Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this appeal centered on whether a homeowner, who challenged the issuance of a zoning permit allowing construction on neighboring property, had a statutory right to be heard before the Borough’s Planning Board, and if so, whether the violation of that right gave rise to an action under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2. In 2009, the Borough of Spring Lake’s then zoning officer issued a zoning permit (First Permit) to Thomas Carter to construct a two-and-a-half-story residence. Plaintiff Mary Harz owned adjoining residential property and brought to the attention of the new Borough zoning officer her concern that Carter’s foundation exceeded the height permitted by the Borough’s zoning ordinance. The Supreme Court found that the Borough’s zoning officer did not adhere to the precise statutory procedures for processing Harz’s appeal, and the Court did not take issue with Harz’s claims that the Borough could have responded in a more efficient way to her objections. In the end, however, Harz could not establish that the Borough denied her the right to be heard before the Planning Board. She therefore could not demonstrate that she was deprived of a substantive right protected by the Civil Rights Act. View "Harz v. Borough of Spring Lake" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) required disclosure of the names and addresses of successful bidders at a public auction of government property. An auction was held at the Bergen County Law and Public Safety Institute to sell sports memorabilia seized by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. There were thirty-nine successful bidders. Plaintiff William Brennan submitted a request to the Prosecutor’s Office, based on OPRA and the common law, for “[r]ecords of payment received from all winning bidders” and “[c]ontact information for each winning bidder.” The Prosecutor’s Office offered redacted copies of receipts that did not include the buyers’ names or addresses. The Office explained that it had sent the buyers letters to ask if they would consent to disclosure of their personal information. For buyers who consented, the Office represented it would provide unredacted receipts. The trial court directed defendants to release the requested information under OPRA. The Supreme Court determined courts were not required to analyze the "Doe" factors each time a party asserts that a privacy interest exists. "A party must first present a colorable claim that public access to records would invade a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy." Here, defendants could not make that threshold showing. "It is not reasonable to expect that details about a public auction of government property -- including the names and addresses of people who bought the seized property -- will remain private. Without a review of the Doe factors, we find that OPRA calls for disclosure of records relating to the auction." The Court reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "Brennan v. Bergen County Prosecutor's Office" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerns the applicability of qualified immunity to a claim brought under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (NJCRA), N.J.S.A.10:6-1 to -2, against a police detective named in his individual and official capacity. Plaintiff Denise Brown filed suit claiming her state constitutional rights were violated in 2008 when a State Police officer accompanied her into her apartment, without a warrant and without her consent, in order to secure the premises while awaiting the issuance of a search warrant. Victims claimed two men with handguns forcibly entered a home, stole jewelry and other belongings, and fled in a blue BMW. Plaintiff loaned her blue BMW to her boyfriend, Carlos Thomas. Thomas was ultimately charged in connection with his alleged involvement in the home invasion. A State Police representative notified plaintiff of Thomas’s arrest and that the State Police had her vehicle. They searched plaintiff’s car and found contraband, a gun holster, and other items, including jewelry, linking the car to the home invasion. During the investigation, State Police received a tip that Thomas had given plaintiff a locket reported as stolen during the break-in. As a result, the police determined the investigation should include a search of plaintiff’s home. A detective explained to plaintiff that if she refused consent, he would then proceed to seek a search warrant, securing the premises in the interim by either preventing her from entering the home or allowing her access, accompanied by police, to prevent loss or destruction of evidence. Given the options, plaintiff declined to grant consent and refused to allow the officers to secure the apartment from outside. The parties agreed there was probable cause to believe that plaintiff had evidence in her home and, in fact, a search warrant was obtained later that day. The State moved to dismiss, using qualified immunity as grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined a law enforcement officer, without a warrant and without consent, may not lawfully insist on entering a residence based on an assertion that exigent circumstances require the dwelling to be secured. However, in light of the circumstances of this case, the police did not violate a clearly established right when entering the home to secure it. Qualified immunity applied. View "Brown v. New Jersey" on Justia Law