser headline” that refers readers to an accurate headline and story cannot be the basis of a defamation claim where a public figure or matter of public concern is at issue. By strictly adhering to this actual malice standard, the Court has reaffirmed the commitment of this State to protect speech regarding public figures and public matters, even erroneous speech, from the expense and chill of protracted litigation, by disposition of lawsuits at the summary judgment stage.