RON MILLS, WILLIAM BAYLOCK, DAWONE BAYLOCK, ANTHONY CENTENO, DAVID JOHNSON, JHERELLE BAILEY a/k/a KAMAL J. BAILEY, BRYHEEM FRAIZER, DERRICK BROWN, GILBERT BECERRA, Plaintiffs,
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, Defendant-Appellant and DAYNA HINTON, ALBERT CASS, ROBERT HENDERSON, ANTWYNE ROLAX, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
Argued: October 17, 2013.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-3321-11.
Peter Slocum, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for appellant ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Christopher S. Porrino and Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorneys General, of counsel; Mr. Slocum, on the brief).
Kenneth D. Aita argued the cause for respondents.
Benjamin Yaster argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey ( Gibbons P.C., attorneys; Mr. Yaster and Lawrence S. Lustberg, on the brief).
Before Judges WAUGH, NUGENT, and ACCURSO. The opinion of the court was delivered by WAUGH, J.A.D. ACCURSO, J.A.D., concurring.
[435 N.J.Super. 72] WAUGH, J.A.D.
Plaintiffs commenced this action against defendant State of New Jersey, Department of the Treasury (State), in July 2011 to recover damages for wrongful conviction and incarceration as provided by the Mistaken Imprisonment Act (Act), N.J.S.A. 52:4C-1 to -6. Following motion practice described in more detail below, the claims of all plaintiffs except Dayna Hinton, Albert Cass, Robert Henderson, and Antwyne Rolax were dismissed.
By leave granted, the State appeals the Law Division's January 31, 2013 order (1) denying its motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the grounds that their complaint was unverified, (2) denying its motion for summary judgment as to Hinton, Cass, Henderson, and Rolax on the theory that their claims were statutorily barred because their convictions resulted from guilty pleas, and (3) granting those plaintiffs' motion to file a verified amended complaint after the statutory time to sue had expired. We affirm in part and reverse in part.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
[435 N.J.Super. 73] In 2010, after an investigation by the United States Department of Justice, five members of the City of Camden's Police Department were indicted and charged with conspiracy to deprive criminal defendants of their constitutional rights. Following the indictment, the Camden County Prosecutor voluntarily dismissed charges against approximately 200 criminal defendants, including the plaintiffs in this action. Although some of those criminal defendants had been the subject of the specific cases that gave rise to the federal indictment, others were defendants who had been charged as the result of investigations in which the indicted officers participated. Plaintiffs were in the latter group.
Hinton was arrested in September 2007. She pled guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute on November 14, 2007, and was released from custody that day. Hinton was subsequently sentenced to probation for five years. Hinton's conviction was vacated on March 10, 2010.
Cass was arrested in December 2007 for unlawful possession of a weapon. He pled guilty in October 2008. He was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, with a two year period of parole ineligibility. Cass's conviction was vacated on February 7, 2010, and he was released from prison on March 8.
Henderson was arrested for possession of a controlled dangerous substance in August
2008. He pled guilty on May 26, 2009, and was sentenced to three years in prison, with twenty-seven months of parole ineligibility. Henderson's conviction was vacated on March 10, 2010, and he was released from prison on March 18.
Rolax was arrested in December 2007 for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He pled guilty on November 12, 2008, and was released. He was subsequently sentenced to probation. In April 2009, he was sentenced to five years in prison for violation of that probation. His conviction for the underlying offense was vacated on December 18, 2010. He was released from prison on January 7, 2011.
[435 N.J.Super. 74] Over eighty of the defendants whose charges had been dismissed by the prosecutor sought damages for wrongful arrest and incarceration in the Law Division, federal court, or both. The thirteen plaintiffs in this action filed their complaint in the Law Division on July 1, 2011. On September 6, 2012, the State filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing, among other things, that a plaintiff's guilty plea absolutely precludes recovery under the " own-conduct" bar found in N.J.S.A. 52:4C-3(c). The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU) was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae with respect to the issue of whether a guilty plea bars recovery under the Act.
On November 15, the day before oral argument of the State's summary judgment motion, the deputy attorney general assigned to the case wrote to the motion judge and requested an adjournment because he had just discovered that the complaint had not been verified by plaintiffs, as required by N.J.S.A. 52:4C-4. He asserted that their failure to verify the complaint raised an issue of the court's subject matter jurisdiction. The judge adjourned oral argument to allow the State to file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. He also allowed plaintiffs to file a motion for leave to amend the complaint to add the required verifications.
The judge heard and decided the original and supplemental motions on December 21. He denied the State's motion to dismiss and granted plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint to add their verifications. The judge granted the State's motion for summary judgment as to nine of the thirteen plaintiffs for reasons not related to this appeal. However, he denied the motion as to Hinton, Cass, Henderson, and Rolax, having concluded that a [435 N.J.Super. 75] guilty plea was not a per se bar to recovery under the Act. The implementing order was signed on January 31, 2013.
We granted the State's motion for leave to appeal. We subsequently stayed all of the related cases pending disposition of this appeal.
The State argues that, because N.J.S.A. 52:4C-4 requires a verified complaint, the motion judge lacked subject matter jurisdiction to allow the remaining plaintiffs to file a verified amended complaint after the two-year limitations period had expired. It also argues that, because the convictions of the four remaining plaintiffs resulted from guilty pleas, they are barred from recovery under the " own-conduct" bar found in N.J.S.A. 52:4C-3(c) as a matter of law. Our review of the motion judge's
determination of the legal issues is plenary. Estate of Hanges v. Metropolitan Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 202 N.J. ...