The New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to take up a case in which a municipality accused a woman of violating her settlement’s confidentiality provision by making remarks to a reporter about her suit.
In denying a petition for certification, the justices let stand a July 2017 Appellate Division ruling from Judges Ellen Koblitz and Gary S. Rothstadt. There, the court denied a request from Roselle Park’s insurer to revive its complaint.
The New Jersey Intergovernmental Insurance Fund argued that it was entitled to half of Lorraine Selecky’s undisclosed settlement amount because of Springfield attorney Joel I. Rachmiel’s and Selecky’s interviews with The Star-Ledger.
The appellate court disagreed and affirmed dismissal by Union County Superior Court Judge Camille Kenny, reasoning that the confidentiality clause in Selecky’s settlement with the borough was not violated because Rachmiel and Selecky did not disclose the terms of the agreement or the underlying municipal court parking case.
Selecky was convicted of a parking offense, but was acquitted on appeal. After her subsequent malicious prosecution claim was settled, Rachmiel told The Star-Ledger, “She was determined. She was going to do whatever it took,” referring to Selecky, according to the court’s opinion.
Among other things, Selecky told the paper, “I knew I was right, and innocent.”
Before the publication of the article, information of the settlement had been released through the state’s Open Public Records Act, the court noted.
The insurance company filed its complaint shortly thereafter, but Kenny said Selecky’s comments “did not discuss” the malicious prosecution lawsuit, and had “nothing to do with” the borough or the police officer who issued Selecky the parking ticket.
“The statements defendants made to the Star Ledger did not breach the agreement,” the appellate court said in its opinion. “The parties defined the scope of the restriction upon defendants’ right to make comments to those related to the settlement agreement in ‘the action,’ which they specifically defined to mean the malicious prosecution matter, not the municipal court case.”
The court added, “If the parties intended to expand the scope of the confidentiality requirement, they could have simply identified the municipal court action as being part of ‘the action’ and included it as a subject matter as well as the terms of the settlement.”
The petition for certification, filed by Rachmiel on Selecky’s behalf, sought review of “the issue of whether a public entity violates the public policy of the State of New Jersey and the First Amendment by imposing a Confidentiality Clause in a settlement agreement which prohibits a party from disclosing the terms of the settlement.”
Rachmiel said he was disappointed because it was a missed chance for a discussion on public policy and argument “that government entities should not be allowed to silence parties that have made settlements with public entities.”
The insurer’s attorney, Barry M. Capp of Ansell Grimm & Aaron in Ocean, did not return a call seeking comment.