If at First You Don't Succeed, Appeal and then Appeal Again - Unless You Are Out of Time

02.04.22

Category: New Jersey

In a recent decision, New Jersey Transit’s Motion to Dismiss was affirmed by the Appellate Court on February 2, 2022. The petitioner had appealed from the October 7, 2020 Order of the Workers' Compensation Court granting the respondent, New Jersey Transit's, Motion to Dismiss his claim petition.

The material facts were not in dispute. The petitioner was previously employed for the respondent as a bus driver when on January 29, 2008, the petitioner’s bus was involved in a motor vehicle accident (MVA). The petitioner filed a claim for alleged injuries to his hands, chest, shoulder, and a psychiatric component. The claim was dismissed on October 4, 2010, because the petitioner failed to sustain his burden of proof. Then the petitioner appealed, and the appeal was dismissed on February 9, 2011, for lack of prosecution. After initially hiring counsel, the petitioner later discharged counsel and represented himself in the proceedings relevant to the appeal.

Five years later, the petitioner filed an application to reopen or modify the prior Order dismissing his claim with prejudice. On July 25, 2016, the court granted the respondent's motion to dismiss the petitioner’s application with prejudice because it was untimely. On August 13, 2018, the petitioner filed an application in the Appellate Division to reopen his prior claim petition.

On appeal, the petitioner argued first that the court erred in granting the order for the dismissal to the respondent because the petitioner never had a hearing for his discrimination motion. Second, even if the petitioner’s claim was dismissed for frivolous litigation, the court should adopt the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ social security judgment so he could be compensated for his losses.

The Appellate Court treated this application as an appeal from the court's July 25, 2016 order and dismissed the appeal with prejudice on September 11, 2018, because it was untimely. The petitioner filed yet another application with the court and again asked for a review of the prior dismissal of his claim petition. The respondent moved to dismiss the application and asked for costs.

The Appellate Court did not think that the petitioner’s arguments warranted an extensive written opinion. However, the court did make a few comments. First, the court properly rejected the petitioner’s repeated claims for workers' compensation benefits for the original MVA, because the doctrine of res judicata provides that a “cause of action between parties that has been finally determined on the merits by a tribunal having jurisdiction cannot be relitigated by those parties or their privies in a new proceeding.” Velasquez v. Franz, 123 N.J. 498, 505 (1991) (citing Roberts v. Goldner, 79 N.J. 82, 85 (1979)). The petitioner already unsuccessfully litigated the issue of whether he is eligible for benefits multiple times. Next, the petitioner’s contention that the first judge who dismissed his complaint was biased against him also lacked merit. The court noted that a party's contention that a trial judge was unfair or biased "cannot be inferred from adverse rulings against a party." Strahan v. Strahan, 402 N.J. Super. 298, 318 (App. Div. 2008). Based on the review of the record, the court found that all of the judges who presided over the prior proceedings presented the petitioner a full opportunity to present arguments in support of his claims. Finally, the court found no significance in the determination that the petitioner was entitled to Social Security disability benefits, as the Administration has its own statute and applies different standards than the Workers' Compensation Court.

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