On November 13, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court approved implementation of the Complex Business Litigation Program for the handling of complex business, commercial, and construction cases. The Program, based on the report and recommendations of the Supreme Court Working Group on Business Litigation chaired by Bergen Vicinage Assignment Judge Peter E. Doyne, will begin on January 1, 2015 for those complex cases filed on or after that date that fulfill certain eligibility criteria. The details of the Program include:
- Threshold Damages Amount. The amount in controversy must be at least $200,000 for inclusion in the Program unless the court determines in a particular situation that a case with a lesser amount in controversy is appropriate for inclusion.
- Self-Designation as Complex Business Litigation. The attorneys or parties will designate a matter as complex business litigation by indicating on the Civil Case Information Statement that the matter is either case type 508 (complex commercial cases involving unusually complicated business matters) or case type 513 (complex construction cases involving unusually complicated factual or legal issues). A more detailed definition of the cases that fit within these case types can be found here.
- Other Suitable Actions. Actions to establish a constructive trust or impose an equitable lien to satisfy damages are also cognizable in the Complex Business Litigation Program, as are cases primarily seeking legal relief in which ancillary injunctive relief is sought.
- Excluded Actions. The Program does not include matters that are handled by General Equity or matters primarily involving consumers, labor organizations, personal injury, or condemnation, or cases in which the government is a party.
- Jury and Non-Jury Matters. The Program encompasses both jury and non-jury matters.
- Opt-in/Opt-out. Parties may file a motion with the Complex Business Litigation Program Judge for inclusion in the Program where the amount in controversy is less than $200,000. Parties may also move for removal from the Program on the grounds that the action does not meet the eligibility criteria.
- Review of Cases in Program. The Assignment Judge or his/her designee may initially conduct a review of the case to determine if it is appropriate for the Program. The Program Judge may also review actions presumptively assigned to the Program to determine if the case is appropriate for inclusion. If after review a judge determines that the complex nature of the action or the threshold damages claim amount is not established, the case may be removed from the Program. Cases removed from the Program will be reassigned to the appropriate track for case management.
- Complementary Dispute Resolution. Cases in the Program are not part of the court’s mandatory civil mediation and arbitration programs. However, the Complex Business Litigation Program Judge in each vicinage, as part of case management, should encourage the parties to engage in mediation.
- Opinions. Each Complex Business Litigation Judge will be expected to issue a minimum of two written opinions per year in order to develop a body of case law on issues relating to business litigation. These opinions will be posted on njcourts.com.
The Program will also feature the designation of Complex Business Litigation Judges in each vicinage, with those designated judges receiving extensive specialized training in all areas relating to business litigation (including, but not limited to, Uniform Commercial Code, securities, anti-racketeering, and business valuation). These judges will also receive additional training in effective case and management, e-discovery, and other relevant topics. A list of the designated Complex Business Litigation Judges can be found in the Court’s November 13, 2014 order and a Notice to the Bar accompanying the Court’s November 13, 2014 order authorizing the Program.
Approval and implementation of the Program is good for the business community who will likely benefit from a streamlined judicial process for complex cases falling within the eligibility requirements of the Program. By creating a program specific to complex business, commercial, and construction cases, New Jersey joins other states around the country that have similar divisions/programs (including California, Maine, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania).