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The Plastic Surgery Center, PA v. Malouf Chevrolet-Cadillac, Inc.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

January 17, 2019

THE PLASTIC SURGERY CENTER, PA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MALOUF CHEVROLET-CADILLAC, INC., Defendant-Respondent. THE PLASTIC SURGERY CENTER, PA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LEONE INDUSTRIES, Defendant-Respondent. THE WOODS O.R., INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
LEONE INDUSTRIES, Defendant-Respondent. STEVEN J. PARAGIOUDAKIS, M.D., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CAFE BAYOU, Defendant-Respondent. MARC MENKOWITZ, M.D., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CAFE BAYOU, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued November 27, 2018

          On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition Nos. 2014-28615, 2015-120, 2015-123, 2016-31914, and 2016-31913.

          James A. Maggs argued the cause for appellants (Maggs & McDermott, LLC, attorneys; James A. Maggs, Sandra M. Guage and Benjamin D. Light, on the briefs).

          Ann P. DeBellis argued the cause for respondent Malouf Chevrolet Cadillac, Inc. (Ann P. DeBellis, attorney; Ann P. DeBellis and David P. Kendall, on the brief).

          David P. Kendall argued the cause for respondent Leone Industries (Ann P. DeBellis, attorney; Ann P. DeBellis and David P. Kendall, on the brief).

          Steven J. Currenti argued the cause for respondent Cafe Bayou (Law Offices of William E. Staehle, attorneys; Steven J. Currenti, on the brief).

          Susan Stryker argued the cause for amicus curiae Insurance Council of New Jersey (Bressler, Amery & Ross, PC, attorneys; Susan Stryker, of counsel; Susan Stryker and Michael J. Morris, on the brief).

          Steven Stadtmauer argued the cause for amicus curiae RWJ/Barnabas Health, Hackensack Meridian Health and The Valley Hospital (Celentano, Stadtmauer Walentowicz, LLP, attorneys; Steven Stadtmauer, Nancy A. Cifalino and Kristen Ottomanelli, on the brief).

          Before Judges Fisher, Suter and Geiger.

          OPINION

          FISHER, P.J.A.D.

         In 2012, the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 34:15-15, granting the Division of Workers' Compensation (the Division) exclusive jurisdiction over claims brought by medical providers for payment of services rendered to injured employees. These appeals, which we now consolidate, question whether, through its silence, the Legislature intended - via this 2012 amendment - to apply the two-year statute of limitations, N.J.S.A. 34:15-51, contained in the Workers' Compensation Act (the Act), [1] or whether the Legislature intended to leave things as they were and continue to apply the six-year statute of limitations for suits on contracts, N.J.S.A. 2A.14-1, to such claims. We conclude that subjecting medical-provider claims to the two-year time-bar would be like jamming a square peg into a round hole, and that to reinterpret the two-year time-bar to fit such claims would require the reshaping of the edges of this square peg contrary to principles of judicial restraint. So, we reverse the judgments that dismissed these medical-provider claims.

         The details of these cases need not clutter this opinion. Each medical provider filed petitions in the Division for payment of services rendered to employees of the respondent employers. And each medical provider filed its claim more than two years from the date of each employee's accident but less than six years from the claim's accrual.[2] In interpreting N.J.S.A. 34:15-15 so as to require application of the two-year time-bar of N.J.S.A. 34:15-51, the same compensation judge dismissed all these actions. The medical providers appeal, arguing that the compensation judge misconstrued the significance of the 2012 amendment.

         Before the 2012 legislative amendment that generated the question presented, a medical provider was entitled to file a collection action for payment of its services in the superior court and had no obligation to participate in a patient's pending compensation action. See Univ. of Mass. v. Christodoulou, 180 N.J. 334, 350-51 (2004). But, as the Court held in Christodoulou, when an employee pursues a claim in the Division for compensation benefits, a medical provider's Superior Court collection action "must be transferred" to the Division. Id. at 352. The Court directed such transfers in the future not for jurisdictional reasons and not because of the then existing statutory framework but because such transfers vindicate the goals "of handling claims efficiently and avoiding duplication of efforts." Ibid. See also Med. Diagnostic Assocs. v. Hawryluk, 317 N.J.Super. 338, 350 (App. Div. 1998).

         With an apparent intent to more formally herd all medical-provider claims into the Division, [3] the Legislature amended N.J.S.A. 34:15-15, declaring that "[e]xclusive jurisdiction for any disputed medical charge arising from any claim for compensation for a work-related injury or illness shall be vested in the [D]ivision." The Legislature said nothing more, expressing no thought on whether it had also simultaneously altered the time within which a medical-provider claim must be commenced. So, whether N.J.S.A. 34:15-15 implicitly incorporated a legislative intent to subject medical-provider claims to the statute of limitations ...


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