New Jersey Supreme Court Grants Absolute Immunity to City of Paterson under Tort Claims Act

A Blank Rome appellate team successfully represented the City of Paterson in Hamrick Lee v. Brown, et al., recently obtaining complete relief from seven consolidated wrongful death and personal injury suits, in a New Jersey Supreme Court decision that will have significant implications for NJ taxpayers and the public interest.

The plaintiffs, residents in a multi-family dwelling, sought damages resulting from a fire caused by faulty wiring to the dwelling’s electrical box, alleging that the city’s electrical inspector was negligent in the inspection of the property’s electrical wiring, and that he failed to pursue the matter with his supervisor and to seek to shut off power to the property after issuing violation notices to the building owner. The City of Paterson moved for summary judgment before the trial court, holding that the electrical inspector’s conduct was immune under provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (“TCA”). The plaintiffs argued that the city and inspector were subject to liability under another provision of the TCA, which provides only a qualified immunity for affirmative acts taken in good faith in enforcement of the law. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs and denied the city’s motion for summary judgment, and the Appellate Division affirmed.

The Blank Rome appellate team successfully moved for leave to appeal to the NJ Supreme Court, arguing that the inspector’s omission—his failure to notify his direct supervisor of the dangerous condition and electrical violations at the property—was the “critical causative conduct” that constituted the negligence. The court accepted this argument and reversed the decision of the lower courts on February 21, holding that the city and its electrical inspector were entitled to complete immunity under the TCA.

The Blank Rome team included Stephen M. Orlofsky, Adrienne C. Rogove, and Ethan M. Simon.

For more information on this case, please read Law360’s NJ Justices Say City, Inspector Fully Immune from Fire Suit and the New Jersey Law Journal’s Lawyers Spar over Civil Liability in Fatal Apartment Fire.

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