On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-4768-07.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jonathan N. Harris, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 16, 2009
Before Judges Stern, Sabatino, and J. N. Harris.
We consider when a private passenger automobile insurer is entitled to obtain litigational discovery for use in the legislatively-mandated arbitral forum that resolves disputes over Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage.*fn1 Plaintiff appeals from an adverse decision in a summary action commenced in the Law Division seeking expansive discovery for use in PIP arbitrations against an assignee health service provider. Because recourse to the courts for discovery materials sought to be used in a PIP arbitration is narrowly constrained by statute, we affirm Judge Joseph J. Riva's dismissal of plaintiff's complaint.
New Jersey Manufacturers (NJM) writes private passenger automobile insurance policies in New Jersey containing PIP coverage. Its adversary in this action is the Bergen Ambulatory Surgery Center (BASC), which is a licensed ambulatory care facility that provides out-of-hospital surgery together with other diagnostic and treatment procedures to persons injured in automobile accidents. BASC accepts assignments of PIP benefits from its patients and thereafter directly bills insurers such as NJM for services (facility fees) provided to the assignor- insureds. If BASC and NJM are of one mind about BASC's billings, the matter is resolved with a business to business payment. If not, BASC initiates PIP arbitration proceedings pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-5.1(a):
a. Any dispute regarding the recovery of medical expense benefits or other benefits provided under personal injury protection coverage pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1972, c.70 (C. 39:6A-4), section 4 of P.L.1998, c.21 (C. 39:6A-3.1) or section 45 of P.L.2003, c.89 (C. 39:6A-3.3) arising out of the operation, ownership, maintenance or use of an automobile may be submitted to dispute resolution on the initiative of any party to the dispute, as hereinafter provided. [N.J.S.A. 39:6A-5.1(a).]
The Legislature structured a detailed and careful arrangement for an alternative dispute resolution mechanism regarding PIP claims. To that end, it delegated primary responsibility to the Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) to implement the manner and means of addressing the steady stream of contested PIP claims. N.J.S.A. 39:6A-5.1(b). The frequent disputes resulted in the adoption of regulations to administer a process resembling arbitration, which operates largely outside of the publicly-funded institution of the judiciary. N.J.A.C. 11:3-5.1 to -5.12.
Among its features, PIP dispute resolution covers a wide range of disputes, as defined in N.J.A.C. 11:3-5.2:
"PIP dispute" includes, but is not limited to, ...