On Tuesday, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner provided members of the New Jersey State Bar Association an update on the state’s complex business litigation program. Rabner said the program is off to a “good start,” but he hopes that more litigants will soon take advantage of the program.
At the State Bar’s annual meeting in May, Rabner reported that the complex commercial litigation program (CBLP) had 69 cases in it. According to the Chief Justice, that number has now grown to 160 cases, 32 of which have been resolved. The Chief urged attorneys to utilize the program, noting that thus far litigants in only four counties – Bergen, Middlesex, Essex and Monmouth – seem to have really embraced it.
The CBLP was launched on January 1, 2015 in response to the business community’s request for a means of more efficiently and effectively addressing the needs of our state’s business litigants. According to the new webpage the court has set up to promote the program:
A case is assigned to the CBLP if the amount in controversy is greater than $200,000 and it involves a complex commercial or construction dispute. Litigants initially indicate that a case should be handled by the CBLP by indicating complex commercial (case type 508) or complex construction (case type 513) on their Case Information Statement. If after review, it is determined that the complex nature of the action or the threshold damages claim amount is not established, the case may be removed from the program and reassigned to an appropriate track.
Parties may move by motion for inclusion in the program where an amount less than $200,000 is in dispute and where the dispute involves complex factual or legal issues; a large number of parties; discovery issues such as managing large numbers of documents, multiple experts; is expected to have implications for business beyond the decision in the particular case; is likely to result in a significant interpretation of a business or commercial statute.
As was noted at the event, cases that were filed before January 2015 are eligible for inclusion in the CBLP. Interested parties can either write a letter to the judge or make a formal motion requesting the case be moved to the CBLP.
One of the main benefits of the program is that cases in it are overseen start to finish by a group of fifteen judges, one from each vicinage, who have been given specialized training designed to help them manage and decide complex business disputes. Rabner noted that these judges will not be rotated as frequently as judges with other assignments are. He then stressed that he hopes more attorneys with litigation experience, particularly complex business ligation experience, will seek judicial appointment. He did not, however, directly address the fact that skill level and desire to become a judge does not guarantee nomination.
Another interesting aspect of the CBLP is the fact that the judges are required to make opinions of note available to the public, even if they are not published opinions, so that businesses and litigants have a body of case law to draw on when making management decisions. To this end, the court has started collecting business-related decisions it deems noteworthy on its website. These cases are sortable by type. For example, you can click here to see the rulings that have come from CBLP-designated cases thus far.
After Rabner spoke, a panel of attorneys and judges who have been involved with the creation and administration of the CBLP gave a boots on the ground report of what participating in the program is like, offering comparisons to the federal system and business courts in other states. The panelists recommend that New Jersey look to other jurisdictions to see what they are doing about the explosion of electronic discovery (specifically how the federal system is adopting proportionality requirements), how to decide what information should be sealed, and what standard forms should be created to aide litigants in the CBLP. It was also suggested that the program be expanded to cover class actions and some cases where the government is involved.
According to the Chief, the court is looking for feedback on the CBLP. He indicated that he’s not ready to make changes to program right away, but that he thinks it will naturally grow and evolve to meet the needs of the business community.
One change that is coming soon though is electronic filing. Kevin Wolfe, from the Administrative Office of the Courts said that if all goes according to plan, civil suits, including those in the CBLP, will be added to the court’s growing electronic filing program by the end of 2016.
The New Jersey Civil Justice Institute believes the CBLP is a step in the right direction, and we are anxious to see the program grow and evolve to meet the needs of New Jersey’s business community. If you have feedback about the program, we encourage you to share it with our team as well as with the courts.