April 17, 2022

In its per curium opinion filed on January 24, 2022, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division (“New Jersey Appellate Court”) stated in a dental malpractice case where the trial court had dismissed the complaint on jurisdictional grounds, “the relevant time period to determine whether New Jersey had general jurisdiction began with Gomez’s first visit to Clear Choice in August 2016 and ended on May 15, 2020, when she filed her complaint. The record contains no information concerning defendants’ activities in New Jersey between November 2017 and May 15, 2020. The judge therefore should have permitted the parties to develop any jurisdictional facts arising during this timeframe through the discovery schedule he initially proposed.”

The Underlying Facts

The Plaintiff, Gloria V. Gomez (“Gomez”), was treated by the Defendant, Felicia Wilson, DDS (“Wilson”), at Clear Choice Dental Implant Center (“Clear Choice”) located in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, from August 2016 until March 13, 2017, including surgical dental implants.

On May 15, 2020, Gomez filed a dental malpractice complaint in Morris County, New Jersey against Wilson and Clear Choice. She incorrectly alleged in her New Jersey dental malpractice complaint that the dental surgery occurred in Essex County, New Jersey. The defendants filed an answer and, among other things, asserted the court lacked jurisdiction over Gomez’s claims. Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on this ground. The trial court ultimately granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss despite Gomez’s contention that the defendants appeared to have a New Jersey location at the time she filed her complaint and, therefore, New Jersey had jurisdiction.

General Jurisdiction And Specific Jurisdiction

The New Jersey Appellate Court stated that when a defendant has maintained continuous and systematic activities in the forum state, the defendant is subject to the state’s ‘general’ jurisdiction on any matter, irrespective of its relation to the state. For general jurisdiction to apply, a defendant’s activities must be so ‘continuous and systematic’ as to render it essentially at home in the forum State.

However, when the cause of action arises directly out of a defendant’s contacts with the forum state, the state may exercise ‘specific’ jurisdiction over a defendant who has ‘minimum contacts’ with the state. The plaintiff bears the burden of proof on the question of the adequacy of the defendants’ contacts to sustain an exercise of specific jurisdiction. A conclusion of specific jurisdiction requires that the purposeful acts by the defendant directed toward this State be of a kind that makes it reasonable for the defendant to anticipate being haled into court here.

The New Jersey Appellate Court stated that when presented with a motion to dismiss on the basis of lack of jurisdiction, a trial court must make findings of the jurisdictional facts, because disputed jurisdictional allegations cannot be accepted on their face. If the pleadings and certifications submitted to the trial court do not permit resolution of the jurisdictional question, the trial court must conduct a preliminary evidential hearing after affording the parties an appropriate opportunity for discovery. Generally, the record must support the existence of disputed or conflicting facts to warrant jurisdictional discovery.

In the case it was deciding, the New Jersey Appellate Court stated “it seems clear that New Jersey did not have
case-linked, specific jurisdiction of this matter because Gomez received all of her dental treatment at Wilson’s Clear Choice office in Pennsylvania. However, we are convinced the record was not sufficiently developed for the motion judge to conclude, as he did, that defendants were not subject to New Jersey’s general jurisdiction. Gomez alleged that Wilson opened a Clear Choice center in New Jersey in November 2017. Defendants essentially conceded this claim at oral argument before the trial court, but they did not provide any further details concerning the facility’s ownership and operation. In denying Gomez’s request for discovery concerning the Mount Laurel [New Jersey] center, the judge overlooked the fact that plaintiff did not file her complaint against defendants until May 15, 2020. Courts have held that the relevant time period for assessing minimum contacts in establishing general jurisdiction does not end until the time the complaint is filed.”

Source Gomez v, Wilson, Docket No. A-1061-20.

If you or a loved one may have been harmed as a result of dental malpractice in New Jersey or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a New Jersey dental malpractice lawyer, or a dental malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your dental malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a dental malpractice case, if appropriate.

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