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Appellate Division Upholds Transfer of Tort Claims to Family Division

September 11, 2017

WILLIAM H. MONE reports on a recent decision from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

A New Jersey husband and wife were married in 1996 and had two children. They went through a contentious divorce from 2008 to 2011, which culminated in a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) in June 2011.  In November 2014, the husband filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court, Law Division, against his ex-wife for intentional infliction of emotional distress, aiding in the commission of a tort, and civil conspiracy. All of the claims were allegedly related to the wife alienating the children from the husband during and after the divorce.

The wife filed a motion seeking to dismiss the husband’s suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, sought sanctions against the husband, and sought to move the suit to the Family Division due to the involvement of the parties’ children therein.  The Civil Division trial judge ordered the matter transferred to the Family Division, where a Family Division trial judge granted the wife’s motion to dismiss the suit, but denied sanctions against the husband.

In dismissing the suit, the Family Division judge ruled that the allegations in the husband’s current suit overlapped with allegations from the parties’ divorce proceedings, all of which were waived in the parties’ MSA.  He also held that none of the husband’s allegations, even if considered true, were so outrageous as to rise to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Both parties then appealed various parts of the trial courts’ rulings.   

On appeal, the Appellate Division held that the Civil Division trial judge correctly transferred the husband’s tort suit to the Family Division, noting New Jersey public policy requires claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, which are based on former spouses’ relationships with their children, to be brought in the Family Division in accordance with the children’s best interests. 

The Appellate Division also affirmed the Family Division trial judge’s ruling dismissing the husband’s suit, as a significant number of the factual events and allegations in the suit were barred by the statute of limitations and by the waiver provisions in the parties’ MSA.  The Appellate Division also noted that none of the husband’s claims, even if true, described conduct so outrageous or extreme in character which would warrant relief for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Finally, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s denial of sanctions against the husband, as his suit was not brought in bad faith.

Please contact William H. Mone if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.