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Wild v. Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

March 27, 2019

JUSTIN WILD, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CARRIAGE FUNERAL HOLDINGS, INC., d/b/a FEENEY FUNERAL HOME, LLC, DAVID B. FEENEY, and GINNY SANZO, Defendants-Respondents.

          Submitted February 26, 2019

          On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-0687-17.

          The Mark Law Firm, LLC, attorneys for appellant (Jamison M. Mark, on the brief).

          Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC, attorneys for respondents (Steven J. Luckner and Michael J. Riccobono, on the brief).

          Before Judges Fisher, Hoffman and Suter.

          OPINION

          FISHER, P.J.A.D.

         Plaintiff appeals the dismissal, pursuant to Rule 4:6-2, of his action against his former employer, defendant Carriage Funeral Holdings, Inc. (Carriage), and others, based on, among other things, the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49. Plaintiff claims defendants' unlawful discrimination arose from his use of medical marijuana, permitted by the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, N.J.S.A. 24:6I-1 to -16, as part of his cancer treatment. Critical to the issues presented, the Legislature's declaration that an authorized medical-marijuana user may not be criminally prosecuted included a declaration that "nothing" in the Compassionate Use Act "require[s]" an employer to accommodate a medical marijuana user, N.J.S.A. 24:6I-14. Based on that provision, defendants argued - and the motion judge held - that plaintiff's LAD action could not go forward. We disagree and hold that because the Compassionate Use Act declared it should not be construed to "require" an accommodation does not mean such a requirement might not be imposed by other legislation. N.J.S.A. 24:6I-14. In short, like the first law of thermodynamics, that provision - beyond its own limited criminal and regulatory context - neither creates nor destroys rights and obligations. So, we reject the essential holding that brings this matter here and conclude that the Compassionate Use Act's refusal to require an employment accommodation for a user does not mean that the Compassionate Use Act has immunized employers from obligations already imposed elsewhere. It would be ironic indeed if the Compassionate Use Act limited the Law Against Discrimination to permit an employer's termination of a cancer patient's employment by discriminating without compassion. We reverse.

         I

         Before we discuss that central issue, we briefly outline the procedural events that brought us here. Plaintiff, a funeral director, originally sued only Carriage and unknown Carriage employees alleging various LAD violations and common-law defamation. Carriage removed the matter to federal court and moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief might be granted. In response, plaintiff cross-moved to amend his complaint to allege other LAD violations, to add common-law claims of intentional interference with prospective economic gain (intentional interference), and to join three Carriage employees as defendants. The federal judge allowed plaintiff to expand his previously-pleaded defamation claim and to assert the intentional interference claim against two of the prospective defendants - David Feeney and Ginny Sanzo - but denied the cross-motion to assert an intentional interference claim and an aiding and abetting claim against Norma Van Zile. Plaintiff then filed, as permitted, an amended complaint that added Feeney and Sanzo. Recognizing that the joinder of these defendants destroyed diversity, the federal judge remanded the action.

         Once back in the Law Division, plaintiff filed a second amended complaint containing the following claims:

• LAD disability discrimination against Carriage;
• LAD disability discrimination and failure to accommodate against Carriage;
• LAD perceived disability discrimination and failure to accommodate against Carriage;
• LAD perceived disability discrimination against Carriage;
• LAD aiding and abetting against Feeney and unidentified defendants;
• defamation against Feeney and Sanzo;
• intentional interference against Carriage, Feeney and Sanzo.

Defendants swiftly moved under Rule 4:6-2(e) to dismiss the second amended complaint.

         For reasons expressed in a written opinion, the judge granted defendants' motion and dismissed the second amended complaint without prejudice. The parties then sought clarification, and the judge entered an order that dismissed the LAD claims with prejudice and the defamation and intentional interference claims without prejudice.

         Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal, [1] and now argues, among other things, that the judge erred: in dismissing the LAD claims by holding the Compassionate Use Act does not foreclose an employer's right to terminate an employee for medical marijuana use; in dismissing the aiding and abetting claims because he found there was no LAD actionable claim that could be asserted against Carriage; and in determining that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead his defamation and intentional interference claims.

         We next consider the collection of plaintiff's LAD claims and their relationship to the Compassionate Use Act, and thereafter, address the dismissal of the defamation and intentional interference claims.

         II

         A

         In reviewing a dismissal for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, we apply the same standard that bound the trial judge and, therefore, "search[] the complaint in depth and with liberality to ascertain whether the fundament of a cause of action may be gleaned even from an obscure statement of claim, [giving] opportunity . . . to amend if necessary." Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 746 (1989) (quoting Di Cristofaro v. Laurel Grove Mem'l Park, 43 N.J.Super. 244, 252 (App. Div. 1957)); see also Major v. Maguire, 224 N.J. 1, 26 (2016). At such a stage, courts are unconcerned with the plaintiff's ability to prove what is alleged, and instead consider only whether - after giving plaintiff the benefit of "every reasonable inference of fact," Printing Mart, 116 N.J. at 746 - a sustainable claim has been pleaded. This examination is "painstaking and undertaken with a generous and hospitable approach." Ibid.

          We thus examine the judge's dismissal of the LAD claims by assuming the truth of the following factual allegations and by drawing ...


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