On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-1747-01.
Before Judges Cuff, Winkelstein and Lario.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cuff, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
The fundamental issue presented by this appeal is whether a party may seek review of an interlocutory order once it submits to non-binding arbitration, does not file a demand for a trial de novo, but seeks confirmation of the arbitration award and entry of judgment. Resolution of this issue requires consideration of the fundamental principles of appellate jurisdiction and the purposes of arbitration for certain civil actions.
Following cross-motions by both plaintiff and defendant Trump Castle Associates, L.P. d/b/a Trump Marina Hotel Casino, L.P. (Trump Castle) to confirm an arbitration award, a judgment was entered confirming the award. Trump Castle appeals and seeks review of interlocutory orders denying its motions to dismiss a count of the complaint. We hold that Trump Castle is barred from pursuing an appeal after entry of a judgment following arbitration, and dismiss the appeal.
On November 12, 2000, plaintiff Rosalie Grey was a passenger in a car owned and operated by Joan Fazio. While they were stopped at a red light, a vehicle driven by defendant John Devine and owned by defendant Ellen Finley struck the rear of their vehicle twice. Plaintiff alleged that she was injured in this accident and that defendant Devine was visibly intoxicated.
On June 1, 2001, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Trump Castle, Devine, Finley, and several fictitious establishments and persons. Plaintiff alleged that defendant Devine negligently operated the vehicle while intoxicated, that defendant Finley negligently entrusted her vehicle to an intoxicated driver, that the parking attendant at Trump Castle negligently provided defendant Devine with the keys to the Finley vehicle, and that Trump Castle and other unnamed and unknown establishments negligently served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated patron, defendant Devine.
At the conclusion of discovery, Trump Castle filed a motion to dismiss the negligent entrustment claim. The motion was denied. Trump Castle filed a motion for reconsideration, which was also denied. Its motion for partial summary judgment on the"dram shop" claim was unopposed by plaintiff and granted. Then, Trump Castle filed a second motion for reconsideration of the order denying its motion to dismiss the negligent entrustment claim. This motion was also denied.
On November 14, 2002, the parties participated in non-binding arbitration pursuant to Rule 4:21A. The arbitrator awarded plaintiff $250,000 for her injuries and apportioned liability equally between defendants Devine and Trump Castle. No party filed a demand for trial de novo. Trump Castle filed a motion to confirm the arbitration award and enter judgment against it in the amount of $125,000 plus pre-judgment interest; plaintiff filed a cross-motion to confirm the award. By order dated January 10, 2003, Judge Daryl F. Todd, Sr., confirmed the arbitration award and entered judgment in favor of plaintiff and against Trump Castle in the amount of $125,000 plus pre-judgment interest.
Trump Castle filed a notice of appeal, seeking review of the interlocutory orders which addressed its motions to dismiss the negligent entrustment claim. It contends that its motions to dismiss the negligent entrustment claim should have been granted and that it is entitled to appeal from the final judgment as a matter of right. Plaintiff argues that the appeal must be dismissed. In her cross-appeal, she also contends that Trump Castle should be jointly and severally liable for the entire arbitration award.
Rule 4:21A governs the arbitration of civil actions, such as the personal injury action filed by plaintiff. Rule 4:21A implements one of five bills enacted in 1983 to revise this State's no-fault automobile insurance system. Hartsfield v. Fantini, 149 N.J. 611, 615 (1997); Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 1 on R. 4:21A (2003). In particular, N.J.S.A. 39:6A-25 requires the mandatory arbitration of certain automobile accident claims. Hartsfield, supra, 149 N.J. at 615.
The purpose of the 1983 statutory revision of the handling of automobile personal injury claims was"'to establish an informal system of settling tort claims arising out of automobile accidents in an expeditious and least costly manner, and to ease the burden and congestion of the State's courts.'" Ibid. (quoting N.J.S.A. 39:6A-24). While the system is designed to promote efficiency and the conservation of judicial resources, it also preserves the parties' right to a jury trial by providing for a trial de novo for any party dissatisfied with the arbitration award. Id. at 616.
Rule 4:21A-6 governs the entry of judgment and trial de novo. According to the rule, any party dissatisfied with the outcome of an arbitration proceeding may file a demand for a trial de novo within thirty days of the filing of the award. R. 4:21A-6(b)(1). If a demand has not been filed, any party may move for confirmation of the award and entry of judgment. R. ...