NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued November 8, 2012
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-382-12.
Christopher S. Tretola argued the cause for appellant (Bright & Sponder, attorneys; Mr. Tretola, on the brief).
A. Ross Pearlson argued the cause for respondents (Wolff & Samson P.C., attorneys; Mr. Pearlson and Lindsay A. Smith, on the brief).
Before Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi and Hayden.
Plaintiff Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange (CURE) appeals from the Chancery Division order dismissing its complaint to disqualify an attorney and a law firm pursuant to Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs) 1.9 and 1.10. We affirm.
The record reveals that CURE identifies itself as "an insurance reciprocal exchange authorized by the Department of Banking and Insurance to exchange reciprocal contracts among its members." It employed defendant Allison T. Kurtz as an in-house attorney from October 19, 2009 to December 5, 2011. Kurtz's primary assignment involved representing CURE against personal injury protection (PIP) claims, mainly at arbitration. During her tenure, Kurtz worked on approximately 180 PIP matters, including several filed by defendant Massood & Bronsnick, L.L.C. ("the law firm" or "the firm").
In November 2011, Kurtz advised CURE that December 5, 2011 would be her last day of employment but did not disclose her next employer. On December 13, 2011, Kurtz began working for the law firm, and within a week the firm placed her name on its letterhead. The firm had decided to preclude Kurtz from handling CURE cases, directly or indirectly, for one year and informed the office staff before she began her employment.
In late December 2011, CURE received two form letters from Forthright indicating that Kurtz would be handling two PIP claims arbitrations against CURE. CURE immediately contacted Kurtz about these letters. In response, the law firm sent a letter to CURE, dated January 6, 2012, explaining that the designation of Kurtz had been a clerical mistake as it had "taken the proper precautions to ensure" that Kurtz had been "properly walled-off" and that Kurtz would be "precluded from handling any files or cases involving" CURE.
On January 11, 2012, CURE received another Forthright form letter, dated January 6, 2012, indicating that Kurtz would be handling a third PIP claim arbitration against CURE. In a letter dated January 16, 2012, the law firm corrected this inaccurate information. The firm reiterated that a clerical error had mistakenly designated Kurtz as the attorney, and explained that she had never reviewed or received the files and had no involvement with or responsibility for the three cases.
On January 18, 2012, CURE sent a letter to the law firm demanding that it withdraw from all pending PIP matters against CURE. The firm refused. On January 26, 2012, the law firm replied to CURE, warranting that Kurtz "never had any involvement whatsoever" in any CURE matter, explaining again that Kurtz's name was inserted on the letters erroneously, and confirming that the attorney designation on the three files had been corrected.
On February 9, 2012, CURE filed a complaint and order to show cause against defendants, requesting injunctive relief to prevent both Kurtz and the law firm from representing any party with interests adverse to CURE in all PIP matters. At the time, the firm had more than one hundred claims pending against CURE. CURE alleged that due to Kurtz's past employment, defendants were violating the ...