March 23, 2017
appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division,
Mercer County, Docket No. L-1585-14.
Mitchell J. Makowicz, Jr., argued the cause for appellant
(Blume, Forte, Fried, Zerres & Molinari, P.C., attorneys;
Mr. Makowicz, on the brief).
Elizabeth C. Chierici argued the cause for respondent
(Chierici, Chierici & Smith, P.C., attorneys; Ms.
Chierici, on the brief).
Judges Lihotz, O'Connor and Whipple.
Kathleen Leggette, a Virginia resident, was struck by a New
Jersey licensed driver as she walked across a street in
Princeton. Plaintiff appeals from the December 4, 2015
summary judgment dismissal of her declaratory judgment
complaint against her insurer, defendant Government Employees
Insurance Company (GEICO). In her complaint, plaintiff sought
personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, pursuant to
N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4, commonly known as the "Deemer
Statute, " which generally requires an insurer,
authorized to do business in New Jersey, must provide PIP
coverage for policies sold outside New Jersey, whenever the
insured automobile is "used or operated" in this
state. Plaintiff maintained her Virginia policy
was deemed to provide standard PIP coverage while her vehicle
was in this state. The trial judge concluded the Deemer
Statute was inapplicable to the circumstances presented. We
purposes of the summary judgment motion, the parties did not
dispute any material facts. Plaintiff drove her Virginia
registered 2005 Toyota Sequoia, insured by GEICO, to
Princeton University to visit her daughter, a student.
Plaintiff parked her vehicle in a Princeton University
parking lot and began walking toward her daughter's
dormitory. While in a crosswalk on Edwards Place, plaintiff
was struck by an automobile. Consequently, plaintiff suffered
injuries and incurred approximately $113, 825.47 in medical
filed a complaint and thereafter settled her claims against
the driver of the automobile. She initiated this declaratory
judgment action against defendant GEICO for PIP coverage to
satisfy resultant medical expenses. Plaintiff alleged
defendant, which is authorized to conduct business in New
Jersey, was legally obligated, by the Deemer Statute, to
provide minimum standard automobile insurance policy PIP
benefits, covering injuries suffered when her
out-of-state-insured vehicle was used in New Jersey.
Defendant refuted this interpretation, maintaining plaintiff,
as a pedestrian, was not using or operating her vehicle at
the time of the accident, so coverage required by the Deemer
Statute was not triggered.
parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. The
trial judge accepted plaintiff's position, concluding the
comprehensive insurance scheme provided PIP coverage to
plaintiff, despite being a pedestrian. The judge denied
defendant's motion for summary judgment and granted
plaintiff's motion in an October 23, 2015 order.
moved to vacate this order and sought dismissal of the
complaint. Following oral argument, the Law Division judge
reviewed the legislative history accompanying the adoption of
the Deemer Statute and reconsidered his prior order. The
judge vacated the October 23, 2015 order and concluded a
party must be using or operating his or her vehicle at the
time of the accident to trigger Deemer coverage.
Plaintiff's appeal from the December 4, 2015 order
narrow legal issue on appeal requires consideration of the
Legislative intent in enacting N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4. These
principles guide our review.
matter of statutory interpretation is a legal issue requiring
our de novo review. See, e.g., Manalapan Realty,
L.P. v. Twp. Comm. of Manalapan, 140 N.J. 366, 378
(1995); In re Declaratory Judgment Actions Filed by
Various Muns., 446 N.J.Super. 259, 2 81 (App. Div.
2016), aff'd as modified on other grounds, 227
N.J. 508 (2017). Accordingly, "we accord no deference to
the trial judge's interpretive conclusions."
Brick Twp. PBA Local 2 30 v. Twp. of Brick, 446
N.J.Super. 61, 65 (App. Div. 2016).
paramount goal in interpreting a statute is to ascertain the
Legislature's intent, requiring we start with the
statutory language. See, e.g., Maeker v.
Ross, 219 N.J. 565, 575 (2014) ("The goal of all
statutory interpretation 'is to give effect to the intent
of the Legislature.'" (quoting Aronberg v.
Tolbert, 207 N.J. 587, 597 (2011))); DiProspero
v. Perm, 183 N.J. 477, 492 (2005) ("[G]enerally,
the best indicator of that intent is the statutory
language."). When interpreting a statute, we give words
"their ordinary meaning and significance."
Tumpson v. Farina, 218 N.J. 450, 467 (2014) (quoting
DiProspero, supra, 183 N.J. at 492).
Further, "we must construe the statute sensibly and
consistent[ly] with the objectives that the Legislature
sought to achieve." Nicholas v. Mynster, 213
N.J. 463, 480 (2013). "We will not adopt an
interpretation of the statutory language that leads to an
absurd result or one ...