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Abuse of Process Finding Against Insurer Reversed

October 7, 2009

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<i>Rutgers Casualty Insurance Company v. Kennedy</i> addressed a dispute over a claim for personal injury protection benefits filed by Christopher Kennedy, premised on a policy of insurance purchased by his sister-in-law, Alice Kennedy. Rutgers sued Alice and Christopher seeking damages and a declaration voiding the policy on grounds of legal and equitable fraud. Alice counter-claimed against Rutgers for malicious use of process and malicious abuse of process.
In the case before the Court, Rutgers appealed from a $392,630 judgment based on the jury's verdict in favor of Alice on her counter-claim for malicious abuse of legal process, and from the trial court's order denying Rutgers' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
On appeal, Rutgers contended that the trial court should have dismissed the malicious abuse of process claim because plaintiff did not prove any "further acts" beyond the filing of the complaint; that Rutgers was entitled to invoke the litigation privilege; and that plaintiff did not prove a "special grievance."
The Appellate Division reversed the trial court because it agreed with Rutgers that plaintiff failed to prove one of the elements of a cause of action for malicious abuse of process, i.e., a further improper act beyond the initial filing of the complaint. They also agreed with Rutgers that the trial court improperly permitted plaintiff to introduce evidence of the number of claims Rutgers investigated for possible fraud and the number of fraud complaints that Rutgers filed against other insureds.
Thanks to Sheila Osei for her contribution to this post.
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