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NJ Law Review Update

ISSUE: Whether an untimely motion in limine resulting in dismissal of the case, if granted by the Court, violate plaintiff’s right to due process of law.

On December 30, 2015, in the matter of Cho v. Trinitas Reg’l Med. Ctr., the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division held that, if a defendant’s motion was untimely without sufficient justification, and, which if granted, would result in the dismissal of the case, violates plaintiff’s right to due process of law.

Plaintiff Seoung Ouk Cho suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. His siblings and fiancée filed an action asserting claims for wrongful death, medical negligence and breach of contract. The claims were brought against numerous medical providers. After two years, only claims against Hyeun Park, M.D (decedent’s primary care cardiologist) remained.

On the day before jury selection, attorneys for Dr. Park filed a “motion in limine” seeking an order dismissing the wrongful death action because proof of economic loss was too speculative to present to a jury. Defendant Park moved to dismiss the punitive damage claim as being unsupported by the facts and finally, sought dismissal of the claim for pain and suffering as plaintiff failed to allege a survival claim in the complaint. The defense argued that if its motions in limine were granted, no viable claim remained and the action should be dismissed. Trial Court granted Dr. Park’s motion with prejudice.

The Appellate Division ruled that as a general rule, motions in limine should not have a dispositive impact on a litigant’s entire case. The motion in this case resulted in the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. The Appellate panel determined that such a result could only be obtained pursuant to Rule 4:46 (Rule governing summary judgment motions). While that rule does not specifically address motion in limine, the Appellate Court determined that the dispositive dismissal of a case by way of motion can only occur by way of motion for Summary Judgment and not by an in limine motion prior to trial.

The Appellate Division concluded that defendant’s motion was untimely in that he had failed to move for Summary Judgment. The Appellate Division considered the in limine motion as an application for Summary Judgment. The Appellate Division noted that the Case Management Order compelled the parties to bring dispositive motions on a date certain. Since that date had passed, in limine motion, now converted to a Summary Judgment motion, was untimely pursuant to the Rules of Court. The untimely motion in limine would have dismissed the entire case thus depriving plaintiffs due process of law.

The Appellate Division reversed the dismissal and remanded the matter for restoration to the trial calendar.

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