Brown v. Brown

The New Jersey Appellate Division considered the reach and contours of the common law litigation privilege, which insulates a litigant from harmful or defamatory statements or communications made during judicial proceedings. Here, a stepmother was due $3,500 per month from a rental property that her stepchildren owned after the passing of the patriarch of the family. During negotiations for the sale of the property, the stepmother grew concerned about the status of her monthly payments, which were supposed to last for the remainder of her life. After polite inquiries were rebuffed, she filed a complaint and notice of lis pendens. Both the complaint and the lis pendens were dismissed, the sale went through, and the stepmother’s income was cut off. The stepchildren then filed suit against their stepmother, generally claiming that her prior complaint and notice of lis pendens were legally improper. The trial court dismissed some charges based on the litigation privilege, but not all, reasoning that the property at issue was not part of the litigation. The Appellate Division noted that the “privilege does not protect a party from the tortious impact caused by a party’s prior suit; it protects only statements made during the prior suit.” The Appellate Division permitted a count of tortious interference to proceed because the litigation privilege protects only statements made in judicial proceedings and not the commencement of frivolous, vexatious or tortious lawsuits.

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