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Connell Foley Defeats Due Process Argument Raised in Appeal; Obtains Dismissal Based upon Statute of Limitations Defense

04.30.2018
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Connell Foley is pleased to announce that Partner Timothy Corriston and associate Scott Press recently obtained a successful result in a case argued before the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey on behalf of the Defendant/Respondent, Enviro-Sciences (of Delaware) Inc. (“ESI”) in Munters Corporation, et. al., v. Enviro-Sciences (of Delaware) Inc., Docket No. A-0942-16T1.  The appeal involved two critical issues: (1) whether the trial court’s  denial of a Lopez hearing violated the plaintiff’s due process rights; and (2) the accrual date pursuant to New Jersey’s discovery rule for a professional malpractice claim filed almost 20 years after the alleged negligent act.

Munters Corporation’s (“Munters’) Complaint, filed on or about March 17, 2016, alleged a professional malpractice claim against ESI related to environmental consulting work performed by ESI on behalf of Munters in or around 1997. The crux of the malpractice claim was that ESI advised Munters to obtain a No Further Action (“NFA”) Letter from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”), rather than a De Minimis Quantity Exception (“DQE”), in connection with the sale of Munters’ former industrial property. Munters alleged ESI should have advised it to obtain a DQE, which would have barred the NJDEP from pursuing Munters for any future environmental issues found at the property. 

Connell Foley, on behalf ESI, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint as time-barred due to Munters’ representation of the facts as asserted in the pleadings. After briefing and argument, the trial court agreed with Connell Foley’s position as to the accrual date for the professional malpractice claim and it dismissed the Complaint. The trial court also denied Munters’ request for a pretrial hearing to present witnesses for purposes of establishing when the statute of limitations began to run pursuant to Lopez v. Sawyer, 62 N.J. 267 (1973) (commonly known as a Lopez hearing). Thereafter, Munters filed an appeal.

The Appellate Division agreed with Connell Foley and the trial court that based upon statements in the complaint, Munters had knowledge of the alleged injury by no later than March 23, 2009. The court further rejected Munters’ contention that the running of the statute of limitations did not commence until April 21, 2009 -- the date the NJDEP denied Munters’ retroactive DQE submission.

The Appellate Division also agreed with Connell Foley’s argument that the denial of Munters’ request for a Lopez hearing was not a violation of Munters’ due process rights.  As argued by Connell Foley, the Appellate Division noted that the Complaint provided the trial court with the requisite information to determine the issue of Munters’ awareness of the essential facts that should have alerted them to the possibility of the claim by March 23, 2009, and therefore a Lopez hearing was unnecessary. 

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