On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, L-2730-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 29, 2009
Before Judges Reisner, Yannotti and Chambers.
Plaintiffs Samuel and Angela Marquez appeal from a May 23, 2008 order granting summary judgment dismissing their complaint on grounds of judicial estoppel, and a July 31, 2008 order denying reconsideration. They also appeal from interlocutory orders dismissing their claim under the New Jersey Civil Rights Act and denying their motion to amend the complaint to add a claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.*fn1 We affirm the dismissal of the State law claim, reverse the other rulings, and remand.
We will discuss the pertinent facts in greater detail in our legal analysis. However, in brief, plaintiffs contend that on October 12, 2003, Mr. Marquez was brutally beaten by the Trenton police, who then filed groundless criminal charges against him. Those charges were dismissed several years later, when the prosecution failed to produce discovery. By that time, plaintiffs contend, their legal bills and Mr. Marquez's health problems attributable to the assault had driven them into bankruptcy.
After they filed their bankruptcy petitions,*fn2 plaintiffs filed this civil rights lawsuit against the police and related defendants on October 11, 2005. However, three years later in 2008, their lawsuit was dismissed on judicial estoppel grounds, because plaintiffs had initially failed to list their potential civil lawsuit as a contingent asset in their bankruptcy petition, and they did not promptly amend their petition after this lawsuit was filed.
Our review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment is de novo, using the standard set forth in Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), which requires that we consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties. See Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). We review a trial court's decision to invoke judicial estoppel for abuse of discretion, see State, Div. of Motor Vehicles v. Caruso, 291 N.J. Super. 430, 438 (App. Div. 1996), but we owe no deference to a trial court's interpretation of the law. Manalapan Realty, L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378 (1995).
We begin our analysis by considering the doctrine of judicial estoppel. In order to protect the integrity of the court system, "[w]hen a party successfully asserts a position in a prior legal proceeding, that party cannot assert a contrary position in subsequent litigation arising out of the same events." Kress v. La Villa, 335 N.J. Super. 400, 412 (App. Div. 2000), certif. denied, 168 N.J. 289 (2001). It has been summarized as follows: "The principle is that if you prevail in Suit # 1 by representing that A is true, you are stuck with A in all later litigation growing out of the same events." Kimball Int'l, Inc. v Northfield Metal Prods., 334 N.J. Super. 596, 607 (App. Div. 2000) (quoting Eagle Found., Inc. v. Dole, 813 F.2d 798, 810 (7th Cir. 1987)).
However, judicial estoppel is not a favored remedy, because of its draconian consequences. It is to be invoked only in limited circumstances:
It is . . . generally recognized that judicial estoppel is an "extraordinary remedy," which should be invoked only "when a party's inconsistent behavior will otherwise result in a miscarriage of justice." Ryan Operations G.P. v. Santiam-Midwest Lumber Co., 81 F.3d 355, 365 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Oneida Motor Freight, Inc. v. United Jersey Bank, 848 F.2d 414, 424 (3d Cir.) (Stapleton, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 967, 109 S.Ct. 495, 102 L.Ed. 2d 532 (1988)); see also Teledyne Indus., Inc., supra, 911 F.2d at 1218 ("Judicial estoppel is applied with caution to avoid impinging on the truth-seeking function of the court because the doctrine precludes a contradictory position without examining the truth of either statement.").
Thus, as with other claim and issue preclusion doctrines, judicial estoppel should be invoked only in those circumstances required to serve its stated purpose, which is to protect the integrity of the judicial process. [Kimball Int'l, Inc. v Northfield ...