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Kimi Stephenson v. Rutgers University and Michelle Edwards

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


September 22, 2011

KIMI STEPHENSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RUTGERS UNIVERSITY AND MICHELLE EDWARDS, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-2906-09.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 14, 2011

Before Judges Waugh and St. John.

Plaintiff Kimi Stephenson appeals the dismissal of her complaint alleging that defendants Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers) and its employee Michelle Edwards unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49.

Because the motion was decided without oral argument and without compliance with Rule 1:7-4(a) with respect to findings of fact and conclusions of law, we vacate the order of dismissal and remand to the trial court for further proceedings in compliance with both rules.

Stephenson, who had been employed part-time as a student manager of a Rutgers athletic team, filed her complaint on March 30, 2009. She alleged that she was harassed and discriminated against with respect to compensation on the basis of her perceived sexual orientation and because of a disability. Defendants answered in May 2009, denying the material allegations of the complaint.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in August 2010. The notice of motion requested oral argument pursuant to Rule 1:6-2(d). Stephenson filed opposition to the motion, to which defendants filed a reply. Despite the requirement of Rule 1:6-2(d), the motion judge declined to hear oral argument.

On October 15, 2010, the judge filed an order granting the motion and dismissing the complaint. The judge handwrote a nine-line explanation of his decision, which did not contain any findings of fact and contained only cursory conclusions of law. This appeal followed.

Rule 1:6-2(d) clearly provides that, unless a civil motion "involves pretrial discovery or is directly addressed to the calendar," a request for oral argument "shall be granted as of right." The motion judge did not have the option to deny oral argument on a substantive motion such as the one in this case. In addition, the motion judge's cursory explanation of his reasons for granting the motion do not comply with the requirements of Rule 1:7-4(a), which provides that the "court shall, by an opinion or memorandum decision, either written or oral, find the facts and state its conclusions of law thereon."

Consequently, we vacate the order on appeal and remand to the Law Division for oral argument on the motion and full compliance with Rule 1:7-4(a). The judge should address both the statute of limitations issue, which was apparently the basis for his decision, and the substantive-law issues raised in the motion. We do not retain jurisdiction.

Vacated and remanded.

20110922

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