In arguably the best episode of Seinfeld ever, Frank Costanza invented a new holiday called Festivus (for the rest of us), which started with the “airing of grievances.” Similar to Mr. Costanza notifying his dinner guests “I gotta lot of problems with you people, now, you’re gonna hear about it,” New Jersey’s Entire Controversy Doctrine requires parties to plead claims in a lawsuit that are related to or arise out of the same transaction or event.
The Entire Controversy Doctrine “is intended to be applied to prevent a party from voluntarily electing to hold back a related component of the controversy in the first proceeding by precluding it from being raised in a subsequent proceeding thereafter.” Oltremare v. ESR Custom Rugs, 330 N.J. Super. 310, 315 (App. Div. 2000).
For example, if a condominium association sues a residential developer for construction defects but fails to plead under the Consumer Fraud Act (which carries lucrative treble damages), the Entire Controversy Doctrine would likely prevent the association from recovering in a later lawsuit under the Consumer Fraud Act. By contrast, if the developer and the association’s president get into a car accident after a deposition about the construction defect suit, the personal injury claims from the car accident would not have to be joined in the construction defect suit because those two claims do not arise out of the same transaction or event.
It is therefore invaluable for litigants to identify all possible causes of action related to a transaction or event, preferably before commencing suit.
Stark & Stark’s Litigation Group has extensive experience navigating such complex issues, to maximize your relief and avoid legal pitfalls like the Entire Controversy Doctrine.