12 January 2023 / Scott J. Best

Ongoing Development in New Jersey Courts: Staying Prepared for 2023

The New Jersey Courts have recently made two substantial changes over recent months which will directly impact Weltman’s clients and how cases proceed in the New Jersey court system. The first change is an update to the jurisdictional limits of the Civil Division. New Jersey Superior Court Civil Division is split into three divisions:
  1. Small Claims Court
  2. Special Civil Part
  3. Law Division
As of July 1, 2022, the jurisdictional limit of Small Claims court was increased from $3,000 to $5,000. The jurisdictional limit for the Special Civil Part was increased from $15,000.00 to $20,000.00. Any claims of $20,000.01 or more will be filed in the Law Division.
There are pros and cons to these changes, but overall I believe this change will benefit Weltman’s clients. One positive effect of this change is that there will be cost savings for those cases between $15,000.01 and $20,000.00, which formerly would have been filed in the Law Division. In those instances, the costs to file decrease from $250.00, plus service costs, to $82.00 or below inclusive of service. Depending on the volume of cases filed in the course of a year, the difference will result in significant savings. Along with the cost savings, service for cases of less than $20,000 is accomplished through regular and certified mail, rather than requiring service by a process server which typically results in faster service of the complaint.
Another significant advantage to the change is the speed that a case will proceed to trial and, hopefully, judgment entered in your favor or resolution of the case.  An upcoming trial date is a great way to spur resolution discussions. Cases in the Special Civil Part and Small Claims typically proceed to trial in less than six months from the date an answer is filed, while cases filed in the Law Division can take a year or more to get a trial date.  Due to the COVID-related backlog, a case may take 2-3 years before reaching a trial date.  
Depending on your view of discovery, one possible downside to the change to jurisdictional limits is that discovery is substantially curtailed in Special Civil Part, and is even more limited in Small Claims cases. No depositions are allowed in Special Civil Part and in Small Claims cases, the parties are limited to only five interrogatories with no depositions or other written discovery. The result is that when the limited discovery is combined with the more accelerated timeline of Special Civil Part and Small Claims cases, there is little opportunity, if any, to file pre-trial motions.
The second recent change to the New Jersey court system is that, after more than two years of largely remote hearings, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order on October 27, 2022, removing all prior COVID-related restrictions and requiring that most proceedings return to in-person. The Supreme Court’s order reasoned that with the advances in treatment and declining infection rates, the courts can safely accommodate in-person calendars because “some matters may be better handled in person.” They also stated that the change was partially related to accommodate those who are less comfortable with technology or lack necessary access.  
Prior to the order, some matters in recent months had returned to in-person, but a majority of the proceedings had remained virtual. The order provided that all Law Division and Special Civil Part trials, evidentiary hearings, and settlement conferences are to proceed in person, but may remain virtual at the discretion of each county court. Thus far, the counties remain split, with some requiring in-person attendance, while others have remained largely virtual.  In some counties, the decision varies by the judge assigned to the case. However, it is likely that all cases will return to in-person proceedings in the future.
This change will have a detrimental effect to Weltman’s clients who will now have to expend additional costs and resources to have a representative attend a trial or settlement conference in person. This is further complicated when a client has more than one trial or conference at the same time, or later the same day.  In my opinion, proceeding virtually was working well and efficiently for all parties involved, however, the court saw otherwise and we all must now adjust accordingly.  
We will continue to monitor these developments and will provide any updates as they occur. If you have any additional questions, please contact Scott Best at any time.
This blog is not a solicitation for business and it is not intended to constitute legal advice on specific matters, create an attorney-client relationship or be legally binding in any way.

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