Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey

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Defendant Asher Adelman established eBossWatch.com, which published an article, “'Bizarre’ and hostile work environment leads to lawsuit.” The article detailed a gender-discrimination, workplace-harassment, and retaliation lawsuit brought against Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories, Inc., and its chief executive officer and co-owner, John Wintermute (collectively Wintermute), by a former employee, Kristen Laforgia. More than a year after the article’s publication, Wintermute’s attorney sent a letter to Adelman, contending that the article was false and defamatory, Laforgia’s complaint was baseless, and that Laforgia and Wintermute had settled the lawsuit. In an email response, Adelman defended the article, stating that it was a reporting of Laforgia’s complaint, with a few modifications that, by Adelman’s opinion, made clear the article reported on what was filed in Laforgia’s complaint. Wintermute still filed a defamation action. The trial court found the modified article fell within the ambit of the fair report privilege and dismissed the defamation lawsuit. The Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court, holding that under the single publication rule, a new statute of limitations began to run only “if a modification to an Internet post materially and substantially alters the content and substance of the article.” The panel reasoned that “if a minor modification diminishes the defamatory sting of an article, it should not trigger a new statute of limitations.” The panel therefore dismissed as untimely Wintermute’s defamation lawsuit filed more than one year following publication of the original article. The panel did not decide whether the fair report privilege barred the action. The Court granted Wintermute’s petition for certification. The New Jersey Supreme Court determined genuine issues of disputed fact remained concerning whether Adelman made a material and substantive change to the original article, and the Appellate Division erred in dismissing the defamation action based on the single publication rule. However, the Court found the modified article was entitled to the protection of the fair report privilege. The article was a full, fair, and accurate recitation of a court-filed complaint. The trial court properly dismissed the defamation action, and on that basis the Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division’s judgment. View "Petro-LubricantTesting Laboratories, Inc. v. Adelman" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Township of Franklin (the Township) adopted an ordinance revising its regulation of signs, including billboards. The ordinance permits billboards, subject to multiple conditions, in a zoning district proximate to an interstate highway but expressly prohibited digital billboards anywhere in the municipality. A company seeking to install a digital billboard challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance. The Law Division declared unconstitutional that portion of the ordinance barring digital billboards. The trial court viewed the Township's treatment of such devices as a total ban on a mode of communication. In a reported opinion, the Appellate Division reversed. Applying the "Central Hudson" commercial speech standard and the "Clark/Ward" time, place, and manner standard to content-neutral regulations affecting speech, the appellate panel determined that the ban on digital billboards passed constitutional muster. The Supreme Court disagreed: "simply invoking aesthetics and public safety to ban a type of sign, without more, does not carry the day." The Court declared the 2010 ban on digital billboards as unconstitutional and reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division. View "E&J Equities v. Board of Adjustment of Franklin Township" on Justia Law

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The police arrested defendant Gary Lunsford after they executed a search warrant at his home based on suspected criminal activity involving transactions in controlled dangerous substances (CDS). As part of its continuing investigation, the Monmouth County Grand Jury issued a subpoena duces tecum to a wireless telephone service provider requesting subscriber information associated with defendant's cell phone number, which was the contact for the controlled drug buys that led to defendant's arrest. Defendant filed a motion to quash, which the trial court granted, stating that a communications data warrant (CDW - the equivalent of a search warrant), was needed to obtain telephone billing records. The Attorney General, who superseded the Monmouth County Prosecutor s Office to litigate the constitutional question raised by the trial court's decision, sought leave to appeal, which the Appellate Division denied. On appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court, the Attorney General did not dispute that telephone billing records were entitled to protection under the State Constitution. He argued instead that a grand jury subpoena, based on a relevancy standard rather than probable cause, was sufficient to safeguard the privacy rights at stake here. "Using a cell phone to determine the location of its owner can be far more revealing than acquiring toll billing, bank, or Internet subscriber records. It is akin to using a tracking device and can function as a substitute for 24/7 surveillance without police having to confront the limits of their resources. It also involves a degree of intrusion that a reasonable person would not anticipate." Here, the Court affirmed the trial court's grant of the motion to quash, noting that the State could apply for a court order to obtain defendant's cell phone records consistent with the Court's discussion of protected privacy interests in this opinion. View "New Jersey v. Lunsford" on Justia Law