Monday, January 24, 2011

New Jersey Courts put civil index on-line

The New Jersey Judiciary recently put the Automated Case Management System (ACMS), its computerized civil case index, on-line. Previously, anyone who wished to access this index needed to travel to his or her county's courthouse and use a public access terminal there.

To access the system, go to the Judiciary's main site here and click on the "Civil Case Public Access" link under "On-line Resources" in the column that appears on the left of your screen.

(NOTE: I have experienced difficulty getting the site to work using Firefox. I have successfully accessed the site through Internet Explorer as long as I disable or grant an exception to the pop-up blocker.)

While the index can serve several uses, I'll go through an example of how it might help someone who wants to know more about lawsuits filed against municipal police departments in Bergen County.

After you log in to the main screen, enter "Borough of" in the "Last Name" box and click on "party inquiry." What you will get is a list of every non-archived court case in which the name of one of the parties begins with "Borough of" Here's a typical entry:

Party name: Borough of Belmar
Party#: 1
Cou: MON
Docket Number: LT-001024-99
Date Disposed: 03/12/1999

The "Party#" field is the position of the party in the lawsuit. For example, in the suit of "John Doe v. Mary Smith and Jane Roe" John would be "Party#" 1, Mary would be 2 and Jane would be 3. So, the fact that the Borough of Belmar is listed as Party# 1 almost certainly means that it is the plaintiff.

"Cou" means "County" which shows that the case was filed in Monmouth County.

The docket number "LT-001024-99" means that it is the 1024th Landlord Tenant case (LT) filed in Monmouth County in 1999.

The "Date Disposed" field means that the case terminated on March 12, 1999.

Generally, I'm not very interested in Landlord tenant cases. Nor am I generally interested in cases with docket numbers that start with "DC" (Special Civil Part--cases where less than $15,000 in damages are claimed); or "SC" (Small Claims -- cases where less than $3,000 in damages are claimed).

So, to sort out the "LT" "DC" and "SC" cases (along with "C" (Chancery) and "F" (Foreclosure) cases), I typically select "Law Civil" in the "Court" drop-down box and hit "new search."

Then, to narrow the cases to those filed in Bergen County, I select "Bergen" in the "County drop down box and hit "new search."

If you follow these steps, you should now have a list of all the Law Division cases filed in Bergen County by or against a party whose name begins with "Borough of."

If you scroll down to page 5 (click the arrow near the top of the page to scroll down) you'll see a case in which the "Borough of Rochelle Park Pol" ("Pol" is for "police"--the rest of the field was truncated) is the 4th party to the case. You'll also see that the docket number is BER-L-003947-10 and that the case hasn't yet been disposed of.

Click the "radio button" in the left column and click "case Party List." You'll see that two plaintiffs named William Valencia and Astrid Valencia sued several defendants, including the police departments of Maywood and Rochelle Park as well as the Bergen and Essex County Sheriffs and jails.

Now, click on the little icon that looks like a magnifying glass with five dots in it and then click the "Locate by Docket" tab. The BER-L-003947-10 docket number should already be plugged in, so hit "Case Document List" to see the types of documents that were filed in the case. After a little practice reading these cases, you'll be able to determine that on 07/28/2010, the court granted a dismissal to the Borough of Maywood and that on 11/12/2010, the court denied Rochelle Park's motion for summary judgment.

If you click the left-arrow icon and then "Case Disposition Detail" you see that the case has been dismissed against Maywood, its police department and Officer Madden but is still active as to all the other defendants.

If you click the left-arrow icon and then "Case Detail" you'll see that it's a "civil rights" case.

There is no way for you to see the actual documents filed in the case on-line. If you are interested in knowing exactly why the Valencias sued, you'd have to contact the courthouse in Hackensack to review the file or get a copy of the file or (easier) send an OPRA request to either Maywood or Rochelle Park seeking the civil complaint filed in the matter.

I hope you find this helpful.

NOTE1: The court enters the parties to lawsuits exactly how they are listed on the suit's filing. So, if you're interested in learning about lawsuits against the Borough of Maywood, you'd have to search "Maywood Borough" as well as "Borough of Maywood" or perhaps even "Bor of Maywood."

NOTE2: This system only reveal filings in state court (i.e. the New Jersey Superior Court) not those filed in federal court. To access federal court filings, you could try a free site such here or establish an account at the official government site here.

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