Under New Jersey law, when a party’s motion has been denied by the court, the party may file a motion for reconsideration. However, this is only available if the matter meets certain criteria demonstrating an error has been made. The purpose of making a motion for reconsideration is not to give a party another opportunity to make the same arguments but to advise the Court of facts it overlooked or controlling law the Court did not consider. If a litigant cannot make this showing, he/she risks being sanctioned for making a motion in bad faith, as evidenced by a recent appellate decision.
In Calbazana v. Cooper, the parties went to Court regarding payment of college expenses for their child. Their Property Settlement Agreement provided that “if the parties could not agree on payments for child support and/or college expenses while [the] child attends college, either party could apply to a Court of competent jurisdiction for determination of the disagreement.” The plaintiff filed a motion to compel the defendant to contribute to his son’s past and future college costs. The Family Part judge concluded that the defendant should pay half of the son’s community college costs and, going forward, 68% of the son’s costs for attending Rutgers University. The defendant filed a motion for reconsideration which the Family Part judge not only denied but also required the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
The New Jersey Appellate Division agreed with this decision noting that reconsideration is intended only for cases in which either “1) the Court has expressed its decision based upon a palpably incorrect or irrational basis, or 2) it is obvious that the Court either did not consider, or failed to appreciate the significance of probative, competent evidence.” Furthermore, Rule 4:49-2 requires that the motion for reconsideration “state with specificity the basis on which it is made, including a statement of the matters or controlling decisions which counsel believes the court has overlooked or as to which it has erred.”
In the Calbazana case, the defendant attempted to argue the judge failed to consider some of the factors required under New Jersey law regarding what portion of college expenses a child may reasonably demand of a non-custodial parent. The Family Part judge found there was no new information or cases since the time of the original motion date, nor anything that the Court overlooked when rendering its prior decision. As a result, the judge ruled against the defendant and awarded attorney’s fees to the plaintiff based on the defendant’s bad faith in filing the motion for reconsideration.
The takeaway for litigants who are considering filing a motion for reconsideration is to carefully and specifically articulate to the Court why its decision was “palpably incorrect or irrational,” and/or what specific “probative, competent evidence” the Court overlooked. If a litigant is unable to do so, filing a motion for reconsideration may result in counsel fees being awarded to the other litigant.