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Elmoghazi v. Aviles

September 2, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Hudson County, Docket No. L-3313-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted: April 21, 2008

Before Judges Collester and C.L. Miniman.

Plaintiff Mohamed Elmoghazi appeals from an order for summary judgment entered on April 13, 2007, dismissing his complaint with prejudice under New Jersey's two-year statute of limitations, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, rather than New York's three-year limitations period under N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214 (LEXIS through Apr. 23, 2008). We reverse.

On March 29, 2004, plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of West Fourth Street and Seventh Avenue in New York City. The other motor vehicle was owned by defendant Milagros B. Collazo and driven by defendant Marcus Aviles. At the time of the accident plaintiff resided at 474 Avenue C in Bayonne and was operating a vehicle owned by Sincere Cab Corp. of Glen Ridge. Both defendants then resided at 481 Lake Street, Newark.

Plaintiff filed this personal-injury action in Hudson County on July 10, 2006--more than two years after the accident. Defendants served and filed a notice of motion for summary judgment returnable on March 30, 2007, asserting that the action was time barred under N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, which establishes a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. They also asserted that New York, with a three-year limitations period, had no interest in the action and that New Jersey law should govern. Plaintiff argued that New Jersey should apply New York law to the limitations issue.

The judge in an oral opinion delivered from the bench held that New Jersey law governed the conflict issue. She found that all of the parties had significant New Jersey contacts and that New York was merely the locus of the accident. She concluded that there was no equitable basis for relief from the New Jersey statute of limitations and granted defendant's motion for summary judgment with prejudice despite the fact that plaintiff had filed a protective action in New York on March 28, 2007, one day before the expiration of New York's limitations period.*fn1

On appeal plaintiff urges that the judge erred in applying New Jersey's statute of limitations to this action rather than applying New York's three-year limitations period. This appeal involves only the application of law to undisputed facts and our review is de novo. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995) ("A trial court's interpretation of the law and the legal consequences that flow from established facts are not entitled to any special deference.").

Under New Jersey law plaintiff was required to file his complaint on or before March 29, 2006, N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, and he failed to do so. Under New York law plaintiff could file his complaint in New York on or before March 29, 2007, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 214, and, as stated, he did so on March 28, 2007.*fn2 This is a frank conflict of law.

Defendant has suggested that there is no conflict because New York would have applied New Jersey's shorter limitations period by virtue of its borrowing statute, N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 202, which provides:

An action based upon a cause of action accruing without the state cannot be commenced after the expiration of the time limited by the laws of either the state or the place without the state where the cause of action accrued, except that where the cause of action accrued in favor of a resident of the state the time limited by the laws of the state shall apply. [Id. (emphasis added).]

Here, because the cause of action accrued in New York, not New Jersey, this statutory provision has no application to these facts and we must evaluate the choice-of-law issue presented by this New York cause of action involving solely New Jersey residents. Because New Jersey is the forum state, we evaluate the conflict-of-laws issue under New Jersey's choice-of-law principles. Gantes v. Kason Corp., 145 N.J. 478, 484 (1996).

At one time statutes of limitations were considered procedural, not substantive, and as a consequence the law of the forum governed actions pending in New Jersey. See, e.g., Marshall v. Geo. M. Brewster & Son, Inc., 37 N.J. 176, 188 (1962). In Heavner v. Uniroyal, Inc., 63 N.J. 130, 135-36 (1973), the Supreme Court reexamined "the common law conflicts rule that the statute of limitations is ordinarily a matter of procedure" and concluded:

We are convinced the time has come . . . to discard the mechanical rule that the limitations law of this state must be employed in every suit on a foreign cause of action. We need go no further now than to say that when the cause of action arises in another state, the parties are all present in and amenable to the jurisdiction of that state, New Jersey has no substantial interest in the matter, the substantive law of the foreign state is to be applied, and its limitation period has expired at the time suit is commenced here, New Jersey will hold the suit barred. In essence, we will "borrow" the limitations law of the foreign state. We presently restrict our conclusion to the factual pattern identical with or akin to that in the case before us, ...

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