On November 13, 2014, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an Order implementing the Complex Business Litigation Program on a state-wide basis. The Program, which has been operating in Bergen and Essex counties since 1996, will now encompass all cases filed in New Jersey on or after January 1, 2015 satisfying the criteria summarized below.
The language in the Order may be interpreted to exclude insurance coverage matters filed by individual policyholders, including bad faith claims. However, the Program is likely to encompass many commercial insurance lawsuits, as well as construction defect matters wherein insurers are defending contractors.
Cases under the Program will be assigned to designated Complex Business Litigation judges, who will receive extensive specialized training in business litigation. Each Complex Business Litigation judge will be expected to issue at least two written opinions per year in order to develop a body of law regarding complex business litigation.
The Program will be generally limited to cases with amounts in controversy of $200,000.00 or more, although courts may determine that certain cases with lesser amounts in controversy are appropriate for inclusion. The Program will primarily consist of cases designated as Complex Commercial and Complex Construction. Complex Commercial cases consist of matters arising out of business or commercial transactions that involve exposure to potentially significant damage awards, or raise complex factual or legal issues, such as a large number of parties, pre-trial motions that raise novel issues, or extensive discovery. Complex Construction cases consist of matters concerning design defect, construction defect, and facility delivery delay claims that involve exposure to potentially significant damage awards, or concern complex factual or legal issues.
The Program will also encompass actions to establish a constructive trust or to impose an equitable lien to satisfy damages, as well as cases seeking ancillary injunctive relief. The Program will not include matters involving General Equity, or matters primarily involving consumers, labor organizations, personal injury, or condemnation. Furthermore, the Program will not include cases in which the government is a party.
Parties will self-designate a matter as eligible for the Program by identifying it as Complex Commercial or Complex Construction on the Civil Case Information Statement. Parties may also file a motion to include a matter in the Program when the amount in controversy is less than $200,000.00. Parties may move to remove a case from the Program on the grounds that it did not satisfy the eligibility criteria. The Assignment Judge and/or Program Judge may analyze whether a particular matter is appropriate for the Program, and remove matters that are inappropriate.
Cases within the Program are not subject to mandatory mediation or arbitration. However, as part of the case management process, Complex Business Litigation judges shall encourage parties to participate in mediation. Should matters proceed to trial, both jury and bench trials will be available.
As previously mentioned, the language in the Order excluding consumer-related matters from the Program may be interpreted to exclude insurance coverage matters filed by individual policyholders, including bad faith claims. However, the Program is likely to encompass many commercial insurance lawsuits, as well as construction defect matters.
By ensuring that complex commercial cases are handled by a single judge trained to handle such matters, the Complex Business Litigation Program should prove beneficial to insurers and other commercial entities litigating matters in New Jersey.