Cory Booker & Mark Zuckerberg
(Photo: The Star-Ledger)

Open Letters — Emails between Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about his $100 million donation to the city’s schools are subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act, a state judge ruled Thursday.

The documents aren’t entitled to executive or deliberative privilege because they don’t relate to Booker’s decision-making role and were written after the gift was accepted, Essex County Superior Court Judge Rachel Davidson ruled in a suit by a parents’ group backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

The ruling also compels disclosure of emails Booker’s administration exchanged with Bill Gates, whose foundation donated $3 million to Newark schools after Zuckerberg’s announcement, and Oprah Winfrey, on whose television show Facebook’s gift was announced.

In refusing to turn over the emails, the city said Booker was not conducting city business when he helped arrange the donation. The city’s lawyer, Michael Witt of Chasan, Leyner & Lamparello in Secaucus, notes that Booker has spent considerable effort raising funds for causes in the city. “If everything he touches turns into a government function, that affects his ability to help people,” Witt says.

The plaintiffs were represented by Frank Corrado, of Barry, Corrado & Grassi in Wildwood.


 

Lost Case Retrieved — A part-time dog sitter, although arguably an independent contractor, can sue the dog’s owners over bite injuries, a state appeals court ruled on Friday.

Hillary Aiges, a full-time photography agent, was associated with a dog-sitting agency for part-time work. But on her own, she agreed to watch her vacationing neighbors’ golden retriever at her home. William and Jane Fuccillo paid her a $100 advance and planned to pay $200 more on their return. The dog bit her as she was attempting to pick up a napkin off of the floor.

Bergen County Superior Court Judge Rachelle Harz dismissed Aiges’ claim under the independent-contractor exception to the absolute liability dog-bite statute, recognized in Reynolds v. Lancaster County Jail, 325 N.J. Super. 298 (App. Div. 1999).

But Appellate Division Judges Ariel Rodriguez and Jack Sabatino distinguished Reynolds, in which the plaintiff’s primary job was to watch over prison guard dogs. Aiges, by contrast, was only informally helping out her neighbors, with whom she had a cordial relationship, and the payment she received didn’t necessarily make her a contractor. The judges saw no legislative intent to deny protection to dog-sitters and walkers.

Aiges’ lawyer, Evan Baker of Rosemarie Arnold‘s Fort Lee firm, says there was no basis for excluding her from the statute.

The Fuccillos’ lawyer, Joseph Galiastro, who was with Jose Moreira in Kearny when the case was argued in May, has since left and no forwarding number was available.

Size Matters — When first filed in federal court in Camden last year, Charles and Diane Giles’ putative class action against Phelan Hallinan & Schmieg — accusing the Philadelphia-based firm of bringing foreclosure actions for clients who lacked standing and of using forged documents — had 108 pages, six counts and multiple defendants, including Wells Fargo.

On Sept. 28, Chief U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle dismissed with prejudice all but the RICO claims against the lawyers. He dismissed those claims without prejudice, saying they were “unnecessarily and confusingly prolix,” with immaterial allegations about efforts to rein in the foreclosure industry.

Simandle allowed 30 days for filing a revised complaint without the extraneous matter and in compliance with Local Rule 7.2, which limits affidavits and briefs to 40 pages for certain fonts but 30 pages if 12-point Times New Roman was used.

Phelan Hallinan lawyer Kenneth Goodkind, of Flaster/Greenberg in Cherry Hill, cried foul when the next version, in 12-point Times New Roman, ran 39 pages. Simandle then relaxed the limit to 33.75 pages in that font. The latest complaint, filed Thursday, is 33 pages. Goodkind says “it appears to be the right number … given the font size.” John Narkin, of Boise, Idaho, a lawyer for the Gileses, declines comment.


 

Secret Tab — Another in a line of cases challenging chain restaurants’ omission of drink prices in their menus was green-lighted Thursday.

Ted Pauly, who’s suing on behalf of a putative New Jersey class, claims he downed several beers and cocktails at a Houlihan’s in Brick and wasn’t clued in to the “steep” prices until the bill arrived. Pauly paid up but claimed in court that Houlihan’s wrongfully failed to list prices and overcharged him.

U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle denied a motion to dismiss based on adequately pleaded breach-of-contract and unjust-enrichment claims. Even though Pauly failed to allege what he paid or what price would be reasonable, Simandle said a valid purchase contract apparently existed, and in the absence of a specific price, a “reasonable” price is implied. Pauly “did not get the benefit of the bargain,” according to his complaint, Simandle said.

Jason Halper of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, who represent Houlihan’s, declines comment.

Pauly’s lawyers, Sander Friedman and Wesley Hanna of West Berlin, represents plaintiffs in two similar putative class suits in state and federal court against T.G.I. Friday’s and DineEquity Inc., which owns the Applebee’s and IHOP chains. Both cases were ongoing as of Friday.

— By Charles Toutant, Michael Booth, Mary Pat Gallagher and David Gialanella