Jacob Grouser Argues Ross v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, et al. in New Jersey Supreme Court

On March 17, 2015, the Supreme Court of New Jersey will hear oral argument from Jacob Grouser, Partner in the Environmental & Toxic Tort Department, in the matter of Ross v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, et al.  The Court granted Certification to review whether Plaintiffs have a viable nuisance action against their neighbors based upon the neighbors’ failure to mitigate contamination within a reasonable amount of time that they are not otherwise liable for under § 822 of the Second Restatement of Torts, and, where the neighbors’ insurance companies acknowledged an obligation to clean up Plaintiffs’ land, should Plaintiffs be considered third-party beneficiaries of the insurance contracts and able to proceed directly against the insurers for damages sustained as a result of an alleged delay in completing the remediation.

On March 18, 2014, the Appellate Division upheld the trial court’s decision in which it dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims against the homeowner Defendants for trespass and nuisance and claims against the homeowner Defendants’ insurers for bad faith.  The per curium decision of the court noted that summary judgment as to the nuisance and trespass claims was appropriate.  Specifically, the court noted that in order to establish a nuisance or trespass, one must establish an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of land by meeting the factors set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 822 (1979).  In applying the Restatement to Plaintiffs’ claims, the trial court found that no reasonable juror could conclude that the homeowner defendants were negligent in maintaining the underground storage tank and that the migration of oil was not caused by an intentional or negligent act.  The Appellate court agreed.

With regard to the insurer defendants, the Appellate Division agreed with the comprehensive written statement of reasons by Judge Bauman that noted there was no basis as a matter of law for Plaintiffs to assert a direct claim alleging breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing against the homeowners’ insurers, absent a fiduciary duty or special relationship.

Jacob successfully argued the cause for one of the homeowner defendants’ insurers before the Appellate Division in 2014 and attorney Daniel R. Kuszmerski appeared before the trial court. 

To view the live webcast on March 17 and to access previous arguments, visit the Supreme Court of New Jersey web site.