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New Court Rules Streamline New Jersey Business Litigation

tax-739107__340-300x200New Jersey’s Supreme Court adopted new rules which became effective September 1, 2018. These rules amend New Jersey’s Rules of Court to make the litigation of complex business law matters more efficient. This article discusses some of the major changes the new rules have brought about.

Background

In 2000, the Supreme Court revised the discovery procedures in New Jersey’s Court Rules for civil cases. These amendments were adopted because the courts in various counties had developed different discovery procedures. The Supreme Court’s aim was to standardize these rules so that litigants would get the same level playing field in every county throughout the state. However, in adopting three basic case tracks, the Court may have gone too far in limiting judges’ ability to manage complex business law cases. The Supreme Court therefore explored establishing a separate track for complex commercial cases.

The Supreme Court first established pilot programs for complex business litigation in Bergen and Essex Counties which were managed by a single judge. The Supreme Court then appointed a Working Group on Business Litigation to assess the performance of these pilot programs and examine the lessons learned. From those lessons, on July 27, 2018, the Supreme Court then adopted new Court Rules to govern the Superior Court’s Complex Business Litigation Program (“CBLP”). The new rule amendments became effective September 1, 2018.

What Qualifies as Complex Business Litigation?

To qualify as complex business litigation for the CBLP, a case must have at least $200,000 in controversy and one of the parties must designate it as “complex” in the initial case information statement they file with the Court.

The Major Changes

1. Case Management. The case will be assigned to and managed by a single judge, from its initial filing in court through trial.

2. Initial Disclosures. Just as in the Federal Courts, litigants must disclose the names and contact information of people with knowledge of the underlying facts of the case; copies or descriptions of relevant documents; the claimed damages; and insurance policies.

3. Discovery Plans, Initial Case Management Conferences and Case Management Orders. Again, just as in the Federal Courts, the parties will develop a joint written discovery plan. The Court will hold an initial case management conference at which it will develop an initial scheduling order. Discovery does not begin until the judge has entered a case management order which the discovery plan should inform.

4. Limitations on Interrogatories. Instead of unlimited interrogatories, the parties are limited to a maximum of 15 interrogatories, unless they agree otherwise.

5. Limitations on Depositions. Unless they agree otherwise, each party is limited to 10 depositions which cannot last more than 7 hours.

6. Electronic Data. The new rules require the preservation of electronically stored data, and specify sanctions for the violation of the rule.

7. Privilege Logs. Rather than a detailed privilege log listing every document withheld, the amendments require only that the privilege log disclose the broad categories of documents and identify the particular privilege relied on to withhold them.

8. Protective Orders. Business litigation often involves the use of confidentiality orders protecting the parties’ trade secrets. The new rules provide for a standard order without the need for negotiation to s peed discovery.

9. Discovery Motions. Prior to filing a motion to compel discovery, the rules add the requirement of a conference call with the judge managing the case to hopefully resolve the dispute without the need for motion practice.

10. Summary Judgment Schedules. The parties are required to agree on a schedule for briefing summary judgment motions. Then when briefing is complete they are required to contact the Court to schedule a hearing date.

The Takeaway

The new amendments to New Jersey’s Court Rules are a welcome change. Business litigation can be intensely complex, time consuming, lengthy and expensive. These new rules are a good start toward streamlining this complex process.

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