On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-4023-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 7, 2009
Before Judges Axelrad, Parrillo and Messano.
Following a jury trial in the Law Division, judgment in favor of plaintiff Adel Mikhaeil was entered against defendant Steven West in the amount of $76,384.38. Defendant now raises the following points on appeal:
POINT I ADMISSION OF THE PRIOR CRIMINAL CASE, CONTRARY TO RULES OF EVIDENCE AND CASE LAW, UNJUSTLY PREJUDICED DEFENDANT'S CASE AND THEREFORE CONSTITUTED REVERSIBLE ERROR.
POINT II PERMITTING THE JURY TO CONSIDER LIFE EXPECTANCY WAS REVERSIBLE ERROR AS PLAINTIFF PRODUCED NO EXPERT MEDICAL TESTIMONY TO SUPPORT THE ALLEGED PERMANENCY OF HIS INJURIES.
POINT III THE SUBMISSION OF "PUNITIVE DAMAGES" INTERROGATORIES TO THE JURY SO TAINTED DELIBERATIONS AS TO RENDER THE ENTIRE VERDICT REVERSIBLE. (NOT RAISED BELOW)
POINT IV TO ADVISE THE JURY FOREMAN WHEN THE CASE WOULD END AND DISCOURAGE THE JURY IN SEEKING A READ-BACK OF TESTIMONY RESULTED IN A RUSH TO JUDGMENT ON A RECORD ABOUT WHICH THE JURY WAS CONFUSED.
We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We find merit in defendant's first point, and therefore reverse and remand the matter for a new trial.
Plaintiff filed his complaint against defendant and several fictitious John Does alleging, among other things, assault and battery, and false imprisonment, and seeking compensatory and punitive damages. Defendant filed an answer denying any liability.
The essential conduct alleged in plaintiff's complaint was identical to that which had been the subject of an earlier criminal trial wherein defendant had been convicted of simple assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a, and third-degree criminal restraint, N.J.S.A. 2C:13-2. When the parties convened to commence the civil trial on January 2, 2007, defendant's appeal of his criminal conviction was pending.*fn1
Before trial, plaintiff requested that the judge (1) take judicial notice of defendant's criminal conviction as conclusive evidence of liability; and (2) limit the trial to damages only. The judge concluded that because the conviction was on appeal, she would not take judicial notice of it nor grant a directed verdict on liability. She also concluded that any references to the earlier criminal trial or the convictions were inappropriate. However, at the next hearing in the case, some two weeks later, the judge reversed her ruling.*fn2 She explained,
[T]here should be at the very least, a factual background available to the jury . . . that there were charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment and conspiracy and that on those criminal charges this defendant . . . was found to have been guilty of simple assault ...