Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Appellate Division affirms dismissal of insurer's lawsuit against Elizabeth woman and her lawyer for violating "confidentiality clause" in settlement agreement.

It all started with a parking ticket that was issued to Lorraine Selecky in 2009 for parking in a handicapped spot.  The ticket, which was mailed to Selecky, was issued by James Cantrell, an off-duty Roselle Park Borough (Union County) police officer with whom Selecky engaged in an argument at a Redbox video vending machine outside a 7-Eleven store in the Borough.

Selecky was convicted of the offense by a municipal court judge and the conviction was affirmed by a Union County Superior Court judge.  On January 11, 2012, the Appellate Division reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial in a different municipal court.  After the new court acquitted Selecky of the parking offense, her lawyer, Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield, filed a civil, malicious prosecution action against Cantrell and the Roselle Park Police Department.  That lawsuit resulted in a $15,000 settlement being paid to Selecky by the New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund (NJIIF)--the Borough's insurer.  But, the settlement imposed a confidentiality clause that forbade Selecky and Rachmiel from disclosing the terms or even the existence of the settlement agreement.

On May 20, 2014, I learned of the settlement through an Open Public Record Act (OPRA) request and published it on my NJ Civil Settlements blog.  That blog article drew the interest of Star Ledger reporter Tom Haydon who wrote a June 1, 2014 article entitled "Elizabeth woman wins five-year battle over parking ticket."

Both Selecky and Rachmiel were interviewed by Haydon and the quotes attributed to them in Haydon's article referred to the underlying parking ticket rather than the settlement agreement.  Still, the NJIIF sued both Selecky and Rachmiel and argued that by speaking with Haydon, they violated the settlement agreement's confidentiality clause.

A Union County Superior Court judge granted Selecky's and Rachmiel's motion for summary judgment after finding that their comments "did not discuss" the malicious prosecution action and that the comments had "nothing to do with" the Borough or the police officer.  The judge found that the only statement that violated the confidentiality clause was made by Borough Attorney Richard Huxford, who was also quoted in the article.  The NJIIF appealed the trial judge's grant of Selecky's and Rachmiel's summary judgment motion and the Appellate Division, in a July 11, 2017 opinion, affirmed that ruling.