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

On August 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the trial court and Appellate Division’s decisions in Ross v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, et al., which dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims against homeowner defendants for trespass and nuisance and claims against the homeowner defendants' insurers for bad faith. Plaintiff’s claims arose from a leaking underground storage tank located on the homeowner defendants’ property and an alleged failure to timely remediate same.

With regard to the insurer defendants, the Court unanimously noted that absent an assignment of rights from the homeowner defendants to plaintiffs, or evidence that the homeowner defendant’s insurers agreed to confer on plaintiffs the status of third-party beneficiaries to their insurance contracts, plaintiffs had no direct claim against the homeowner defendant’s insurers based upon an alleged breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.  Thus, the insurers’ duty of good faith and fair dealing only extended to the insurer defendants’ insureds (the homeowner defendants), not to plaintiffs.

The majority opinion of the Court noted that summary judgment as to the nuisance and trespass claims was appropriate as there was no proof of negligence, recklessness, intentional conduct, or the conduct of an abnormally dangerous activity by the homeowner defendants. Additionally, the Court declined to expand the law of private nuisance and trespass to impose strict liability under the facts contained within the record.

Jacob S. Grouser, Partner in the firm, argued the cause for one of the homeowner defendants' insurers before the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court.  Attorney Daniel R. Kuszmerski appeared before the trial court and drafted the appellate brief.