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The general durable power of attorney is an important and powerful document. New Jersey law, N.J.S.A. 46:2B8-1, et seq., provides this mechanism so that you may appoint another to handle your affairs. A durable power of attorney is effective during the lifetime of the person who signs it (the “principal”). Its purpose is to appoint another person (or multiple people) who can stand in the shoes of the principal and act on their behalf. The designated person is referred to as the “agent”.

In a general durable power of attorney the principal designates one or more people to act on the principal’s behalf. If the principal appoints more than one persons, he can require that the designated agents must act together, or structure the power so that each person can act alone without the knowledge or consent of the co-agent. Appointing two agents who can act individually can however have drawbacks. If both do not agree on a proposed course of action, it can lead not only to discord and infighting, but to litigation. If one agent feels it is in the principal’s best interest to sell his home, but the co-agent disagrees, the co-agent might bring an action in court to block the sale. The situation would be more difficult if one of the agents had signed a contract for sale with a buyer, as now, the buyer may join the litigation to force the sale. If the agents were required to act jointly they would be forced to come to an agreement before third parties and/or the courts were involved. Finally, it is always recommended that the principal name a successor agent who can act if the first named agent is unwilling or unable to do so.

The most difficult decision the principal has is deciding who to name as agent. Since the agent under a power of attorney must handle the financial affairs of the principal, it is important to choose someone who is organized, responsible and financially savvy. Obviously, it should be a person the principal trusts implicitly. The principal should speak with the proposed agent prior to the appointment to ensure that the person would be willing to take on the responsibilities if it becomes necessary.

However, it is important to make this difficult decision and execute a power of attorney because without one there is no one who can make financial decisions for person once they are no longer capable of handling their own affairs. Unless appointed by a power of attorney, even a spouse does not have the power to handle her spouse’s affairs. For example a spouse cannot access IRA or 401K accounts, cannot mortgage or sell real estate and cannot speak to social security or the motor vehicle commission. Once a person is incapacitated and no longer able to handle their own affairs, they in all likelihood no longer have the capacity to execute a general durable power of attorney. At that point, the only option is to have a guardian appointed for the incapacitated individual. To appoint a guardian, a court action is required which, even if it is uncontested takes considerable time and expense.
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spiral books.jpgMcLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s employment attorneys represent teachers in all aspect of employment law. One of the most important areas of New Jersey employment law to teachers is the requirements for acquiring tenure.

Under the TEACHNJ ACT of 2012, acquisition of tenure went from three years to four years. There are several ways to meet this requirement. First, a teacher can work in her position for four full consecutive calendar years. Second, the teacher can serve for four consecutive school years, and begin employment in the following year; the common way this is expressed is “four school years plus a day.” Third, a teacher can attain tenure if her total time worked equals greater than four school years within any five consecutive school years. This final method allows a teacher to take time off to care for a baby without having to re start her tenure clock from day one.

However, there is an exception that provides that certain “time” does not count. New Jersey’s education laws provides that someone who is replacing another employee while that employee is out on a leave of absence, or period of disability or disqualification – a frequent example being a teacher who is hired to replace another teacher out on maternity leave – cannot use that replacement time to count for the acquisition of tenure. This is relatively straightforward in the case, for example, of someone who comes in to replaces a teacher who is out on maternity leave, and then loses her job when the first teacher returns. However, what about someone who is hired to replace a teacher on maternity leave, but then gets another teacher position and stays when mom returns to work? Can she count her original time because she is a permanent employee and her time was continuous, even if the initial time was served as a replacement? This is a far more difficult question for which until recently the courts had not spoken.

However, recently the Supreme Court of New Jersey finally addressed this question straight on. In that case, three teachers were let go by the Bridgewater Board of Education. If the time the spent as replacements for other teachers out on leave, they would have tenure. However, the Board of Education argued that this time should not count under the “replacement” exception to counting time for tenure. The teachers, obviously, argued that since they had been working straight for more than the time required for tenure, it should count. Two had received some form of notice that the time would not count, one did not.
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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for firefighter-752540__180.jpgMcLaughlin & Nardi, LLC’s employment attorneys represent New Jersey civil servants and other public employees.

One of the most vexing issues in New Jersey employment law in the public sector is the “Rule of Three.” New Jersey’s Civil Service laws require that hiring and promotion be based on merit and demonstrated ability, where possible through an examination. After an application is complete, an “eligible list” is promulgated with all of the applicants listed in order of their overall scores. Hiring and promotion must be done in order of rank of their overall scores.

However, New Jersey’s Rule of Three allows the appointing authority to hire or promote from any one of the top three slots for the position, allowing it to skip a higher ranked candidate. This allows the hiring authority a limited degree of discretion in hiring. However, to avoid bias, discrimination, cronyism, nepotism and favoritism, the appointing authority must give a written statement of its “legitimate” reasons.

In the recent case of In re Foglio, New Jersey’s Supreme Court rejected Ocean City’s use of the Rule of Three when it was hiring firefighters. Nicholas R. Foglio, who had been a volunteer fighter, took the civil service test to become a paid firefighter and went through the application process. He was ranked second on the eligibility list. Ocean City hired three new firefighters. It chose the highest ranked firefighter, but skipped Foglio to hire the next two known ranked candidates. Foglio had been a volunteer firefighter for several departments. He had already logged more than a thousand hours. The highest ranked candidate was a student teacher; the third, for whom Foglio was skipped, was a bartender; and the fourth, for whom Foglio was also passed over, was a lifeguard. Ocean City stated that its reason for invoking the Rule of Three to pass over Foglio was that the two lower ranked candidates “best meet[] the needs of Department,” without any further elaboration. The Supreme Court explained that while the applicant still bore the burden of showing that the appointing authority’s reasons are not legitimate, but that burden is only triggered after the appointing authority gives an adequate – and real – statement of reasons for the action. when exercising his right to challenge the appointing authority’s exercise of the Rule of Three, he can’t reasonably be expected to do so without a detailed statement of reasons. The Court explained that while the statement of reasons not need be detailed, it had to give fair notice of the reasons. It could not just give a conclusory and unrevealing statement. As the Court explained, Ocean City could just have said “we liked them better” and it would essentially been the same thing without a statement giving notice of actual, legitimate reasons. The Court held that the appointment of the lower ranked candidate is “presumptively in violation of the principles of merit and fitness.” Thus, while the applicant bears the burden of showing that the appointing authority’s reasons are not legitimate, that burden is only triggered after the appointing authority gives an adequate – and real – statement of reasons for the action. The Court therefore remanded the case. It ordered Ocean City to provide a statement of reasons, which Foglio could then appeal. In re Foglio, 207 N.J. 38, 45-46 (2011).
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police-officer-829628_640.jpgOur employment attorneys represent New Jersey public employees, such as police officers, firefighters, public works workers, professionals and others, who are covered by the civil service system. We hear many complaints about civil service: The rules are too rigid; it makes it too hard to fire an employee; it makes it too hard for an employee to find a job; discipline is either too hard or too easy to impose, depending on your point of view; the rules are too complex and burdensome.

Many of these complaints are true. However, they miss the point. The New Jersey civil service system is there for a reason. New Jersey has a long history of corruption, cronyism, bribery and nepotism. While there are many funny stories from this history, from Frank Hague’s “I am the law” quote to the recent closing of the George Washington Bridge, this history is awful. It has a terrible effect on government.

Hiring and promotion based on politics, bribes or “who you know” means that merit is removed from the equation. When merit is removed, government operations and the government’s services to its citizens inevitably suffer, and the cost of providing those services therefore increases.

To remedy this, New Jersey adopted the Civil Service system over a century ago in 1908. Indeed, in a wave of reform after World War II, and in reaction to the corrupt local government under Depression Era “bosses” like Hague, New Jersey passed the Constitution of 1947 which overhauled New Jersey’s state and local government. The drafters of the 1947 Constitution enshrined the principal that hiring and promotion should be based on merit, not politics, nepotism, cronyism or bribes. The Constitution specifically provides that “Appointments and promotions in the civil service of the State, and of such political subdivisions [counties and towns] as may be provided by law, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by examination, which, as far as practicable, shall be competitive….” Indeed, this is why civil service is often referred to as the “merit system.”
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110_F_69638738_UfL9HyZb2JQFzW8ffrS0nIHvZlrYB9PW.jpgIt is no secret that New Jersey citizens pay the highest property taxes in the nation. Property taxes are assessed by local governments and used to pay for local programs and services. Therefore, things that may affect a homeowner’s property taxes include: the local (municipal and county) programs and services, including public schools, local revenues available through other sources, the market value of the homeowner’s property, and the total value of all properties in the municipality. All taxable property is assessed a value by the town tax assessor. “The assessor shall…after examination and inquiry, determine the full and fair value of each parcel situated in the taxing district at such price as, in his judgment, it would sell for at a fair and bona fide sale by private contract on October 1 next preceding the date on which the assessor shall complete his assessments…” N.J.S.A §54:4-23.

Therefore market value should correlate closely with the assessed value. However, it is too labor intensive to have tax assessors reassess every individual property each year. Indeed, New Jersey has 565 municipalities. Nearly every one has its own local tax assessor.

Therefore, generally the tax for each property is simply adjusted slightly each year to meet budget requirements. In that case, the municipality may only do town-wide reassessments once every several years depending on changes to and needs of the municipality, policies, and property sales. This is done to insure “equalization” – insuring that each property is carrying its fair share of the tax burden. For instance, if assessors see that properties are being sold for values that significantly differ from assessed values, then that might be an indicator that a reassessment needs to be done to ensure equalization. This is sometimes referred to as an assessment-sales ratio comparison.

Many people, particularly in New Jersey, believe that their property taxes may be incorrect. In order to determine this, the homeowner first needs to have a basis for what the accurate market price would be. If the home was recently sold – that may be a good indicator. Also, the recent sales prices of other similar properties in the municipality may also be good indicators. (In any case, if a homeowner is looking to challenge her tax assessment, an expert appraisal will most likely be required.)
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classroom desks.jpgEffect of Teachers’ Termination or Early Resignation
Our employment attorneys represent New Jersey teachers and other public employees. One issue that commonly arises is the suspension or revocation of a teacher’s license when she leaves without the required notice or is terminated for cause. Our attorney’s experience is that both leaving early and termination for cause can have drastic and severe consequences when reported to the Department of Education. It may render the teacher unemployable.

Leaving Early
Normally a teacher is required to give 60 days notice before she quits. However, there are many times when a teacher may want to leave before the normally required 60 day notice. For instance, she may have had a better offer in another district or she may just need a break. The reasons are many. However, there could be potentially severe consequences which result from this decision. A teacher who leaves employment prior to the expiration of her employment, generally requiring at least 60 days notice if prior to the end of the academic year, is deemed guilty of misconduct, and the Commissioner may suspend her certificate for up to one year.

When an employee is faced with termination, she may choose not to avail herself of her remedies if the board of education allows her to resign rather than be fired. Local boards can use this as a tool to get rid of teachers they don’t want but don’t have grounds to validly fire because the consequences of termination for cause are so dire that the teacher may not want to chance it. This is grossly unfair by the boards, but it is a common tactic.

Revocation and Suspension
The New Jersey Department of Education’s Board of Examiners has the power to revoke or suspend a teacher’s certificate because of demonstrated inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher or “other just cause.” The phrase “other just cause,” in turn, is defined to include offenses under the New Jersey’s “forfeiture statute,” which requires that a government employee’s employment be terminated upon conviction of certain offenses. These offenses include crimes of dishonesty, crimes of the third degree or above, crimes touching on the certificate holder’s office or when required by the Constitution. Other laws further define “just cause” to include endangering the welfare of a child or incompetent person; abuse, abandonment, cruelty and neglect of a child; resisting arrest; offenses involving the manufacture, transportation, sale, possession, distribution or habitual use of a controlled dangerous substance or drug paraphernalia; a crime involving the use of force or the threat of force to or upon a person or property including, but not limited to, robbery, aggravated assault, stalking, kidnapping, arson, manslaughter and murder; any crime of whatever degree relating to firearms, other dangerous weapons and instruments of crime; any crime of the third degree; any crime of the fourth degree where the victim was a minor; recklessly endangering another person; terroristic threats; criminal restraint; luring or enticing child into motor vehicle, structure or isolated area; causing or risking widespread injury or damage; criminal mischief; burglary; usury; threats and other improper influence; perjury and false swearing; resisting arrest; escape; bias intimidation; or conspiracy to commit any of these crimes.
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employment_law_damages.jpgThe New Jersey Supreme Court recently clarified an employment law issue which has been vexing employment lawyers for decades. In its recent landmark decision in Hargrove versus Sleepy’s LLC, the Supreme Court laid out the rules for determining when a worker should be considered an employee under different New Jersey employment laws. The specific laws it addressed governed the payment of wages and overtime to employees.

This is an extremely important issue for both employers and employees – it normally determines whether a worker will get benefits such as health insurance and 401(k), and whether the worker or employer will be responsible for paying the worker’s payroll taxes, not to mention overtime.

The case came to the New Jersey Supreme Court by an unusual route. Rather than an appeal from a decision of the New Jersey Superior Court, the case came from Federal Court. Several workers, Sam Hargrove, Andre Hall and Marco Eusebio, sued Sleepy’s for whom they delivered mattresses. One of the claims in their lawsuit was that they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees under various New Jersey employment laws.

The suit was heard in the United States District Court in New Jersey, and then appealed to the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals (which is directly below the United States Supreme Court). However, the Third Circuit found that New Jersey’s law on when a worker should be considered an employee instead of an independent contractor was unclear, and requested that the New Jersey Supreme Court clarify which test should apply. Our Supreme Court accepted, and issued a landmark decision which should go a long way toward clarifying the issue. The importance of the answer to New Jersey employment law can be seen in the large number of organizations which submitted amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs, arguing that one test or another should apply.

New Jersey Wage and Hour Laws
The specific statutes the Supreme Court was asked to address were New Jersey’s Wage and Hour Law (which governs minimum wage and overtime), and Wage Payment Law (which control when and how wages must be paid). For these laws, the Court ruled that the “ABC Test” should apply.

The ABC Test has long been used by the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development for determining whether an employee is eligible for unemployment compensation. As the Supreme Court explained:

The “ABC” test presumes an individual is an employee unless the employer can make certain showings regarding the individual employed, including:

(A) Such individual has been and will continue to be free from control or direction over the performance of such service, both under his contract of service and in fact; and (B) Such service is either outside the usual course of the business for which such service is performed, or that such service is performed outside of all the places of business of the enterprise for which such service is performed; and (C) Such individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, profession or business.

This test is extremely demanding, and puts a great burden on the employer.

Federal Wage and Hour LawWhile the ABC test is strong, it is not as stringent a test as that applied under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (known as the FLSA), which also governs when an employee must be considered an independent contractor for overtime and minimum wage purposes. The Fair Labor Standards Act defines an employee as someone who is “suffer[ed] or permit[ted] to work.” Courts interpreting the FLSA therefore look to the “economic realities” (known as the “economic realities” test). This is an even more difficult test for employers to meet.

The Takeaway
Both Federal and State Courts have strict laws governing the classification of workers. There significant financial consequences riding on the answer – if the worker is an employee she will normally qualify for benefits and overtime and her employer will be responsible for her payroll taxes. This is a great advantage to workers classified as employees, and a financial burden to employers.

Misclassification has further legal and economic consequences. Misclassification can open up the employer to fines, double damages and paying the employee’s attorneys fees. In the construction industry it can even lead to a prison sentence for the employer.

Contact Us
Both employers and employees should not enter this complicated area without a competent attorney at their side. Our attorneys have many years of experience representing employers and employees in all areas of employment law, and particularly in worker classification issues. Call (973) 890-0004 or e-mail us to speak with one of our employment lawyers.

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drinking and driving.jpgWhile driving under the influence is a traffic violation under NJSA 39:4-50, the procedure is very different from that followed for any other traffic violation, and there are significant penalties associated with an arrest for driving under the influence.

At the time of your arrest, the officer will give you a ticket which is called a “Summons and Complaint.” In the Summons and Complaint, there will be a Notice to Appear which requires you to appear in the local municipal court on the date and time specified. This first appearance is called the “arraignment.” If you are not represented by an attorney you must appear in court on the date and time specified. The judge will then advise you of your rights and read the charges against you. At that time, you must enter a plea to the charge: either guilty or not-guilty. If you plead guilty you will be convicted of driving under the influence (or “DUI”), the municipal court will then suspend your license and driving privileges, and require you to tender your license to the clerk of the court. There are additional penalties (see the above link for significant penalties), including additional fines and surcharges, required attendance in classes through the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, installation of an interlock device and potential jail time. An attorney can be valuable in helping to receive the minimum sentence possible and navigate this complex area of the law to protect your rights. If you want to plead not guilty, you should either contact an attorney prior to the arraignment date, or appear on at the arraignment and request an adjournment. Then contact an attorney as soon as possible.

If you have retained an attorney to represent you prior to the arraignment date, the attorney can waive your appearance at the arraignment and enter your plea by written submission to the court. The attorney will then request discovery from the prosecutor. Under New Jersey DUI law, this requires the municipal prosecutor to give you all the evidence and anything relevant to your charges. This is extremely important and is the best way to determine if the charges brought against you may be successfully fought in court. If the discovery shows that the law officer violated your rights or failed to follow the procedural requirements your attorney may be able to get the charges dismissed at trial. This is an important and strategic reason to retain legal counsel right away for your DUI/DWI charge.

While driving under the influence trials are not heard by a jury, you are entitled to a bench trial. At the trial, the municipal judge will listen to the evidence presented by your DUI attorney and the municipal prosecutor and make a ruling on your case. The State – ie. the municipal prosecutor – has the burden of proof and must prove that you drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs. You can cross-examine the witnesses presented by the State, including the arresting officer, and you can offer your own witnesses, usually a DWI expert. You are permitted but not required to testify on your own behalf. If you are found guilty at trial, you will be convicted and sentenced by the judge.
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American_quarter_horse.jpgMany people feel that their pets are members of their family and want to make sure that their pets will be well cared for in the event of their death or incapacity. You must plan if you want to make sure that someone will care for your pet were you to pass away or become incapacitated, since that is not necessarily the case and people and normally under no obligation to do so. As a result, pets are often abandoned after their owners are no longer able to care for them.

In order to ensure that your beloved pets continue to be cared for, you can establish an “animal care trust,” which will designate a caregiver, provide funding for your pet’s care and appoint a trustee to fulfill the terms of the trust. New Jersey is one of forty-six states which have laws allowing for the creation of a pet trust. These trusts are gaining in popularity with pet owners who love their pets and want to guarantee that their pets are well cared for, and want to determine who will provide that care.

New Jersey law, NJ ST 3B:11-38, authorizes the creation of an animal care trust. The trust must be created specifically for the purpose of providing care for a domestic animal. It is only permitted to last for a period of 21 years, or the life of the pet (whichever is shorter). The trust must designate who shall be the caregiver of the pet in the event you are no longer able to provide such care. It must also designate a trustee who will be charged with carrying out the terms of the trust. TheTrustee will ensure that the pet is delivered to the caregiver and will oversee disbursement of the funds in the trust for the purposes of caring for the pet. The trust should designate an alternate caregiver and an alternate trustee to serve if the primary caregiver and/or trustee are not able or willing to do so. The principal and income of the trust must only be used to provide care for the pet. The trust must also designate who will receive any funds remaining upon the trust’s termination. The trustee’s final duty under the trust shall be to transfer the unused trust property pursuant to the terms of the trust.

Typically, an animal care trust will direct the trustee to utilize the principal and income of the trust as the trustee deems necessary for the care, maintenance and medical treatment of the pet. The caregiver must request funds from the trustee, and the trustee must decide if the funds should be paid out of the trust.
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invoice-pad-blank-order-form-salesmen-34309007.jpgRetainage in New Jersey Construction Law

One of the areas which our construction lawyers often address is retainage.

The Use Retainage in New Jersey Construction Law

Retainage is an important device in construction law. Our attorneys have helped New Jersey contractors, subcontractors, owners and construction suppliers with issues related to retainage.

Retainage is an amount intentionally withheld from payment. It may be withheld by an owner from payment to a contractor, from a general contractor, to a subcontractor, or from a subcontractor to a lower tier subsubcontractor.

Retainage in Construction Contracts & Drafting Effective Retainage Provisions

Retainage is a creature of contract law. It is governed by the provisions of the contract or subcontract between the parties. Whatever the contract says about retainage will control; and if retainage is not provided for in the contract, it is not allowed.

Since the terms of the retainage are governed by the terms of the contract or subcontract, drafting the contract is extremely important. It is essential to have an experienced attorney on your side. Our construction attorneys negotiate and draft contracts, subcontracts and supplier contracts. We review construction contracts for our clients and advise them on their rights and responsibilities.

Litigation Over Construction Disputes

Disputes are common, as retainage is typically required to be paid when the work is “subtanitially complete.” Parties often disagree on what that term means. When these disputes arise, our attorneys fight aggressively for our clients’ rights in negotiations, mediation, arbitration and litigation. However, we first attempt to avoid these disputes by drafting clear language in contracts which protect our clients’ rights.
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