The county district courts were courts of limited rather than general jurisdiction; they were created by statutes and not by the State constitution. N.J.S.A. 2A:6-1 et seq., see Rutgers v. New Brunswick, 42 N.J.L. 51 (Sup.Ct.1880). The statute which defined the jurisdiction of the county district court limited the actions cognizable therein to those which had dollar amounts in controversy of no more than $5,000 and which had "a civil nature at law." N.J.S.A. 2A:6-34(a). On December 30, 1983 the county district courts were abolished. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-3a. The jurisdiction, functions, powers and duties of the county district court were transferred to the Superior Court. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-3c. Civil actions formerly adjudicated by the county district court thenceforth were to be heard by the Superior Court. N.J.S.A. 2A:6-1a.
When the county district courts were abolished and their jurisdiction was transferred, the Supreme Court established a Special Civil Part within the Law Division of the Superior Court and fixed the rules governing practice therein. See the order establishing a Special Civil Part within the Law Division of the Superior Court in Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules at 1119-20 (1985). "Civil actions seeking legal relief where the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000" are now cognizable in the Special Civil Part. Id. at § 1A. Thus, by statute and by court order, the Superior Court, Law Division, Special Civil Part
succeeded the county district courts in respect to all matters formerly cognizable therein.
This action is before the court on a motion for summary judgment. See R. 6:6-1, making R. 4:46 applicable. This litigation is the result of a dispute between two law firms over an attorney's fee generated in a workers' compensation action. See R. 6:3-1, making R. 4:46-2 applicable. The two-count complaint sought specified money damages for breach of contract and for unjust enrichment.*fn1 Defendant denied the material allegations of the complaint and raised several separate defenses including the issue of this court's subject matter jurisdiction.*fn2 The summary judgment motion is supported by defendant's affidavit and a number of documents filed in the workers' compensation action which plaintiff acknowledges are authentic. Plaintiff has filed a certification in opposition to defendant's motion. Nevertheless, the case is ripe for disposition as the court finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact.
The uncontested proofs demonstrate that one Ana Rodriquez (hereafter Rodriquez or petitioner) injured herself in the course of her employment at Oliver's Restaurant in Chester, New Jersey. She consulted a member of the firm of O'Gorman, McMann & Troxell, P.C. (hereafter defendant).*fn3 Defendant
filed a claim petition seeking temporary disability payments and reimbursement for petitioner's medical expenses.*fn4 A member of defendant firm appeared for petitioner at the pretrial conference and at subsequent times when the action was listed for trial.
When the compensation action was pending on the trial list, but before it came to trial, Paul H. Greenberg, Esq. (hereafter plaintiff) notified defendant that petitioner wanted him to represent her. In accordance with petitioner's instructions, the file and an executed substitution of attorney form were delivered by defendant to plaintiff. The form contained a typewritten provision which stated that "[t]he respective counsel agree that for services rendered and to be rendered, any net fee awarded in this matter shall be allocated 50% to the firm of O'Gorman, McMann & Troxell, Esqs. and 50% to Paul H. Greenberg, Esq."*fn5
Plaintiff appeared once in the Division of Workers' Compensation on petitioner's behalf. Petitioner then decided that she wanted to be represented by her former attorneys. She discharged plaintiff and returned to defendant firm. Plaintiff provided defendant with petitioner's file and an executed substitution of attorney form. This second substitution form contained an agreement that "George H. Feldman, Judge of Compensation, shall determine the allocation of the fee awarded to petitioner's counsel."*fn6
Defendant eventually settled petitioner's claim with her employer's insurance carrier. Compensation Judge Feldman approved the settlement and awarded an attorney's fee of $1,600 to "petitioner's attorney." Seven hundred dollars ($700) of the fee was to be paid by petitioner; the balance was to be paid by the employer. Judge Feldman, who had handled the ...