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ABC Bail Bonds, Inc. v. Grant

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

June 3, 2019

ABC BAIL BONDS, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
GLENN A. GRANT, in his official capacity as Acting Administrative Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued March 6, 2019

          On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Mercer County, Docket No. C-000075-17.

          John S. Furlong argued the cause for appellant (Furlong & Krasny, attorneys; John S. Furlong, of counsel and on the brief).

          Joseph C. Fanaroff, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Joseph C. Fanaroff, on the brief).

          Before Judges Alvarez, Nugent and Reisner.

          OPINION

          ALVAREZ, P.J.A.D.

         Plaintiff ABC Bail Bonds, Inc., appeals from the trial court's April 6, 2018 order dismissing its complaint challenging the Supreme Court's authority to revise the guidelines for bail forfeiture remittitur. We affirm for the reasons stated in Judge Paul Innes's written opinion and the reasons stated below.

         As in the past, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), under the Director's signature, issued a directive regarding remittitur-in this case, the disputed Administrative Directive #22-17, "Bail and Bail Forfeitures--Revisions to Procedures and Forms" (Aug. 7, 2017)-intended to conform the prior guidelines to newly adopted amendments to Rules 3:26-6 and 7:4-5. The amended rules, like the Directive, were issued after a State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (SCI) report, Inside Out, Questionable and Abusive Practices in New Jersey's Bail-Bond Industry (May 2014). The SCI report was highly critical of the State's bail bond system, and resulted in the Court's creation of the Bail Judge Subcommittee of the Conference of Criminal Presiding Judges (BJS) to evaluate the State's bail system, including the bail forfeiture recovery process.

         The February 2016 BJS report recommended revisions to the standards for remission of bail forfeitures, making the length of time a defendant was a fugitive the primary factor for consideration. Only when a judge finds "exceptional circumstances," should remission be allowed beyond one year. After the report was published, the rules were amended, providing that remission of forfeited bail accord with the revised remission guidelines.[1]

         ABC filed a complaint seeking declaratory judgment after the issuance of the Directive, alleging that it was an unconstitutional encroachment on legislative authority, should be applied only prospectively, and effectuated an unlawful material change in the terms of existing surety-bond contracts. Retroactivity is a key issue for ABC, which contends that it effectively stopped writing bonds in New Jersey after the adoption of the Criminal Justice Reform Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:162-15 to -26, but continues to have millions of dollars outstanding in potential liability because more than a thousand bonds remain in place as of September 2017.

         The parties agreed that no discovery was necessary, and that the matter could be resolved summarily under Rule 4:67-1. After hearing oral argument, Judge Innes dismissed the complaint on summary judgment.

         Judge Innes found that ABC had not met its burden of proof establishing that the Directive was unconstitutional. He reasoned that the revised guidelines were fashioned to address an important problem greatly affecting the public interest, were not arbitrary and unreasonable, and were a proper exercise of police power. Thus, he dismissed the first count of ABC's complaint.

         With regard to count two, Judge Innes concluded, after applying the "sole outcome" test, [2] that the revised guidelines embodied only procedural devices intended to advance the efficient administration of justice. Additionally, since the revised guidelines left untouched a trial judge's ultimate authority to decide the matters at his or her discretion, including the grant of remittitur beyond the year a defendant was in fugitive status when "extraordinary circumstances" are found, they did not outright control a judge's decision-making. Hence, although the guidelines dictated process, the final decision as to the merits, as always, rested with the judge deciding the matter based on the proofs presented in the individual case.

         Judge Innes did not consider the guidelines to impinge on contractual rights, and dismissed count three accordingly. He opined that, by placing bonds with the judiciary, bail bondsmen and the surety had submitted to the Court's authority to control the administration of the criminal justice system. And that system had been subject to the Court's control, rules, and guidelines since 1958. He further rejected ABC's argument that the Directive should be applied only prospectively, because it was based on case law addressing substantive, not procedural, changes in the law.

         On appeal, ABC raises the following points of error:

POINT ONE

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THE ENACTMENT OF THE REVISED REMISSION GUIDELINES FOR RESOLVING BAIL

FORFEITURE CASES A LAWFUL EXERCISE OF THE COURT'S RULE-MAKING POWER UNDER ARTICLE VI OF THE NEW JERSEY

CONSTITUTION.

POINT TWO

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN RULING THE REVISED REMISSION ...


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