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Ricciardi v. Rabin

Decided: April 11, 1963.

BENJAMIN RICCIARDI, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-RESPONDENTS,
v.
MAX RABIN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Conford, Gaulkin and Kilkenny. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaulkin, J.A.D. Conford, S.j.a.d. (concurring).

Gaulkin

In an action instituted in the County district court and tried without a jury plaintiffs recovered judgments against defendant for injuries sustained in an automobile accident, and defendant appeals.

Plaintiffs are Federico Ricciardi, his wife Josephine, and their three infant sons, Benjamin, Vincent and Frederick, who sued by the father as "guardian ad litem." The complaint is in six counts, the first presenting Benjamin's demand for $2,800; the second, Vincent's for $2,800; the third, Frederick's for $2,800; the fourth, Josephine's for $2,500; the fifth, Federico's claim for $600 for the loss of the services of his sons and their medical expenses; and the sixth, Federico's claim for $500 for the loss of his wife's consortium and her medical expenses.

Defendant's first ground of appeal is that these demands must be aggregated and therefore the action is beyond the $3,000 jurisdiction of the County district court fixed by N.J.S.A. 2A:6-34. We disagree.

Even before our new practice it was held that when separate claims by separate plaintiffs, each separately cognizable in the district court, are joined in a single action, they are not to be aggregated for the purpose of determining jurisdiction. Navarro v. Martin , 22 N.J. Misc. 291 (D. Ct. 1944). See also 17 N.J. Practice (Fulop, District and Municipal Courts), ยงยง 172, 175, and the annotations in 72 A.L.R. 193 (1931) and 47 A.L.R. 2 d 651, 664 (1956).

When Navarro v. Martin was decided the jurisdiction of the district court was $500. Since that time the jurisdiction of the district court has been greatly enlarged, and, in cases transferred from the county court and the Superior Court for trial, the district court may enter judgments in unlimited amounts. The drive of the present practice in all of our courts is to sweep aside all shibboleths and impediments which stand in the way of the swift decision of controversies on their merits, and even statutes which fix the jurisdiction of particular courts are interpreted in the light of our rules and our present practice to achieve that goal. See, for example, Vineland Shopping Center, Inc. v. DeMarco , 35 N.J. 459, 465 (1961). In that case the Supreme Court held that a County district court has jurisdiction to try equitable defenses, declaring, in words apt here (p. 469): "To hold otherwise would continue the procedural waste which the constitutional reform intended to end and indeed at a level of litigation wherein the litigants can least afford to bear it."

It seems to us it would be an odd step backward to hold that today plaintiffs with claims such as here must institute separate actions, even though those actions would doubtless be immediately consolidated for trial. We should not come to such a conclusion unless we are driven to it irresistibly by statute, rule or binding precedent. We find none that even points in that direction.

Defendant cites Vorhies v. Cannizzaro , 66 N.J. Super. 551 (App. Div. 1961). However, in that case the complaint was incompetently drawn and consisted of a single count in which the husband and wife jointly sued for $5,000, lumping their claims indiscriminately.

Defendant contends also that the damages awarded were excessive. Although the damages awarded to at least some of the plaintiffs do appear excessive, we find it impossible to reduce them because no stenographic record was made of the trial, and we are unable to say that the judge's report of the evidence and his findings of fact (although they contain

more heat than is desirable) do not support ...


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