The broad reaching powers of consumer protection laws often create significant liability potential for businesses of all sizes. Many states throughout the country have looked to New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud
Act for guidance as it is one of the most consumer friendly statutes.
In a recent unpublished decision, Chiesa v. Levine, the New Jersey Appellate Division permitted an exception to the court rules and allowed a consumer protection plaintiff to prevail on summary judgment even though the motion was not made within the time constraints of the court rules.
The facts of this case must be set aside from the exception to the court rules permitted by the Appellate Division. The plaintiff should have prevailed at trial because of the egregious nature of the defendant’s actions. While we agree that the court’s ultimate finding in favor of the plaintiff was appropriate, we disagree that the plaintiff should have been permitted to file summary judgment outside of the time limits set by court rules. This case is an example of how powerful the rights of consumers are and of the lengths that the courts go to protect consumers.
In Chiesa the defendant who was doing business as Al’s Special Friends allegedly violated numerous provisions of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the Charitable Registration and Investigation Act by selling diseased pets and refusing to return customer’s money or reimburse them for veterinary bills. The case was set for trial and the plaintiff failed to file his motion for summary judgment thirty days before the trial date as required by Rule 4:46-1. However, the trial court permitted the late filing stating that there was good cause to allow the plaintiffs late motion and ultimately found in favor of the plaintiff. Again, the issue is not with the facts of the case. Clearly this business was operating in an illegal and unethical manner and should have lost at trial. However, court Rule 4:46-1 requires that all motions for summary judgment be filed now later than 30 days before trial. The lower court and the Appellate Division permitted late filing simply because of the egregious nature of the defendant’s actions and the desire to protect consumers.
This is yet another example of the power of consumer protection laws and the impact that they have on the courts and their enforcement of established rules.
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